“Coincidence? Maybe Not,” April 2, 2019

Do you believe in coincidence? I like to think things happen for a reason, even if I don’t know the reason. Take that strange thing I saw on the mountain.

Recently we moved to Carmel Valley, Calif., to a small house with a big view of the Santa Lucia Mountains.

I wish you could see them.

Last week, I was sitting in my new living room, checking out the view — the horse farm across the valley, the clouds rolling in from the coast, the buzzards circling overhead — when suddenly I spotted it.

On a faraway ridge, something stood alone and tall. I grabbed the binoculars and focused on what looked like a lighthouse.

“Look at that,” I said, handing the binoculars to my husband, “what do you think it is?”

He stared for a bit and said, “I think it’s a fire lookout tower.”

A fire tower? Like the one I once climbed? I knew he was right. He always is. But I wanted more proof. An hour’s search online gave me the following:

The Sid Ormsbee Fire Lookout was built in 1948, in what is now the Santa Lucia Preserve, on a ridge that rises more than 2,000 feet above Carmel Valley.

It is named for 2nd Lt. Sidney C. Ormsbee, a 26-year-old forest ranger from Capitola, who died in 1943, when his plane was shot down on a bombing mission in World War II.

No longer used for fire observation, the site is equipped with a telecommunications tower for emergency transmissions for firefighters battling blazes in the area.

That’s a short version of Sid Ormsbee’s story. This is mine: Long ago, when I was a teenager in the Carolinas, with no clue of what to do with my life, I went for a ride with some friends and ended up at an old abandoned fire tower.

I remember standing on the ground, looking up to where the tower disappeared in the clouds. Somebody (not I) said, “Let’s climb this thing.” So we did.

We climbed for what felt like forever, rung by rung, never daring to look down. When my friend reached the platform, he yelled, “Dang! It’s locked!”

We clung there for a while, holding on for dear life, feeling the tower sway in the wind. After a bit, I opened my eyes and looked down at the silent, glorious world below. I felt a sense of peace and joy unlike any I’d ever known. And I said to myself, “I can do this. I can be a ranger in a lookout tower.”

That became my goal in life for several years. Then I went off to college. After college, I moved to California, married, and had three babies. And at some point, I realized I would never want to spend my life alone in a tower without the people I love.

So I gave up my dream of living alone in a tower. Instead, I learned to find peace and joy, not in isolation, but in a crazy, frantic thing called life.

I thought about all of that this week, sitting in my living room, looking out at that tower and giving thanks for a young man who gave his life for his country.

Here are ways our stories are alike: Sid Ormsbee and my dad were born on opposite coasts in the spring of 1916. Sid played basketball at Santa Cruz High, where 40 years later, I would keep score for the visiting team from Monterey. In 1941, both men enlisted in WWII. Both served in Northern Africa and Italy. Ormsbee’s plane was shot down on the eve of my mother’s 18th birthday. The tower that bears his name, and that I see from my living room window, was built the year I was born.

Coincidences? Probably. All I know is, after so many years, I finally have my own lookout tower. And I don’t have to climb it to enjoy the view, or to feel the peace and joy it brings me.

A coincidence may be nothing but chance. But sometimes, if you look closely, you might see an old dream coming true.


  1. Cath Tendler says

    Oh, Sharon, the places you take us with your descriptive, heartwarming words! I used to read your “Bay Window” in the local Monterey Herald decades back. You even visited my classroom to meet my blind student Cody. Your grace, beauty, charm, and humor entertained us in person, just like your words do on this two-dimensional screen. That fire tower has been my quest for years and last year I finally braved the altitude, the dense brush, and the poison oak to be at Sid’s lookout. It was a privilege to finally be at his tower. May we lead privileged lives in unforeseen ways. May your new abode bring you many new perspectives and joys. I, too, was born the year he died, so you and I “went to different schools together!”

  2. Bev Kreps says

    I moved to CV from Oakland 30 years ago and have looked at the valley ridges and CV Ranch from my deck since then. You’ll find wonderful people and vistas and the peace that goes with it. My neighbor showed me a photo of a bobcat in her yard this week. Welcome to more sun, more quiet and a nice piece of the natural world…sometimes I forget to be grateful.

  3. Susan Kovarick says

    I use excerpts from your columns as well as your early “Birdbaths and…” book when sharing stories where I now live at Atterdag Village in Solvang. Fire tower hit home too as well as Pacific Grove, birth of first in 1960…back in 1972 (USNPGSchool) , tuberous begonias in Carmel Valley, NC Linville…love to you.

  4. Kate Sciacca says

    Oh my what a picture you painted with those words. Tonight I drove back over the mountain and home to the real Nevada… in a driving rain. I hope those clouds came through your beautiful Valley – Carmel Valley in a rainstorm is one beautiful site to see 🙂

  5. Naomi Humphrey says

    Enjoy every article you write. Wish you the best in your new home. Makes me want to go to the mountains.

  6. Fred Hernandez says

    We held my son Greg’s bachelor party on a fire tower on Trumbull Peak, overlooking my old resort, Cedar Lodge, near El Portal. It was a loooooong drive on logging roads and deer camp rut tracks. About a dozen of us celebrated with a little barbecue and much refreshments and a wide array of questionable substances. I can attest that we slept well. The snoring kept all wildlife away for miles around. So we felt safe. I share this peak experience so you won’t feel deprived. Just think of wind whistling in the windows and shaking us to sleep in the creaking old tower. We were too goofy to feel any discomfort. Consider your adventure complete. And think of me when you look at yonder tower.

  7. Nancy from medford says

    So glad i found you via facebook. I have loved reading your column for many years. We recently moved to medford oregon to be closer to our grandchildren and the local
    Paper, the Mail Tribune, does not run your column. Thank you for sharing your life with all of us.

  8. james walter peterson says

    Reminds me of your “Bay Window”column. I like reading about what you see.

  9. Victoria Bayne says

    Oh the fire towers I have climbed! And I’ve enjoyed the experience and the view from
    every single one! So glad you have your tower to enjoy from your home.
    Thank you for your stories, Sharon. Enjoy your life back in California.

  10. Sally Merrill says

    I wish I had a small house with a view of a mountain too! I always feel a special calmness and a happiness in my heart whenever I see the mountains. Luckily, my daughter lives close enough to the NC mountains that I can see them when I visit my grandchildren, so my heart is twice as happy then! I wish you much happiness in your new home and continue to enjoy some happy memories of the fire tower. I’m not sure I could have ever made myself climb a fire tower, but I did once hike up Crowder’s Mountain outside of King’s Mountain, NC!

  11. Sue McDermott says

    I loved this story Sharon! I felt like I was right there with you in your new home enjoying your view! I once thought things happen for a reason but a wise young man once said he preferred to think that things happen “ by design.” That makes more sense to my old brain when I cannot think of a reason…. 💓

  12. I’m so glad to see your column , the newspaper in Wichita Falls , Tx. stopped running it , I’ve read your stories for 20 years and was so mad when they stopped your weekly column , please keep on writing …. Ruby from Texas

    • Sharon Randall says

      Ruby, thanks for your concern about the column! Actually, they are STILL running it after all these years! They just moved it to Saturdays! I’m so glad you noticed! All the best _ Sharon

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