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BACK AT THE RANCH: VISIONS AND VOYEURISM / Peter Wild THE WORST OF IT, the headline-grabbing part, was a body found in the cellar of the family mansion, two shotgun blasts in the stomach, a pistol shot in the head. The verdict was suicide. Among others opposing the victim, in life president of the Irvine Company, was his niece, Joan, by the age of thirty married three times, who on one resultant honeymoon bagged a jaguar in South America, and was wont to carry a concealed tape recorder to board meetings. The stuff to perk up the script writers for Dallas. However, in essence it was just another family squabble, no more than those that roil many a clan's waters, except for the prize. The oblong chunk of prime Southern California real estate with nine miles of choice beachfront stretched inland for twenty miles across Orange County to the Santa Ana Mountains. In between, the Irvine Ranch took in hills, orchards, hawk-studded marshes, maybe even a mountain lion or two. All this thirty miles south of twitching, expanding Los Angeles. "88,000 Golden Acres Waiting for the Dust to Settle," Fortune magazine crowed. What those Golden Acres were waiting for, as does, it seems, every acre in America, was development. And that, as anyone standing beneath the self-assured statute of heroic John Wayne greeting businessmen streaming through Orange County's airport and presiding over the commotion beyond may be assured, it got: a tangle of freeways, rivers embraced by concrete, and pseudoparadisiacal suburbs bounding over hill and dale, a little more of Los Angeles on the march. I'll tell you how innocent we were. One spring we cheered when the overflow of swallows returning to the famed swallow haunt of San Juan Capistrano just down the road started building their mud nests on the spanking-new stucco walls of married student housing. Verano Place, temporary harbor though it was, had become a locus classicus for us, our taste of prosperity imagined for the future. Carefully planned for an enlightened people, with its curving walkways and commons for volleyball and cookouts, eucalyptus The Missouri Review · 99 saplings and snug beds of ice plants, the cluster of buildings floated on a swelling rise of California's fabled golden hills. Day and night, cows mooed around us. From our picture windows, we gazed out for miles on dappled land rising and falling toward the darkgreen coastal mountains. Sipping our morning coffee, we watched cottontails nibble, nibble, nibble in the surrounding flowerbeds. In the sweet dusk of evening, we'd stroll through the waisthigh wheat to watch the kids play with the goats at a nearby farmhouse. A generation growing up under the banner of "Back to the Land" paused here between rus and urbs. My wife taught school in Santa Ana, ten miles away, which meant we had money. Down near the highway stood a Circle-K, beer depot for barbecues held amid flying kites. All the sunshine, space, and rolling hills one could want. This was what life should be, what America was all about. As to setting, most of us would never have it so good. So one balmy Saturday when the handyman arrived and started hosing down the nests, we gathered, a graduate ragtag of minutemen with wives and children, called him a villain and an ogre and willing dupe of the military-industrial complex, until he shook his head and slunk away. Then we all signed a petition prefaced with quotes from Thoreau. Finally setting a crooked world straight, on Monday morning our delegation marched the quarter mile: across the fields to the gracious lady in the Administration Building, who on the first of each month graciously accepted our state-subsidized rent as if each of us really mattered. For these were the days of idyllic phantasms mixed with ire— nay, spite, and institutions standing in the way of our dreams paid in bank burnings and campus riots. In our minds, hosing swallows was part and parcel of napalming peasant villages on the other side of the globe. Maybe it was. Three days after our foray into the Administration Building, there was a meeting in...


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