Posted by: lecubiste | January 14, 2018

Montecito Remembered

I was three when we moved to Santa Barbara, to a house in the hills  behind the city. I remember my 4th birthday, I remember dancing at night with my brothers and sisters under a lightning storm. I remember going to the municipal wading pool near the harbor, walking out to the end of the jetty and dodging the waves that broke over the concrete wall.

When I was four we moved to Montecito, to a house next to the beach.  I remember listening to the waves crashing on the sand that lulled me to sleep, night after night. I remember exploring the woods and railroad tracks near the house, the many games that we children played outside.  I remember the day my brother and I saw a small plane crash into the trees behind us. We ran to tell our mother, but she didn’t believe us.  Ten minutes later the pilot knocked on the front door and proved us right.  I stayed home from school the next day to watch a crane lift the small Coast Guard plane out of the saplings that grew at the bottom of the hill behind the house. The year was 1961.

Watching the news about the mudslides in Montecito struck me as incredible.  Yes there were fires.  Santa Barbara was known to have fires every decade or so as the Sundowner winds would blow from inland toward the ocean, carrying the hot, dry air seaward, drying out the brush.

It was the heavy rains that followed so closely on the heels of the fire that made this year’s event unique. The fires had burned in the hills above the majority of Montecito. When the heavy rains come the rushing water picked up debris from the scorched soil and washed it down into the streams that fall to the shore. Along those streams were many homes.

The heavy flow picked up boulders, tree limbs, and what ever debris was in and along the stream banks and rushed downhill, crashing through homes, across the 101 freeway that ordinarily divides Montecito into the hillside and the ocean side, and clear into that ocean side of the small and wealthy hamlet.

This was a completely unexpected and unprecedented event. Southern California has had many mudslides over the years.  Usually these happen around the periphery of the LA basin, where homes are built up to dry canyons that come out of the mountains.  But not in Montecito, the wealthy suburb of Los Angeles, Holly wood, Santa Monica, and other places where money is made and a nearby escape is needed.  Oprah Winfrey, Ellen DeGeneres, and other refugees from LA traffic, noise, and smog maintain these getaway homes among the seaside beauty and not too far from a Trader Joe’s and the Santa Barbara shopping and tourist scene.

Montecitans had a sense of imperviousness to the threats of the modern world.  It is removed from crime and poverty. The western winds blow east across Montecito most of the time. The air is clean.

This time, for maybe the first time, reality tragically touched Montecito. Who would have thought that the hills would flow in a mud and rock slurry across the beautiful Montecito terrain, destroying everything in its path.  It’s like a sci-fi story. “Monster invades small coastal town with destructive fury.” Who would have believed it?

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