I am often moved, by sadness and joy. But there were more tears than I expected on my first vacation in California.
I first moistened up with a smile, feeling that thrill of take off, thankful that Dad taught us to love flying. I suppose one could have cried about the first three days of rain and mandatory evacuation alerts in the “sunny” coastal town of Carpinteria, but why? I trusted the judgment of my gracious hosts, Jean and Denny Fox, that our risk was minimal. I enjoyed walking on the beach and salt marsh when the rain was light. When it poured, I was happy to weed my photos, or visit or play a game with my friends.
The sun finally came out and blessed our outing to the Santa Ynez Valley, where we reveled in the green hillsides and flowers, tasted the local wine, and were charmed by a little brown lamb. When I snapped just one picture of a red-tailed hawk overhead and was lucky enough to capture its beauty, I was inspired to make this a “working vacation” by taking plenty of pictures—as if that was ever in doubt!
I was glad that we all wanted to go to Santa Barbara for the March for Our Lives. The emphasis on voting was exciting, and creative signs called out many facts and feelings. Speeches from people having suffered through school shootings or lost loved ones to gun violence made our cause painfully real. I appreciated the flowers and friendly dogs that occasionally took my focus from the words that tugged at my heart and dampened my eyes. But even more beautiful were the inspiring, courageous faces of the future.
Our visit to the Santa Barbara Courthouse was a fitting follow-up to the march. Though the historical accuracy of the many paintings throughout the Spanish Revival elegance was questionable, the fact that the complex is currently a working courthouse, as well as a community gathering place, gave us hope that what we and millions around the world had witnessed that day was the arc of the moral universe bending toward justice.
But most refreshing for our eyes and souls was the marina, with its playful winds, gulls, and people.
Sunday morning brought us to the cliffs above the seal rookery where Jean and Denny volunteer during the birthing months, when the area is federally protected. The first picture shows what we saw with the naked eye. Thank goodness for the zoom in my camera! I loved seeing the many colors and even whiskered expressions of the seals. The rocks shelter them from whales and sharks. Docents count seals and pups, educate visitors from around the world, and advise them of the consequences for walking the beach near the sensitive animals—a $10,000 fine and a year in jail. In the distance are oil rigs. I hoped there had been some protective measures taken since the deadly Santa Barbara oil spill in 1969.
After lunch we headed up to Montecito, site of the January mudslides following the Thomas wildfire, largest in California history. Pictures can’t compare with being there, even ten weeks after the disaster. Seeing mountainsides burned and treeless was sad enough. Seeing houses gutted by ten foot boulders and blackened by mud up to their roofs, it was impossible not to imagine the terror the occupants must have felt as, without warning, mud and debris flooded their homes as they lay in their beds. Twenty six died, while a toddler and teen were washed out to sea. Tears? Had regulations allowed us to stop or leave our cars, I’m sure we’d have had our own little floods. It was one of those times when the task of documenting with my camera helped buffer me from overwhelming sadness. Still, there was little conversation as we drove through the devastation. Even when seeing a splendid estate, somehow untouched by the forces that destroyed the home next door, we knew that the residents must be struggling with horrific questions. I wish all the climate change deniers in Washington would walk through these areas. In their pajamas.
Despite the vastness of the destruction, there were uplifting signs of the human spirit. Someone had written “Thank you everyone! We love you” in the mud covering their house. (Click on the pictures to enlarge that and other details.) I was grateful to have been a witness and that my hosts had wisely planned to follow that heartbreaking “tour” with a visit to Seaside Gardens. They knew we would find healing in the exquisite landscape and resilience of delicate flowers.
On my last full day, I wandered the quaint streets of Carpinteria, soaking in the warm air, and browsing a few shops and antique stores. Though there were lovely things, and I’d have felt justified in buying something to remind me of the trip, I knew I didn’t need that. I’d have my pictures, writing, and surely something from the beach.
The beach! Suddenly I felt I was wasting precious time and headed there quickly. I was not disappointed as I walked the beach and took it all in—the sky, the birds, the kids, the sand between my toes and the waves on my legs. But that wasn’t quite enough. I had to get in. When the first wave hit me, it was not just cold. It was really really cold. But as I looked up at the sun, and wave after wave crashed into me, I forgot the cold and remembered why I’d come. I wanted a break between my old life and new. I wanted to let go of all the stress of the last year—Mom’s dementia and death, planning her celebration of life, the task of emptying and selling her house. Though tears came as I remembered all of that, I knew it was time to turn the page and concentrate on my life, my goals. I stood my ground and laughed as each wave hit me hard and knocked the weight off my shoulders. Then I realized I didn’t have to resist. I could just let each wave lift and carry me. As long as I kept my focus forward, I’d land on my feet.
When I got back to the house and showered, I found black grit inside my swim suit—soot from the wildfires. A sad reminder of how widespread and long-lasting its effects would be. But it didn’t stop me from going back on my last morning to love the beach one more time, despite the many burned and broken trees. I found a few shells and a special rock—all the souvenirs I needed. Then Jean and Denny took me to the bus and went off to watch their seals again. Once at the airport, I got a text from Jean. A body found on the rocks—another suicide. Then a seal with a huge shark bite, probably fatal. Sigh.
When people ask how my vacation was, I hesitate a moment, but then say good. Joy and sadness, beauty and horror, life and death. Not an escape from the world, but a portrait of it. Full of truth and challenge.
(c) 2018 Holly Jorgensen and Northern Holly Creations