CHASING DOWN THE MUSE: The world turns on a neighborhood’s axis

Billowing gray and white clouds mingle in a baby blue sky as I gaze out the window across the canyon. This would seem to be nature’s metaphor for the times in which we now live.

There is something about living in the same place for more than 30 years. It affords the cues for my reminiscence and reminders of what has gone before. As the world enters a new year of changes fraught with both peril and hope, I find myself deep in reverie this wintry morning. Even as we all move forward, I cannot help but look back to see what of value resides in the past.

There are still areas of Laguna Beach that have a decidedly rural flavor to them. Our little corner of Bluebird Canyon is one of them. The streets are very narrow and often in some state of disrepair, as it falls to the homeowners to band together to pave them. There are even a few remaining homes that have had little or no improvements done in those 30-some years. I think back over those years.

Minnie — whose husband had been responsible for buying up much of the property in this area and had built several of the small homes — lived directly across from our kitchen window. She would sit outside most of the day, with some neighborhood cat on her lap, and call out to the children as they played. Often, they would stop and sit at her feet as she wove some tale or another.


Minnie’s daughter, Dorothy, lived down the street and kept more to herself, though she checked on her mother daily. Today, her house, which has been vastly remodeled by new owners, has become the neighborhood bellwether for misfortune. One tenant after another seems to have catastrophe and chaos following them.

The Ferguson family also lived here already when we came upon the scene in 1972. Jack and Anne provided the neighborhood with the first of many children to follow. They had four children and many dogs and cats. The lively atmosphere that followed a family this size prevailed. Lots of noise, lots of fun, visiting grandparents and their oldest as a built-in babysitter for the rest of us — all in their tiny two-bedroom house right in the center of things.

Soon, there were more and more children. Dani and Alex McMann, Timmy and Mikey Davis, and Scott and Amy Herdman were among the first, along with our two. Big Wheels and tricycles were soon followed by skateboards and bicycles. The neighborhood was lively and rang with the sounds of children at play.

Betty/Lois lived directly across from the Ferguson family. A lovely, intelligent older woman, she raised orchids, helped train dogs for the blind and had many interesting friends. The children of the neighborhood loved to be invited into her fascinating yard hidden from view behind a solid fence.


The Knights’ “cabin” still looks from the outside much as it always has. The Knight family, headed by John and Martha, had purchased their property around the same time as Minnie’s husband. John was an airport mechanic, and they used the cabin only for vacation times throughout all the years that they owned it.

My mind-walk has taken me only part way ‘round the neighborhood. There is so much more, so many stories to tell. What was it I was seeking when I let my mind begin to wander as the clouds passed overhead? Some wisdom from the past? Some answers for the future? All of that is here. This neighborhood is a microcosm from which I may learn.

I think my reverie is only up to the 1980s, when, if memory serves, we had gasoline shortages, high prices and a recession too. I have to admit that none of it was as bad as now and most of us had less distance to fall.

Still, it helps me now to remember those days and just what they felt like. As I look at that distant past and ahead to the future, I sort through to find what I will carry forward that’s useful. So far, what I seem to have found is that sense of neighborhood.

Perhaps we can regain that somehow in these troubling times. Now that I am one of the “elders” of the neighborhood, I could sit out with a cat on my lap, gazing off across the canyon.

If I sit long enough, wait patiently — I wonder just what might show up. Problem is I just don’t feel old enough yet and have too much to do. The children don’t play in the neighborhood much anyway.

Paraphrasing Oliver Wendell Holmes, with apologies, it would seem that the axis of the Earth sticks out visibly through the center of each and every neighborhood. We can begin change for the better right there.

CHERRIL DOTY is an artist, writer, and creative coach exploring and enjoying the many mysteries of life in the moment. She can be reached by e-mail at or by phone at (949) 251-3883.