“Fortunately, the task of preparing this volume has been carried on by those who have had the feeling that a piece of work must be done, but who also have had a purpose to make it reveal beauty and exude the historical atmosphere of the region with which it is concerned.”

—Santa Barbara: A Guide to the Channel City and Its Environs (1941)

Posted in Reference

Native American Cupule Boulder Discovered

Mortar

No trail leads there. A careless body could fall along the way and be bloodied up, break a bone, die busted and splattered across the sharp angular stones of canyon rip-rap and jumbled boulders and bedrock slabs.

Such has happened in the canyons of Santa Barbara County. People perish here hiking in the Los Padres National Forest.

Walking a ridgeline on a different approach during a subsequent visit proved no less precipitous.

I peered down double black diamond dry ravel slopes.

I get soft and fuzzy headed in unstable high places these days. I felt the pull of the void.

I imagined myself loosing traction on the descent and tumbling rag doll head over heals into the canyon’s stony toothed maw.

With luck, maybe, I could have saved myself by glissading the slope on my rear end, trekking poles for stability, but at that steep angle, gravel working like ball bearings, the speed might have been unmanageable.

This place still remains difficult to reach, today, and the strain in getting there impresses upon me how remote it must have been for people in prehistoric yesteryears.

Later, back home, I would ponder with amusement the fact that those people came to this place adorned in finely crafted jewelry. If the tiny cylindrical bead found there was any indication.

Sweating profusely, red and steamy, hot and thirsty and dusty and dirty, hauling a pack with liters of water and calories, pushing and pulling and holding myself in place aside the mountain slope with trekking poles, feet wrapped in protective coverings, covered head to toe in the burly synthetic fiber toughskins of outdoor adventure clothing made to withstand the abrasive brush and rock; I busted my hind end it to get there.

This place where they once hung out so well-adorned and nearly naked by comparison.

The contradistinction between us seemed ludicrous.

I hauled myself up the acclivity, lumbering through the geologic wrack, dragging my body, that suit I came in that now felt like a sack of molten lead.

I didn’t know where I was headed.

I had no destination.

Old seashell found high on the mountain.

In this late year in this long settled and overrun American land, less than fifty miles from the most populace county in the nation in the most populace state, the forest still holds secrets.

Once in awhile the forest yields riches to fortunate souls whom invest time immersed in the other world out there, outside the metropolis, across the fence lines, beyond the end of the road, down the trail and into the wild.

Sometimes the wealth earned is abstract and metaphysical, something that happens in your head when you’re out there.

“Myself, crouched in this cave,” Craig Childs writes in Soul of Nowhere, “I am hoping to become the same, a person who is changed by the land, who puts a pen to paper and tells what I have seen.”

On other occasions, the woods may reveal  something physical to the keen observer and wanderer of wilder places.

I hear murmurs of an extraordinary Native American zoomorphic stone artifact, possibly a cetacean, recently found in a certain canyon above Montecito, revealed after the catastrophic and deadly Montecito Debris Flow of 2018, discovered by a lady out for a hike in one of the most popular canyons in the Santa Barbara frontcountry.

That earth churns and old buried treasures turn up from the dirt may not be surprising.

People have lived around these parts for over 13,000 years (Arlington Spring Man). Some artifacts are found over twenty feet deep in the ground.

But to stumble on a landed artifact several weeks ago myself, sitting around above ground for innumerable years, surprised me.

In the land of lower California in 2020 crawling with millions of people, hidden treasures and secret places still remain in our remnant wildlands.

What a fantastic revelation!

On a hike in late January I discovered a cupule boulder I did not know existed and that was unmentioned in the literature.

“That is a surprise,” he said, the well-known published expert I consulted and whom was unaware of the site.

He suggested I notify John Johnson, Curator of Anthropology at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History.

Cupules

Located high in the mountains, this place offers an incredible view over the land spread out far below.

I was stunned! when I made it over the last steep slope and emerged from the trickling creek and I stood straight again and walked instead of clambered and I saw how the forest floor fell out before me into a gulf of open air with a long view over the land below as far as the clarity of the air allowed framed on either side by plummeting ridgelines.

Whoa!!!

I marveled at my surroundings. I weaved a slow uncertain line across this remarkable promontory, struck by its incredible geography that so pleasured my mind.

This place, for its view and geography, is something like the Knapp’s Castle site in Santa Barbara County.

See the faint circular depression surrounding the hole? Is it natural or human-made?

The Chumash long ago discovered all the finest nooks and crannies of the forest or perhaps they inherited them from the Hunting People and the earlier Oak Grove People or whomever.

The places of long views, eccentric and useful rock formations, peaks and valleys and fields and streams and seeps and springs and deep pools and natural stone tanks and tinajas and the differing neighborhoods of various plants and the collections of animals drawn to them.

There is a true story of a deer hunter finding two Chumash bows and a bundle of about 20 or so arrows inside a dry cave in Santa Barbara County in the late 1950s.

The cave is located in a canyon in and around which the modern deer population (circa 1965) had been found to be among the densest in the county.

The old Chumash knew these things by necessity. I struggle mentally and physically to learn what had long ago already been known about this land and then lost.

I recall as a boy driving into this canyon and on a grassy slope beside the dirt road I spied deer antlers through the truck window.

