There was a magical place, a meadow, lush and otherworldly. I didnâ€™t understand exactly where it was located but it certainly wasnâ€™t the Valley. It was far removed, some wild, natural place, enchanted with flowers, and surrounded by green hills. We simply called it, The Spot.
My then boyfriend, Marty, all of sixteen, with a driverâ€™s license, a car, and the longest hair at Grant High School, would drive a few good friends way out there on weekends. We would luxuriate in that charming field, so far removed from, television, math homework, malls, freeways and Jack-In The-Box. The sun shone on us there and we pretended to be natureâ€™s children, free, filled with grace and kindness, hippies for that afternoon, in love with each other and the world. It was not until many years later that I realized The Spot was in a place called Topanga!
Little did I know that one day I would move to Topanga, with a surfer husband, a six-month-old son, a dog and a cat. On Halloween night over dinner, Michael nonchalantly asked me, â€śIf we ever had to move from Venice where would you might like to live?â€ť
While sipping champagne I pondered. After having lived in Venice for thirteen years, I replied, â€śWell, I guess Topanga or maybe Santa Barbara.â€ť
The next day the Not As Yet Beleaguered Husband, told me something I never like hearing. â€śI have some good news and some bad news.â€ť
The bad news was that our landlady had called and informed him that she was going to be taking up residence and we would have to move. The good news was that he had already gone out and found us a rental in Topanga complete with a special alcove just right for Rileyâ€™s crib, as if he ever slept in it. So on November 2nd, we drove that winding, twisting road up from PCH that seemed to go on forever. Time slowed down. The whole canyon seemed to glow and the great trees were gilded gold in Autumnal splendor, giving their last before the fall. I smiled to think of living amongst them, not knowing they were becoming dangerous combustible fuel. â€śCould we really live here?â€ť I wondered. â€śIt seems so far away. Like Jupiter.â€ť
There wasnâ€™t much of a town center back then, no Pine Tree Circle, no library, just some scattered scruffy shops. Topanga Homegrown was run out of an old boxcar and Hidden Treasures was only a small storefront selling old clothes. But it was wondrously different from already crowded arty, trendy Venice with its new, postmodern architects and its rabid bite of parking tickets. Hence, I started to fall under the Topanga spell. Yes, maybe we could live here.
However, just as we veered onto Old Canyon, we heard yelling, crazy yelling. A man was running down the road screaming, â€śThe Canyonâ€™s on fire! The Canyonâ€™s on fire!â€ť Suddenly, the sound of sirens off in the distance filled the air, coming closer and closer, louder and blaring until we pulled over and they roared past us. We began to smell smoke, to see smoke. â€śMaybe nowâ€™s not the best time to look at the place,â€ť observed my understated husband, turning the car around.
For ten days we watched with despair the coverage of Topanga burning. Courageous firefighters were on the job battling the flames and structures, houses were engulfed and burnt to the ground. Terrified horses were being evacuated, trees ablaze like scenes from hell. Hundreds of homes were destroyed. We didnâ€™t know if the house we had been going to see was still there, or if after the fire we would be brave or foolish enough to take a chance of living there.
Finally, weeks later Topanga allowed nonresidents access, and yes, the house had made it through. Then one Saturday we again drove that seemingly eternal road, passing blackened, trees and chaparral and partially burnt structures. It was sad to see, yet there still remained a golden glow to the place. Then I began to see signs, hand-painted signs along the road and in front of homes. On them was written, â€śThank-you Firefighters!â€ť â€śWe love you Station 69.â€ť â€śFirefighters Are Our Heroes.â€ť â€śA fireman saved our dog, Thank-you.â€ť â€śYou are Topangaâ€™s Angels.â€ť â€śWe made it through because of you!â€ť
The signs were decorated with hearts and handprints and pictures of families, pets and peace signs and suddenly I realized this isnâ€™t just a place to live, itâ€™s a COMMUNITY!
We had asked our friend, Joel, whose opinion we and others greatly valued, to meet us at the house on Old Canyon. He had arrived first, saw the house and was standing on the balcony enjoying the view. When we joined him there, he waved his hand over the expanse of beauty and said, â€śIs there any reason you wouldnâ€™t move here?â€ť We wrote the landlord a check on the spot.
Six months later, we went to our very first Topanga Days Memorial Parade and Celebration. This coming Topanga Days 2023 will be our 29th.
Thank-you for sharing your natural ancient beauty,
For your mountains, creeks, frogs, bobcats, raccoons, lizards, bats, bunnies and ravens,
And, yes, a rattlesnake, scorpion and tarantula or two.
Thanks for a legacy of pioneering homesteaders,
And an eclectic free-flowing hippy spirit!
Thanks for your gentle soul and wild heart,
Thank-you for giving us a wonderful place to raise our children,
They are of Topanga.