- Our little hills forever near
- Tell us your secret rare,
- Through progress of change you never care?
- Though they plow up your cover of greens and browns,
- Disturbing your colorful restful mounds?
- We humans would learn from you the way
- Of patience and peace for every day,
- Just taking what comes of sunshine or rain,
- Trusting God’s care will forever remain.
Gloria Esterbloom, a longtime resident of Bonita penned this poem in her 1954 memoir, Our Beloved Valley, expressing admiration for the environment and an anxiety of what man does with it. Specifically, she was worried for the Sweetwater Valley, where Bonita resides, and how progress looms as a threat. It is this same worry of expansion and penchant for the pastoral — despite numerous real estate developments and population changes — that has kept Bonita as a defiant answer to the urbanizing world around them.
Esterbloom and her husband John were ranchers. For them Bonita was an agricultural town that harvested lemons, raised dairy cows, and benefitted from the labor of Mexican migrant workers, or as Esterbloom called them, “little brown men.” It had been that way since she moved to the area in the early 1900s. Yet, in the second half of the 20th Century, Bonita, as with most near-city agricultural communities, began to display suburban characteristics.
In the 1970s and 1980s, developers built large housing tracts throughout the valley and along the hills and canyons. Bonita Vista High School and Bonita Vista Middle School were established in the late 1960s. Shopping centers opened along Bonita Road. In the coming decades, Bonita’s population exploded from about 500 in the 1950s to more than 6000 by 1980. In 1976, Esterbloom died at the age of 79 while Bonita transformed before her eyes.
I live in my childhood home, which sits within one of the large housing tracts of Bonita. Our house overlooks the southern portion of Bonita Long Canyon, which lends its name to our housing tract. The canyon branches from the Sweetwater Valley and stretches for three miles, shooting southeast toward Eastlake. The suburb looks like a collection of boxes, some white, others pink, all with red roofs, snaking along the rim of a canyon. Though our address indicates otherwise, some Bonitans hesitate to call where we live Bonita. It makes sense. For most of Bonita’s lifespan, Bonita Long Canyon, the top of Corral Canyon Road, was just a canyon with grassy hills and a few dirt trails. As an unincorporated community with its geographic center gutted by decades of annexation battles with its neighbors Chula Vista and National City, defining the borders of Bonita can spark debate. Plaza Bonita shopping mall used to be the Bonita Golf Course and Little League baseball field until it was annexed by National City. Rohr Park, which is at Bonita’s center, was annexed by Chula Vista. Perhaps our home got lost in the tangled mess of shifting borders.
If there does exist a concrete border between Bonita and the rest of the world, the border is atmospheric. Bonita of today is one large suburb, yet the lines between the constructions of man and the movements of the wild are blurred. The atmosphere is marked by a willingness to incorporate nature as a part of man, homes and businesses swelling throughout the once vacant little hills of Esterbloom’s Bonita, and in turn, remembering that man is merely a part of nature.
My home overlooks a canyon. The only thing separating our blue-tiled swimming pool from the wildlife below is a rusted white fence and some chicken wire. Beyond the fence, packs of coyotes, rabbits, rattlesnakes, and field mice live among the seasonal grasses, California lilacs, monkey flowers, and cacti of the coastal sage scrub. Before we added the chicken wire, baby rattlesnakes and rabbits were found at the bottom of our pool, their bodies outstretched, surprised by the rectangular pit of chlorined water interrupting their dry, grassy home. In spring, sometimes in the middle of the night, coyotes give birth to pups. The cries of a dozen or so can sound like hundreds of puppies yelping and shrieking. My neighbor’s dogs bark back. Its owners wake in a panic, irritated by the commotion at such a late hour. A commute and work await tomorrow. I just put the baby to bed, hand me the earplugs. In a way, the coyotes remind us that the canyon is their home and they can scream when they please. Again, Mrs. Esterbloom’s words come to me: We humans would learn from you the way/Of patience and peace for every day.
3218 Summit Meadow Road, Bonita
Down in the valley, between Sweetwater Road and Bonita Road, a web of trails in the Sweetwater Regional Park weaves through thick shrubbery, eucalyptus and willow trees, and Morrison Pond. I decide to visit the park on a crisp autumn morning. I begin at the corner of Bonita Road and Central Avenue on the Stephanie Rossi Memorial Trail. In 1989, Rossi, a nurse and mother of three, died along the trail after being struck head-on by a motorcyclist while taking an afternoon jog. Rossi was 29 at the time of her death. A highway patrol officer said the male motorcyclist lit a cigarette while standing alongside his bike, casually pointing to Rossi’s motionless body and said, “I hit that little girl over there.”
The prints of running shoes mark the trail next to long jagged lines drawn by mountain bikes, and the tracks of horse hooves are stamped into dried mud. Brown and green horse droppings are scattered along the way. A white and red semi truck pulls out of a 7-Eleven gas station across the street. As the truck passes me, a large plastic Del Taco cup is flung out the window. It travels through the branches of a willow tree and lands on the trail, splattering Coca Cola and ice near my feet.
Aside from the Del Taco cup and a miniature plastic nativity scene with a missing baby Jesus, the trails are clean. I head under the Bonita Road bridge, and the trail turns to damp sand like a river honoring a dry holiday. Water from a creek is running nearby.