Liz Swain 4:24 p.m., May 24
In the neighborhood near where I live, near La Mesa Village and up Nebo Hill, you'll find magical manors of all shapes and sizes. Seemingly nestled one-into-the-other like that Russian doll that contains a smaller doll within itself, each distinct yet part of a whole.
Despite the intermingling there is no feeling of over-crowding; no "row house" ambiance. Some homes clearly hearken back to old Hollywood days when La Mesa was a desert orchard. A place of Sylvan serenity and escape. Truly though this neighborhood is a secret wonderland, a magical oasis. Walk up Lemon, left on Date or Acacia, then right, up the formidable Pasadena or Vista. As your heartbeat's return increases so will your inner-child's wonderment.
Or head up Palm, left on Orchard and cut up the stairway on the right to the "Secret Garden Path"; admire the lofted gazebos near the brook-like fountain. Slip past the culdesac cluster and up to the next, unseen by night but enveloped by its Santa Ana-spun charm. So many options to discover, each with their own unassuming doorway, detail, or delight. Over there, right next to the baronial mansion, lonely looking toward the distant ocean, is folded an adorable bungalow complete with red clay roof, hand carved heart-fence thick with rolling bougainvillea before stained glass windows. Snow White's retirement home? Across the street stands a stucco California block house with ten foot surround-see windows, and a five foot fish-fountain with praying Madonna in the yard. Colorful community culture; no cheap garden trolls planted here. Everywhere white sparkly star-burst lights welcome nighttime dog-walkers, and as you walk, you step through the specter-scent of just watered Lilac and Lilly of the Valley.
By day as you sojourn, the sunlight is white and bone-warming, crisped by perfectly blue skies palming down toward the horizon. Long-legged palms sway overhead; fruit trees heavy with their burden bow across your path-you're tempted-but sculptured shrubbery stand guard over their sweet offerings. In between each distinct and pampered place resplendent in Miracle Grow abundance, you'll catch exhilarating glimpses of the southward canyons below, the water to the west, and the northbound hills in the distance. Some of these pretty places have first names like "Todd" or "Sherman Grable." Named houses with concomitant historical significance. Others are whimsically named like Tuscan Villas (look for "Luigi's Race"). Sometimes you'll just see a printed sign that says, "close the gate." A neighborhood that minds its own.
The sounds of the Village below will, from time to time, waft up your way but the trolley bell does not interfere with your whimsical wanderlust. Mostly you will be serenaded by song birds exuberantly delighted they bedded down long before your discovery, or the occasional barking-while-tale-wagging dog. Any neighbor you happen upon tending to their portion of this bucolic dream greets you with a knowingly broad smile, as if to say, "aren't we lucky, and isn't this great?" California dreaming at half the price. You are drawn toward the summit of Nebo, but the truly observant will find the penultimate: The Wind Chime House.
A corner lot, with a raised wrap-around balcony in the back, quaint red-door down the red-brick path past the gate and the oxidized frog with the "Welcome" cutout, in the front. A left-eyed peek through the expansive windows reveals opulent comfy cushions and hearth-fired woods. You don't want to impolitely stare, but the myriad of spinning, chiming, tinkling, smiling yard companions are beautifully matched and so well married to the yard it becomes unimaginable why anyone's yard would be without a few hundred of them. Mesmerized, you now take the hill more slowly up to this small culdesac's centered green-veld with towering Eucalyptus trees as much to dart your eyes around its enchantment as to slow down the pounding in your ear. Aerobics or excitement?
And then, just when you think the enchant-o-meter registers at "full," you see it... the blue pineapple fountain in The Wind Chime House's front yard, coolly sluicing its inviting water as it stands about 7 feet high. If you are truly lucky, you will find it all (or it will find you) in the early evening of a warm and breezy summer night so that you can be heralded by the tasteful multitude of overhead wind chimes dancing in pairs off nearly every tree branch singing in tinkalinka unison with the soothing sound of the now lit pale-blue pineapple water.
Of course each branch appears as naturally outlined with small white and pale blue star-lights. They're smiling back at me! At this point, rude or not, you stop and stare with an open-mouthed smile like a twelve-year old stepping through the wardrobe. Magical! La Mesa is magical!! Be sure to say hello to Big Ben the Newfie, usually on guard in the side yard across the street. He means business, but only for ner-do-wells. He has a heart of gold. Then, turn around and there lies the expanse of the Baja, and the dotted lights from whence you came and where you are glad to return.
I once lived in Encinitas with all of its undeniable quaintness, but little anywhere can compare to the secret enchantment of La Mesa's magical oasis. Come walk with me sometime.