Pacific Report


It’s been a long time since I came to San Pedro in June.

In my earliest grad school years we used to flee Texas for southern California every May and not return until the last possible minute. Anchored at Mary’s in San Pedro, we’d drift down to San Diego to see friends and visit my parents; then up to Santa Barbara to look up my then-husband’s grad school cronies; back to San Pedro and so on. The price paid – standing in sweltering August phone booths trying to find apartments and hook up utilities, moving in the deadliest heat of the Austin calendar year – was worth it.

For the past many years I’ve come to Mary’s between the end of second Summer session and opening of the Fall semester. The length of my stay was dictated by the date of Labor Day and the cast of the dice in the top-secret university scheduling department. (I think a school with 50,000 students must keep its scheduling department well-hidden, since no matter how they put the calendar together there will be at least 30,000 people unhappy about it.)

But this year, my second with no first Summer session class, finds me at Mary’s early. Mornings are much more likely to be cloudy and very cool; nights are chilly enough to require closed windows and heavy blankets; and I get to see a whole lot of flowers that are generally in the category of You Should Have Seen The…

One example of this is bachelor buttons. Every late August I’m told I should have been here a couple of months ago when the back yard was a sea of bachelor buttons. This year I get to navigate through that sea every time I’m in the yard, and I even get to bring in as many flowers as I want without diminishing the population by even an iota. I hope pounds of seeds stick to all my clothes and come back to Texas with me.


Jacaranda is another good example. One tree is beautiful enough; there are plenty of places where rows of jacaranda trees transform the landscape into something out of a fairy tale. Clouds and carpets of purple flowers. When you look at this one, be sure to add the haunting cries of the peacocks and peahens who refuse to let me take their picture. They live up in this part of the ‘hood.


I hope you’re in the mood for flowers. It’s admittedly a pretty cheap phone-it-in trick to post about flowers in California. But we’re doing a fair amount of walking, and nearly every yard we pass has something to catch the eye. Irresistible, I’m telling you. From every possible variety of rose – many of which are fragrant –


to exotic blooms like this one that appears to be monster hands made out of gumdrops:


I find it difficult enough to leave the house for work in Austin when the gardens are busy. If I lived here I never would have made it. Oddly, just as I see at home, we encountered almost no one sitting in the beautiful outdoor spaces. ???


Along Paseo del Mar the palm trees are miles high and a long row of homes sit on cliffs overlooking the sea. I begin to daydream about winning the lottery (must buy tickets) and imagine that even if we spent all the money right off (which we surely would do), Floyd could have full-time work just keeping iron gates plumb and functional. The ground, as you know, shifts 24/7.

In the vacant-lot end of Paseo, where a few years ago a good chunk of the road was jolted into the sea, I spied a ground cover that also looks to be made of gumdrops.


I mean, really. What do you even say about a planet that can send such a thing up from utterly neglected dust and rubble?

Being in residence two months earlier than usual means I get to see dozens of succulents in bloom that may be done flowering by the end of August. It seems like all the succulents are in bloom, from pale green flowers hosting honeybees by the dozen


to graceful two-inch long bells carved out of translucent wax.


Mary must find walking with me much like I experience walking with Travis: every ten feet we have to stop for some reason that seems perfectly valid to one party and very ho-hum to the other. Fortunately, Mary loves growing things as much as I do. When the sun is coming through striped petals we just have to give them a few seconds of our day.


I begin to feel as though there are a hundred varieties of Gaillardia, and in one San Pedro walk I might find at least a dozen.


It also seems that on every block there are exotic, hothouse-looking blooms that could be orchids, or lilies, or who knows what all else. I just don’t know how people decide what to plant.


And so many gardeners manage to coax their yards into having every single specimen in full bloom at the same time. Great: more for me to envy.


Ah well, vacation is no time for character building. I see so many flowers that look to be made out of candy.


This week the hydrangea are in full bloom everywhere. Not that this region legitimately has enough water for hydrangea; I’ll just pretend everyone carries out their gray water as Mary and I do, and keeps a huge watering can by the kitchen sink to collect the water running as we await the hot water.

Generally I prefer white hydrangea, but in this sort of situation I can afford to be eclectic in my tastes.


We walked by one yard that was jam-packed with every type of flower butterflies might like.


The unrelenting sea breeze makes long walks far more comfortable than they would otherwise be. Hot sun, cool shade, whole blocks darkened by ficus trees the size of mammoth oaks. Their roots tear up sidewalks and plumbing pipes, so I know they’re not a good idea; but that shade!

I’ll leave you with one more flower portrait and devote an entire post to the Corner Store later.


Wherever you are, get out and snap a few photos of beautiful growing things. Positive psychology theory reminds us that it’s important to spend a number of minutes each day in active attention to beauty and pleasure. I’m not a very positive person but I’ve read about it, and seems like a very good idea.









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