There was a time when the Spanish raised sheep in the "hidden valley" of Escondido. Before the First World War, grapes became the crop of choice, and spectators at the Grape Day Parade were given as many free grapes as they could carry. Later, orange and avocado groves began covering the hills. At night, farmers saw the stars and heard the lowing of their dairy cattle. Now it is a city.
If you ask me what I miss most about the Escondido I knew when we moved here 18 years ago, I'd say it's the dark at night. There were only four houses on my road then. Before the shopping center was built two miles away and the gigantic lights were installed, I needed a flashlight to find my car in the driveway. Raccoons played on our roof at night, and skunks chased bugs in the moonlight.
Now I can walk around my two acres at any time of night and see clearly. The only wild animals I see are occasional possums dead by the side of the road. I can see a star or two once in a while, and the coyote pack still yips and yaps down our street, hunting rabbits and cats. But the country feeling is almost gone. Every new homeowner has a dog, and a cacophony results when a stranger appears.
I like my new neighbors, though, and their elegant places enhance my own property value. Also, it's a relief to see the neat green of the golf course and the clean shopping-center buildings where there used to be piles of trash and broken-down fences.
Many of the people who live here are not newcomers. Most of the men and women I've met at church are second- and third-generation residents of Escondido. There's a cemetery that has gravestones dating from the 1800s. A gentleman who lives down the road grew up in Harmony Grove and still owns his family's farm there. Not long ago he had the only tractor in our area and could be hired to mow weeds after spring rains. He always has a garden: tomatoes, corn, grapes -- and that's in addition to his avocados. Everyone here grows citrus trees. Another neighbor just bought a horse, and a professional horse-show ranch was built near us. No one rides horses down the highway anymore, though; too much traffic.
I seldom leave Escondido, because there's so much to do here. I can see West Side Story at the Lawrence Welk theater, Gilligan's Island at Theatrx, and Man of La Mancha at Patio Playhouse. I never miss the celebration called First Night: banjo and guitar groups perform for small audiences in the City Administration Building; ballet and jazz bands perform at the California Center for the Arts, Escondido.
Every season has its parade, and I am a spectator. At the Grape Day Parade in September, high school band members paint their faces purple and grapevines drape the trombones. There was a time in the 1900s when the event "rivaled Pasadena's Tournament of Roses," according to historian Francis B. Ryan. During the Christmas Parade, fire trucks and lowriders vie for space. In the summer, on Friday nights, I watch polished '59 Chevies and Model T Fords parade down Grand Avenue during Cruisin' Grand.
I also like to walk. I walk in Kit Carson Park, on the Daley Ranch, or up the steep trail in the Elfin Forest Recreational Reserve, where I peer across the scrub brush toward Palomar Mountain. There's an improved trail east of the Westfield mall. It's the old wagon trail from Ramona, which passes Mule Hill, where Kit Carson fought Mexican soldiers in 1846 and where you can still see on rocks the fading signs of feed stores. I often walk through the Wild Animal Park and look at gorillas and elephants.
An artist myself, I look for sculptures. The 20-foot-high Joor Muffler man at the corner of Juniper and Valley Parkway changes clothing and ethnicity from time to time. Locals call him "Rahoolio, the Muffler Man of Love." Near the California Center for the Arts, Escondido, and beside the new Mingei are 7-foot-tall metal cylinders that startle me as they ring or speak when the wind blows. A bronze sculpture on Grand of a woman sitting next to her child on a bus bench, digging through her purse, is my favorite. There's a circle of life-sized children's statues saluting the flag in front of the new charter high school. Tiled 7-foot-tall obelisks stand like lampposts along Escondido Boulevard. And in Kit Carson Park, Niki de Saint Phalle's sculpture, Queen Calafia's Magical Circle: glittering, shiny mirrors reflect the bright reds, greens, and yellows of the fantasy figures, tall as hot-air balloons.