• Story alerts
  • Letter to Editor
  • Pin it

Butterflies, lady bugs and hummingbirds fascinated me when I was a child. Raised by my grandparents, who were avid gardeners, I still mark my year by the growing seasons.

Hummingbirds especially piqued my curiosity. For unlike butterflies and lady bugs, you could never get close to hummingbirds. They are fast moving little birds whose tiny size no doubt requires this speed for their own safety.

While growing up in East Los Angeles I never once saw a hummingbird land in my grandparents garden. Or anywhere for that matter. Not during the thirty years I lived in the neighborhood I was born in. I saw many, probably hundreds, but not a single one ever landed. In a neighborhood full of half feral cats and psychotic dogs not to mention more than one BB gun toting juvenile delinquent, landing probably didn't seem like a safe proposition.

There was a lot about my old neighborhood that wasn't safe. About the time that I left for San Diego in the early 90's the murder rate, gang activity and crack epidemic were peeking. At least that's what I read in a recent LA Times article. At the time I didn't know or care because I was so wrapped up in all three of those things (It was the killing of Peter that broke me).

I left the violent streets of East LA to settle in a bucolic section of San Diego's back country called Dulzura. It was a rather lush, peaceful place, for the first few months. Then the Clinton administration started Operation: Gatekeeper. During the next ten years I watched as the area became a full blown military zone, complete with redneck militia's (I'll never forget my run ins with 'The Christian Militia') and brutalized immigrants (The blood stained undergarments are burned into my psyche for eternity). It had become a place of violence. Just like where I was born.

Our garden during that decade in Dulzura was beautiful but still no hummingbirds landed. They came, they fed, but they never stopped to rest. They just didn't feel safe I guess.

When I fell in love with a gal from Tijuana and decided to move there, we bought land in the most desolate, isolated section of Tijuana's eastern foothills that we could find. It was all dirt and wooden shacks. Not a green leaf in sight. The first thing we did was plant a garden. That was some five years ago and today a pretty little garden grows in what is called the most violent part of TJ.

The reason I am writing this story is because a headline in last months Tijuana daily La Frontera proclaimed that Pacific Beach was the most violent section of San Diego. I work for the French Gourmet in PB and I spend a lot of time there (I still hear the words of the three skinheads who were sizing me up in the wee hours after work).

If the article is correct, then I was raised in one of the most violent sections of a violent city (East L.A.), then moved to a violence plagued back country (Dulzura), then moved to another violence plagued city (Tijuana) and took a job in still another violence plagued community(Pacific Beach).

I could row a boat on all the blood and tears I've seen in my life. Much of it my own doing. Sometimes in our desperate search for sanctuary we create a hell. But I know there's hope. You see I got a message just the other day. A HUMMINGBIRD LANDED IN MY GARDEN!

It was an adolescent female. I could tell by her miniscule size and drab coloring. Although when I saw her sitting on one of the wires supporting my grape vines she shone like a gilded statue.

Nowadays, she's a regular on that wire. She must really feel safe and secure in my garden. I hope she considers it a sanctuary. It's why I'm building here.

I'll be turning fifty come January. Five decades of searing violence. I sincerely hope that my next fifty years on mother earth are ones of joyous peace. But I won't hold my breath.

Some people want to be rich. Some people want to be famous. Some people want to be powerful. And some people want all of the above. Me, all I ever wanted was to live where hummingbirds land.

"Coffee's Ready, Gotta Go!!!"

  • Story alerts
  • Letter to Editor
  • Pin it


Ruth Newell Aug. 12, 2011 @ 1:37 p.m.

"I could row a boat on all the blood and tears I've seen in my life. Much of it my own doing. Sometimes in our desperate search for sanctuary we create a hell." Well said, John. Nice piece!


Evelyn Aug. 13, 2011 @ 5:16 p.m.

I'm so happy you're writing again!!!!

and may more hummingbirds land in your garden soon.


JohnERangel Aug. 13, 2011 @ 6:27 p.m.

re 1 & 2
  Thank you for the nice comments on my melancholy words. They are most appreciated.

K. Aitken Aug. 16, 2011 @ 9:15 a.m.

John, this is a beautiful, succinct piece of writing!

"Some people want to be rich. Some people want to be famous. Some people want to be powerful. And some people want all of the above. Me, all I ever wanted was to live where hummingbirds land."

Me too. I want this too. And bless you for creating a piece of green. The world needs more of those.


nan shartel Aug. 16, 2011 @ 1:35 p.m.

Rangel usted es un hombre de la escritura entre hombres… continúa ;-D

as u were blest...u blest us as well...thank you Rangel


David Dodd Sept. 3, 2011 @ 1:43 a.m.

Good job, Mr. Rangel. Keep it up, you're on a roll.


Fulano de Tal Sept. 3, 2011 @ 8:56 a.m.

Well, you lost me when you said, "violence plagued back country (Dulzura)". I won't say there is no crime there, but it is so close to zero you can see it from there. Dulzura is nothing more than a wide spot on Highway 94. The San Diego Sheriff can't seem to find any crime statistics for it, being so small. I understand taking artistic license to weave a story, but sheesh!


Tallsharon Sept. 4, 2011 @ 5 p.m.

Really nice. I enjoyed the story and the writing. I went to ELAC and grew up nearby. I've lived in the city in several countries, and not in the pretty tourist parts. I grow bored in suburbia. You painted a wonderful picture and made my day a little sweeter! Thanks


nan shartel Sept. 4, 2011 @ 7:21 p.m.

hey congrats Rangel..1st prize..yippee!!


JohnERangel Sept. 8, 2011 @ 12:03 p.m.

re 4, 5, & 6 Thank you Isadora, nan and always RG. You folks are the best.


JohnERangel Sept. 8, 2011 @ 12:14 p.m.

re 7 I lived between Dulzura and Potrero for approximately ten years(1993-2003). The statistics you sight are police statistics that are very misleading. This is because the majority of the violence in the back country takes place against undocumented immigrants who rarely notify authorities. For many years I hiked the trails of the back country taking food and water to those who needed it but more importantly documenting their horrifying stories of abuse. My second novel "The Chicanas of Aztlan" is a fictionalized account of some of the things I learned. As for more recent, nonfiction accounts of these crimes try reading my article called "Smugglersville." Thank you for caring enough to comment.


JohnERangel Sept. 8, 2011 @ 12:24 p.m.

re 8 I'm glad I could sweeten your day. I graduated from ELAC(Go Huskies) with an AA degree in Liberal Arts. Or as I like to say it, LIBERAL ARTS! Today, the word liberal is something that even liberals avoid. Preferring the more middle of the road, progressive. I'm a liberal. Proud and pure.


Sign in to comment

Win a $25 Gift Card to
The Broken Yolk Cafe

Join our newsletter list

Each newsletter subscription means another chance to win!