I recently discovered a new set of stairs to the beach. It’s been two years and 8 months since the Malibu fires swept through the area, and these new stairs are part of the reconstruction of an area I can walk to from my house, known as Leo Carrillo State Beach.
Straight on from the stairs is this view. I am as familiar with this area as I am with the back of my hand, and am forever amazed at the constant yet ever-evolving tide that changes the beach landscape from one day to the next.
Walking left are these massive boulders. According to the strength of the tide, there is always drama happening, and I wait for the waves to crash against the boulders as if I were waiting for fireworks to light up the sky. At certain angles, the waves collide with these timeless boulders. They erupt in a misty-white plume that paints the blue sky, and I think of time and tide and it’s ceaselessness, and the fact that the ocean’s anchoring constancy is something I can always count on.
A closer view
And closer still. At this spot, I take my shoes off and wade knee-deep in the water until my heartbeat aligns with the tide’s rhythm.
This photograph was taken from the top of the stairs not far from the lifeguard station to a cove on the south side of Leo Carrillo State Beach. The cove is a perfect arc, and during low tide, you can walk along the coastline to the stretch of beach on the other side of the lifeguard stand.
A view of the cove from the sand.
A cove view from the life guard stand above. The yellow flowers you see here are coreopsis, which look like bouquets of daisies.
The view at the end of the path that looks South: because my camera lens faced into the sun, this photograph darkened
This is the view of the Santa Monica Mountain foothills on the other side of the Pacific Coast Highway– across from Leo Carrillo State Beach. I wanted you to have an understanding of that which can be seen as you drive through Malibu along the Pacific Coast Highway. These photographs were taken in Western Malibu, and it is a quiet, rural area I feel as if I have all to myself, save for the height of summer when people come to the beach. This area is not as popular among tourists as other parts of Malibu ( such as the infamous Zuma Beach) because it is far out, almost at the Ventura County line. As part of the California coastline, the area is specific, peculiar in nature, and part and parcel to the place I call home.
And here is a video taken of the tide at Leo Carrillo State Beach in Malibu!
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California is currently experiencing the “Stay-at-Home” order. We’ve been in and out of this state of affairs for months, and to tell you it’s disorienting is my idea of a full confession. Life feels constricted, pared down its least common denominator and being as it is that I’m on the downswing of the 90 day mark since my 4th novel (Little Tea) released, I’m in between projects. Kind of. I’m still promoting Little Tea, but not with the fervor I had seven months ago. I have the first draft of another book completed, but perhaps it’s the second. Quite possibly it’s the third. It’s hard to say, I tend to revise as I move forward. The draft is finished, but at the moment, I’m not motivated to rush through the project. I’d rather wait until the world rights itself– whatever that will look like– and see how the pause inflicted on the world will influence how we move forward. Word on the street is things will change. Business as we know it may alter. There will be a “new normal” and how this pertains to my little universe leaves me deeply concerned about the new normal of the publishing business. I’m biding my time, and thinking about a line I wrote in my 3rd novel, Mourning Dove, when Finley looks at his sister, Millie, and says, “Mastering the ambiguities of life is the hardest task any of us will ever be called to do.” I believe this is true in my bone marrow.
One thing that occurred to me at the start of the pandemic is the necessity of a daily schedule. I’m well aware that I live in a desirable location by anyone’s standards– no extreme weather, I’m in somewhat of a rural area, and before me as far as the eye can see, the Pacific Ocean stretches forever. So, I’ve been out walking every morning. Setting my feet to the sand sets my mind aright and my world in order. Suffice it to say, I don’t take where I live for granted, and many has been the time when I’ve wished I could share the view. It now dawns on me that I can. I’ll begin with my walk this morning.
I walked along Malibu’s Westward Beach as I made my way to the Point Dume Headlands. You have to walk along the sand until you reach the beginning of the trail that winds up to the Point Dume area.
To the right of the trail’s beginning is this:
I walked up about thirty yards until I came to this:
There were few people around at 8:00 this morning as I made my way through the headlands to the ocean view on the north side of The Point:
To the left of this observation deck is this:
Which leads to this:
Which leads to this view:
Point Dume is essentially a neighborhood in a breathtaking location. There are no parking lots for tourists; all in all, it’s a quiet, cliffside retreat. On the other side of The Point that you see in the above photograph is Paradise Cove and its pier. There’s a popular restaurant named Paradise Cove right on the beach, and it can be accessed from its driveway off the Pacific Coast Highway.
Since the houses on Point Dume are situated on the cliffs above Westward Beach, there are a few stairs that lead from the neighborhood to the sand.
I find the cliffs beautiful in their natural splendor, telling of the terrain. Here is what the cliffside looks like between Point Dume and the sand.
I finished my hour and a half walk through the Point Dume Headlands this morning by watching the waves. It was a grey, overcast, foggy morning, but truth be told, that weather suits me. I prefer to greet the day before the California sun is full on.
There are other Malibu beaches I go to in the morning, so I’ll save more photographs for another post.
I’m sharing my YouTube channel here: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC6QbvYwbKM71znGk5zZBb-Q
Because I’ve made videos while walking Malibu’s beaches.
