A trumpet fugue was the brightest note Sunday as a sunrise Easter service began under dark skies at Pierce Brothers Valley Oaks Memorial Park in Westlake Village.
Despite chilly weather and dark, ominous clouds, the open-air services in a parking lot overlooking the sprawling green cemetery attracted about 1,200 residents from Westlake Village, Thousand Oaks, Oxnard and nearby communities.
There were women in pastel spring dresses and hats, children in Sunday finery, trumpet players and a choir. The only thing missing was the sun. It was so dark that the crowd carried candles to read the hymns.
And so cold that a handful of people came wrapped in blankets.
But the misty weather did not seem to dampen Easter plans in Ventura County. At McGrath State Beach in Oxnard, all 174 camping spaces were occupied. At Marina Cove Beach in Ventura, surfers scouted the water in search of the perfect wave. And at restaurants throughout the county, families gathered for Sunday brunch.
Although the clouds temporarily broke in the afternoon to expose some sun, meteorologists predicted heavier clouds, rain and even thunderstorms beginning last night and continuing through Tuesday.
"It looks like a real rainy one," said Steve Burback, a meteorologist for WeatherData Inc., which provides weather information for The Times.
Temperatures in Ventura County on Sunday were in the mid-60s during the day and low 50s in the early morning and evening hours.
The cool weather forced most people at the Westlake Village service to bundle up in winter jackets and shawls.
As a pastor read a Scripture about the Resurrection, a dozen sheep brought in to set the mood grazed on the wet cemetery grass while a sheep dog watched over the flock. A little girl in a pink and white dress wiped the sleep from her eyes and struggled to stay awake, while a young boy in a jacket and tie rubbed his hands to keep warm.
The Rev. Robert C. Bos, a pastor at Westminster Presbyterian Church, said sunrise services have been held at the cemetery every year since 1968. The first few services attracted about 60 worshipers, he said.
Holding Easter services in a cemetery is appropriate, he said, "because we are celebrating the resurrection of the dead."
Easter had a different meaning for James Hetfield, who spent Sunday morning selling bouquets of carnations and roses on the corner of Olivas Park Drive and Victoria Avenue in Ventura. To him, Easter meant big business.
On normal weekends, Hetfield said he sells about 20 bouquets. On holidays, such as Easter, he said he sells three times that amount. Hetfield began selling flowers at 6 a.m. Sunday, and by 10 he had already sold nine bouquets.
"It's Easter. It's great," he said.
At McGrath State Beach in Oxnard, Chris and Marie Dorval planned to spend Easter on the beach with their 4-year-old daughter, Yvett.
"We are going to just sit on the beach and fish," said Chris Dorval, who drove in from Palmdale to camp out at the park with his family.
However, Yvett said what she likes best about Easter isn't the fishing, but "the eggs that have parts of different colors."
For Sean Davidson of Oxnard, Easter meant surfing. "We heard there were some good tubes out here," he said as he slipped into a wet suit at Marina Cove Beach near the Ventura Harbor.
But after investigating further, Davidson said he found that "it's just like two-foot waves out there but the winds are pretty good."
Marc Chambers, an assistant manager at The Velvet Turtle Restaurant in Thousand Oaks, said more than 600 people ate breakfast and brunch at the restaurant Sunday.
"We were busy all day long," he said.
Most of the customers were families, he said. "Lots of families and lots of kids. We had the Easter bunny here, and they all had a good time."