by Larry Brody
Before we came to Paradise, Gwen the Beautiful and I lived just outside L.A., in an area known as Malibu, Hidden Valley, Westlake Village, or Thousand Oaks, depending on who was doing the knowing. Mail addressed to any of those towns would arrive in our mailbox at the original Cloud Creek Ranch.
Yes, I said “original.” Before we came to our mountaintop in the Ozarks we lived on one in—well, in Malibu-Hidden Valley-Westlake Village-Thousand Oaks. The ranch spread out over acreage with craggy cliffs, level pasture, rolling hills, a seasonal stream with a funky land bridge, 40-foot cedars and live oaks.
At the time, the live oaks were the most beautiful things I’d ever seen. Green all year round. Trunks three feet around that called out to be leaned against because each tree could, and gladly would, hold you upright forever.
The woods that surrounded our compound were a year-round trove of beauty. I still remember the first time I walked through them, and how I called out to the Wind:
“I love this place! It’s perfect! I’ve got to live here…forever!”
And how, for the first time in my life, I heard the Wind call back to me:
“Forever? Absolutely. As long as you do your part.”
“What’s my part?”
“Take care of this land. Guard it. Keep it safe.”
“Guard it how? From what? I can’t stop fires. Or earthquakes.”
“Keep its spirit safe. Keep it pure. The land and the trees have a purpose. They love to be lived on…and in. To provide. Don’t do anything that would make them regret their love. Live well here, and you can live here forever.”
“I’m happy to make that deal,” I said, and I barely got the words out of my mouth before the Wind rustled through the oaks with a long, drawn-out, and oh-so-beautiful to me, “Done!”
The first Cloud Creek Ranch’s magic held true. It was a place where my highly allergic self never reacted badly to the touch of any plant. Where any sore on any horse—even cancer—healed. Where no matter where on the property you stood, you always were looking down at the rest of the land, including the place where you’d last stood and which at the time had seemed so much higher than where you were now.
The trees and I talked every day.
The stars and I talked every night.
Day or night, Gwen could sit in the living room, on the Saltillo tile floor, and talk to the spirit of a gnarled Old Cowboy who would appear in the periphery of her vision. Translucently beautiful in his well-worn buckskins, he would rock in our old rocking chair and smile, leaving only when she forgot herself and turned to make direct eye contact. (That’s when we learned such behavior is a no-no when dealing with ghosts.)
Oh, it was quite a place, that property deeded to my heart by the Wind.
There were problems, though. Aren’t there always problems? Everywhere?
The beauty of the woods made for a huge surcharge on our homeowners’ insurance, adding a sum greater than our entire monthly mortgage payment here in Paradise to our monthly budget…and our house payment itself was six times what we pay now.
California property taxes weren’t exactly nickels and dimes either, and the fact that our stream was seasonal combined with the complete lack of any underground water source to create a situation where we had to pay to have fresh water trucked in and stored in a tank so massive it could’ve said, “City of Malibu-Hidden Valley-Westlake Village-Thousand Oaks” on the side.
To say we were “house poor” would be understating the situation. We were “house destitute.” No matter how much I earned, it wasn’t enough to stay where we were.
We had no choice but to sell and move on to new magic.
The situation enraged me. I ranted. I raged.
“You lied to me!” I screamed out to the Wind. “We had a deal! I kept my part of the bargain, but you betrayed me!”
“Not so,” said the Wind, quiet as a breeze, the night before Gwen and I left for Paradise.. “I said you could live here forever, and I meant it. All woods are one wood. You’re just heading into a different neck of the woods now.
“You won’t be missing anything,” continued the Wind. “I promise. This place is magic, but so is where you’re going. All woods are magic. Every last one.”
And, as Gwen and I and everyone who visits this space knows, the Wind spoke true.