I’d love to hear where readers of this post live! I’m interested in hearing how anyone structures their day, as we wait for whatever will be our new normal!
When tragedy engulfs a community, the media report the overarching highlights, typically from an aerial view. In Malibu Burning, author Robert Kerbeck portrays the hidden story—the nuanced blow-by-blow minutia told with such investigative reporting skills as to lend immediate urgency with a sense of present tense. It can’t be easy to shake oneself off and get organized, after surviving what can only be called the surreal worst, which is what Kerbeck basically did in writing this riveting book. Malibu Burning is a boots-on-the-ground story; an impassioned order from chaos, cohesive treatise told with a clear-eyed, objective voice. Weaving facts with vivid personal accounts in this cause and effect human interest story, this is a book so well-wrought as to hold one’s attention with all the characteristics of a gripping novel. It takes a deft hand to avoid judgment or accusation in a painstakingly researched nonfiction book. Robert Kerbeck’s Malibu Burning is a book with a resonating heartbeat. It sobers by threading the true stories of Malibu’s citizens who navigated the devastating Woolsey wildfire and simultaneously warms the heart by depicting the power of spirit.
Malibu Burning by Robert Kerbeck is available at independent book stores and all online book outlets.
Good Morning from Malibu:
I imagine most of you are aware of the Southern California fires. As of mid-day yesterday, all’s quiet on the western front, though last night around 10:30, my husband looked online to discover there were fires in an agricultural area named Somis, where the lion share of Sunkist lemons and Haas avocados are grown, twenty-some-odd minutes from where I live. Somis is a gorgeous area, and one we go to every so often because of the bountiful, road-side produce stands that defy description and the multitude of serene walking areas. To think of it now in flames breaks my heart.
To a greater or lesser degree, the Santa Ana winds are predictable. They come from the desert and blow to the ocean every year around this time, in hot, erratic gusts like the demonic breath of the hounds of hell. Typically, the Santa Ana winds go on for two days or so, maybe cease for a week or two before they rise up again. Those of us in Malibu are used to the cyclical occurrence, but this go-round was different—it was a stressful 5 days of living in the center of the great unknown. I can best liken the feeling to severe airplane turbulence: one never knows when or how it will end. It’s been the nerve-wracking unpredictability that kept me white-knuckled and gripping onto my own brand of blind faith. And because we live in a glass house on a 60-foot rise facing the ocean, we’re smack in the middle of the Santa Ana wind’s course. It being just after the summer drought and the terrain so tinder-brittle, all I’ve been thinking for the past few days is conditions are the right fodder for a serious fire.
But we’re ones that take brush-clearance seriously. There’s nary a tree close to our house save for two we’re well aware shouldn’t be where they are, but the need for shade in certain areas overrode logic. The trees are a mature nineteen years old now, and the simple truth is I haven’t the heart to remove them. Our scrupulous brush clearance worked in our favor this time last year. We share a property line with a wooded State Park that housed 320 acres of indigenous trees and shrubbery and who knew what all—we were never quite sure because the acreage was so dense. You might have noticed I used the past tense, there. Last November, the Malibu fires burned down the entire state park, raged to our yard’s lower slope, took out 12 pine trees along with our front gate’s electrical system then literally stopped in its path because the summer drought rendered the ground so barren. This explains why the fire never touched our house. Many Malibu friends were not as lucky. The 2018 Woolsey fire started in an area separated from our property by the foothills of the Santa Monica mountains. The area is called Thousand Oaks, and between Thousand Oaks and Malibu is a canyon area called Calabasas, resplendent with houses, for all its hilly, wooded area boasting serpentine vineyards and ocean views. When I heard on the news that the fires were in Thousand Oaks, I knew in my bones that the mountain passes of Kannan Dume Road and Malibu Canyon would go up like a torch, and they did. When my premonition manifest, it was on the ridge behind our house, as we evacuated for what turned out to be 24 days, in an adrenalin fueled flight of terror.
You can probably imagine why the past 5 days have been nerve-wracking. For me, it hasn’t been so much about the unknown as it has been the known. I’d fancied myself above PTSD. I was wrong. I’ve rattled around my glasshouse watching the news and looking for where I just put my hat. It’s been like living in the middle of the very definition of the word disorienting.
It’s 7:21 AM, as I write. I’m now going to get it together and join “the girls” at Westward Beach for an 8:00 AM walk, as is our habit. We’re regrouping at the beach for the first time in days. My guess is we’ll be like blinking moles coming out of our mole-holes to greet the light of day.
The Santa Ana winds have ceased, for now. Please keep your fingers crossed that the worst is behind us!
We’ve all heard the expression, “Life can turn on a dime,” but I know so few with a frame of reference that makes good on the claim. And I’ve always wondered to what degree events turn before one owns the adage personally. Certainly the death of a significant loved one falls into the justifiable category, where life as one has known it is inalterably changed. There are other examples, but not many.
