Ojai, California was my early childhood home. Visiting all these years later is a nostalgic going-back-in-time experience. The artists and philosophers and free-spirited folk of Ojai played a huge role in my development as a young child. Long before the western world discovered eastern religions, this town was deeply involved. And food! Steak and potatoes were the American rule, even in California, but this community stepped out in front. Vegetarian, Indian, Mexican and Chinese cuisine were readily available. My school, San Antonio, didn't have school buses but we had a hitching post. Recess was for feeding and watering the kids' beasts of transportation.
In looking back it is interesting to realize the breadth of my kid territory. At five I had a couple-mile radius that I roamed pretty much without supervision. My mom would say, "where're you going?" I would reply, "out to play." She'd say, "be home in three hours." And that was that. If I got into trouble, or was late, I was seriously in trouble, but otherwise, I explored freely
My child-wander-freedom, unheard of today, was vast and wonderful. Sometimes my explorations had consequences because despite the freedom my mother gave me, she also expected good behavior and when it wasn't forthcoming, she came down hard, or at least my little kid mind thought it was hard.
At 6 I was horse crazy. Happiness was spelled H O R S E. Lucky for me Ojai was a horse-loving place. Bridle trails ran parallel to many of the roads and riders were frequently seen trotting past, especially the boys from Thatcher School because our home wasn't far from their trail to downtown. Thatcher was an all boy's boarding school where every boy had a horse. It was my riding Shangra La. All I needed to do was appear, follow a boy and his horse with my "envy eyes" and soon I'd be riding.
One day I arrived to an empty paddock. Boys and horses were out on a weekend riding adventure. I stumbled around for a while, forlorn, when suddenly I spotted a horse left behind. Not to let adversity interfere with my expectations I set out to saddle and bridle this wild creature. I had just accomplished the task when my mother appeared on the scene. I clearly had missed a deadline.
Grim faced and boiling angry, she scolded me and accused me of being a horse thief. On top of that she was hysterically certain the horse of my choosing was wild and would kill me. I was restricted from ever again going to Thatcher School. My horse days were over. I was heart broken but learned my lesson. Never again did I "borrow" (my word) or "steal" (my mom's word) anything. Shoplifting in high school never entered my mind. I'd been punished as a thief at a young age and it wasn't fun. Thievery was behind me and sadly so were my riding days.
Despite my early life of crime, I love Ojai to this day with it's artistic charm deeply engrained in me. It is now wealthy and swishy, but still has a pleasing ambiance. The orange orchards with their rustic-tumble-down-rock walls, Spanish architecture and narrow country roads remind me still of my happy wandering childhood.
Skip and Sheila from Langley, our gracious hosts, were fabulous. We biked and hiked and ate and visited and had a splendid time. We will return...
"In my opinion, a horse is the animal to have. Eleven-hundred pounds of raw muscle, power, grace, and sweat between your legs - it's something you just can't get from a pet hamster."