When I think of La Costa, I remember the wildlife -- the skunk that lived under our house, for instance, a beautiful creature whose size would double when it puffed up its fur after it emerged from a tiny hole in the side of our redwood deck. In those days, circa 1988, animal control would come out and catch a wild animal in a live trap and take it away, which is what eventually happened to the skunk. Animal control hasn't provided this service for several years because there are just too many displaced animals.
I remember Santa and his Reinpony, not a wild animal but one that would soon be displaced. A roadside attraction, the Reinpony was a horse with antlers attached to its head. I must have last seen it on Christmas Eve in 1994. When I told the owner that next year I would bring my one-year-old daughter, she said, "There won't be a next year. All this land has been sold."
I think the Reinpony attraction was located in the vicinity of the Home Expo parking lot but closer to the street. Lienzo Charro, a rodeo ring hidden down a dirt road that I never had the nerve to explore, was just north of the Reinpony.
However, the most distinctive animal in La Costa (other than my pet pig Sporky) was the gibbon that lived down the hill. The gibbon wasn't wild either, or at least it wasn't free, but it seemed wild, its loud whooping a sound I heard immediately upon moving onto Mimosa Drive. The whooping was far enough away so as not to be annoying; you would swear it was a kid's voice or a theremin or that plastic toy that ascends and descends in pitch as you push or pull it. When I asked my neighbor what that strange noise was, she told me it was a monkey — although a gibbon is actually a lesser ape -- that lived on the small farm along the edge of the Batiquitos Lagoon. From my house, in 1988, you'd be there in five minutes. You could walk to it easily then, before Aviara and the golf course were built. Before development made the chaparral disappear, you could see yellow sandy hills and purple statice, big oak trees and craggy valleys, wild artichoke and the occasional woman's bra in the bushes. You could go for miles, which is what my husband and I did once, on the verge of divorce. I attribute the fact that we're still together, 19 years last July, in a small part to that walk we took. It was a gorgeous, six-mile-round-trip mentally torturous excursion on which we decided whether we would break up our three-year marriage.
The gibbon lived in a cage, and no one seemed to mind that I came to visit him. The second time, I brought a banana, which he grabbed eagerly and threw away. Then he reached through the small opening where chain-link fence met concrete floor, a miniature human hand with elongated fingers and lots of hair. Soon I realized that the gibbon just wanted to hold hands. For many years I'd go for half an hour at a time to stroke this animal's fur. My neighbor told me that another, much larger cage once held a lion, there to keep the gibbon company (I very much doubt that a lion would comfort a gibbon), but it died of a urinary tract infection. My husband the scientist tells me that kidney infections (often caused by urinary problems) are one of the most common killers of domesticated cats. My husband is a cat lover. His family always had a half dozen at a time. And I am allergic to cats, so we don't have any. A testament to love if ever there was one.
-- Jennifer Ball
Exit Interstate 5 at Del Mar Heights Road and head west. Cross Mango and go down the hill toward the heart of Del Mar. Take in one of the most beautiful stretches of scenery anywhere. The graceful arch of the Torrey pines, the sibilant sway of the palms, the diamond-studded expanse of ocean -- this is the money shot right here. This is why friends you never knew you had and relatives you haven't seen for years decide to spend vacations with you.
Now turn right on Camino Del Mar and mosey through Olde Del Mar (please note that there's an additional charge for the extra e). If it's a Saturday, stop by the open-air market and pick up some necessities: arugula, orchids, and lemon verbena soap, for example. Pop into the Dinosaur Gallery and check out the skulls. Stick your nose into Bully's Del Mar, a favorite hangout for jockeys and trainers during racing season, and inhale the aroma of countless toasts to the winning horse. Move on to the three-tier Del Mar Plaza, and take the stone steps up to the third level. Order sushi, bruschetta, or quesadillas to go from any one of the restaurants there and eat them on the piazza. Smell the night-blooming jasmine and watch the sun melt into the Pacific. Wait for the green flash. Feel like a celebrity. Know that it doesn't get any better than this. But don't forget that you're only a visitor.
Don't get me wrong: people do live in Del Mar, but it's pretty full. Most of the people who are going to live in Del Mar are already there, and they're not budging. Part of what keeps Del Mar beachy-fabulous is the fact that its borders will not expand. There is an otherworldly, paradisiacal quality to Del Mar. Small wonder, then, that the denizens call themselves "Del Martians." But paradise, it turns out, is expensive. I lived in Del Mar for only one year, but I spent every day there, working, for the better part of ten. When I moved, it was only to go two miles east. I couldn't stand to be any farther away from a place whose sheer beauty had convinced me that all things are possible.