I have a feeling I’m standing on one of those dimes, but have yet to intuit the fallout. As I write, there are torrential fires where I live in Malibu, California. At the moment, I’m an hour away in Santa Barbara, where the sun takes center stage over this Spanish-style, manicured town, with its one-way streets apportioned in terra-cotta, wrought-iron and stucco. Were it any other time, I’d be wide-eyed and skipping along downtown’s State Street. As it is, I’m disillusioned and displaced– it’s a feeling unlike any other. I took a walk this morning on the city streets, longing for terra firma because I didn’t feel grounded. There’s nothing more unbalancing than a threat to one’s foundation. No matter the location of your feet, a threat on one’s home effects the head.
I’m six whirlwind days into this now, pausing for the first time to assess. I’ve been on the move with two dogs, a cat and a husband; it took us a while to secure a base.
Last Thursday, there were fire reports in an area separated from Malibu by the arid, Santa Monica Mountains. In the cyclical drought of post-summer Southern California, fire conditions are ripe, in conjunction with the Santa Ana winds, which rage seaward from the desert at 30 to 40 MPR like breath from the hounds of hell.
I was standing in the living room Friday morning, when I saw ashes landing on our front deck. Through the moving filter of grey-cotton billows, the sun was an otherworldly neon-pink. And I’ve heard it said animals intuit pending doom long before people bring themselves to accept it. Our cat, typically self-sufficient, stood in my shadow, and both dogs whined at the front door, when I walked through it in search of my husband, whom I found wielding a full-throttle hose on the roof.
Personalities and priorities come into play, under unanticipated duress. Even with the best intentions in cogent, team-played sports, one discovers individual plans. And it wasn’t as if I didn’t see the merit in my husband battening down the hatches, it’s just that I’m pretty good at grasping the inevitable. I was useful in removing all things potentially flammable from our outside decks, then I left him to go inside and pack.
I’ve been asked repeatedly what it was I packed so hastily, and understand this is a viable question. My urgent thinking concerned two things: the long-term and that which can’t be replaced. Clothes for both of us for the long-run; jewelry and watches and my accordion file of important papers. Laptops and power cords and cell-phone chargers, winter coats, and walking shoes, and all things pertaining to the maintenance of our pets. I pulled the car out of the garage and loaded it in record time, while my husband turned on every sprinkler on our property. His plan was to stay with the house and fight the fire; mine was to keep my mouth shut until he saw the light.
When the light came, it crept ominously behind our house from the mountain. Through the opaque, unbreathable air, the sky lightened, and I knew it could only mean one thing. Brighter and brighter the backdrop shrieked, the dawning of illumination unwelcome. When the flames appeared, they crowned the ridge in an unbreakable wall, a moving inferno with nowhere to go but down.
That’s when we fled to the car, and turned right on the Pacific Coast Highway. In front of us, the canyons of a state park were ablaze in disconnected, sporadic pockets that seemed to have little to do with each other, yet all headed in the direction of our house. In a last ditch effort, my husband called the local fire department, and miraculously, someone answered the phone. We had no way of knowing what the result would be, in a town spontaneously aflame, but our address was given, and we headed north.
Have you ever travelled with pets, without a plan, nervous as a cat on a hot tin roof? I don’t recommend it unless there’s no other option, which still happens to be our state of affairs.
And the uncertainty of not knowing if one’s house is standing is emotionally and psychically taxing. It’s an exhaustion spawned by a weariness that bypasses the bones and runs like an electrical current in the blood. One keeps going because they have to, in this fight or flight battle with fate. The world, it seems, is relegated to myopic focus. As for all other bets, suffice it to say they’re off.
For the first three days after our evacuation, my husband and I were riveted to the local, heartbreaking news and scoured the internet for information about our area of town, yet there was none to be had. Our house is on the outskirts of Malibu, so far out it can be defined as way beyond the pale. Those three frustrating days felt like searching in a sea of futility. In what I think now is help from divinity, I woke Monday morning and did a random search online of our area’s location. When the large scale, long-range photograph of our area sprang to my screen, I forwarded the image to my husband. He enlarged a dot of the picture, and when the image grew, there was our house!
Three days have transpired, since the discovery of our house standing, and in those days, we have relocated farther north, while awaiting word on when Malibu’s residents will be allowed into the city. There are a handful of social media forums where displaced Malibu residents share information, but the bottom line is nobody is allowed into town, due to the fact that the fire is not wholly contained, and for much of the town, there is no water or power.
I’ve been turning over the idea of powerlessness and how one comes to ultimate surrender. One gets to the point where they simply quit struggling with what is, and does their best to simply make due.
I’ve been hyper-aware of my thoughts these days, knowing, as I do, that one’s attitude defines one’s experience. I seem to have lost my focus a bit. My mind runs laps around the simplest of tasks as I keep looking for center page, and although I fancy myself stoic, I’m told these are symptoms of trauma. And what startles me most is this awareness of a heightened sense of compassion and empathy I now possess. I’ve seen homeless people in parts of this city I’m in, and it takes everything I have not to break down and weep.
And here sits I, luckier than most, for my husband and I have a house standing, when so many in Malibu don’t.
I may be in an ambiguous spot now, but I can tell you one thing: When they open Malibu to its residents, my plan is to take my bleeding heart and open our front door to those in need.
I will bear witness. Life can and does turn on a dime.