I remember having been rather impressed with the size, and that George, my friend Willy’s dad, pulled rank and ended up taking them much to my disappointment. I wanted the antlers. My boyhood bedroom resembled a museum with shelves burdened with collections of bric-a-brac.

It rained hard on that trip to the house in Peachtree Canyon. We ended up having to hike out in the rain on the sloppy and tacky dirt road with its burdensome heavy mud that stuck to our shoes and made adobe bricks of our feet.

The cupule boulder.

I walked along admiring this high mountain promontory and the view therefrom on an immaculate winter’s day.

I came to a short and flat tabletop boulder, about waist high, and upon it a roundish area appeared worn.

This brought to mind the sort of grinding slicks seen on granite in the desert and in the Sierra that were once used to process seeds or nuts or whatever.

But the wear was subtle enough to remain unclear and the bottom of the bowling depression seemed too rough to have been used. Maybe the rain had made it.

One day the bottom of the depression, worn by sitting water, might be perfectly flat like a miniature dry lake and smooth and hold gallons of water, a tank. I found several such tanks on this day, all dry in this once again droughty winter.

I ran my fingers over the roundish area on the flat boulder, and moseyed on, aimless as usual, so often aimless out there.

I stepped at a slow pace around another much larger boulder and it seemed as though something inside my head told me to look down and when I did there before me lay a small artifact of white chipped stone in a crescent shape.

I stood still, looking at the telltale bit of stone, mentally feasting upon the intellectual meal I had just discovered. People had been here a long time ago.

The artifact appeared to be the back end of an arrowhead protruding from the earth.

Still standing, I could see notches in the stone once used to haft the projectile point to an arrow shaft or so it appeared.

But when I knelt and first picked up the artifact some forty-five minutes later its form differed from the projectile point I had in mind.

I turned the small piece over in my hand and I was surprised to see that it was not a broken half of an arrowhead. The break was not a break, but in fact a finished edge.

Later when I showed it to my young daughter the first thing she said was that it looked like a bear. I hadn’t seen it at first, myself, but when mentioned the resemblance was remarkable and unmistakable, though perhaps coincidental.

Some time after that first artifact, one of many of different sorts found in addition to bone and seashell fragments, I used a tree to hoist myself atop a boulder.

On top of the boulder, in a natural depression, I found some 30 or more cupules.

In another boulder a stone’s throw away and nearer the edge of a cliff I found a single mortar.

Between the mortar stone and the cupule boulder, some person or people had apparently spent much time knapping and crafting stone tools as evidenced by a concentration of light lithic scatter and numerous stone artifacts.

*

At the start of the day, as I began my hike, and later while dragging my body all over the mountain, I wondered what I was doing and why. I thought perhaps I had wasted my day rather than seizing it.

Why do I go to places where few people if anybody else at all ever bothers with?

I wondered if I had wasted my day, because I had no set destination, nothing planned to reach or achieve—no waterfall, no deep pool in the creek, no peak, no trail camp, no flowers, no foraging for mushrooms or other wild edibles and nothing labeled on any map.

And then I stumbled onto this archaeological site by happenstance.

Related Posts on this Blog:

Chumash Rock Art Discovered

The Los Padres Box of Chocolates

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Chaparral


Slopes of chaparral in the Santa Ynez Mountains.

On down the slopes and all the way to the canyons was a thicket of varied shrubs that changed in character as altitude fell but was everywhere dense enough to stop an army.

On its lower levels, it was all green, white, and yellow with buckwheat, burroweed, lotus and sage, deerweed, bindweed, yerba santa. There were wild morning glories, Canterbury bells, tree tobacco, miner’s lettuce.

The thicket’s resistance to trespass, while everywhere formidable, stiffened considerably as it evolved upward.

There were intertwining mixtures of manzanita, California lilac, scrub oak, chamise. There was buckthorn. There was mountain mahogany. Generally evergreen, the dark slopes were splashed here and there with dodder, its mustard color deepening to rust. Blossoms of the Spanish bayonet stood up like yellow flames. There were lemonade berries (relatives of poison ivy and poison oak). In canyons, there were alders, big-leaf maple bushes, pug sycamores, and California bay.

Whatever and wherever they were, these plants were prickly, thick, and dry, and a good deal tougher than tundra.

Those evergreen oaks fingering up the creases in the mountains were known to the Spaniards as chaparros. Riders who worked in the related landscape wore leather overalls open at the back, and called them chaparajos.

By extension, this all but impenetrable brush was known as chaparral.”

John McPhee, “The Control of Nature” (1989)

Everywhere and always around here, chaparral. The woody and wiry brushwood that grows in thickets so tangled and prickly it renders foot travel impossible without being ripped to shreds.

I hate it so much I’ve grown to love it. “Worthy ******* adversary,” to quote Walter Sobchak. Chaparral demands respect.

The hideous overgrown weeds are penetrable only through violent force in most places. “Carrying packs and cutting our way down a brush-choked arroyo with machetes,” Campbell Grant wrote, “we made a mile in two hours.”

Through the years chaparral has defined and many times dictated the day’s (mis)adventures by obscuring trails, barring access and making travel afoot exceedingly difficult and uncomfortable.

I can’t deny feeling a certain degree of pleasure whenever a wildfire scorches vast swaths of chaparral. Take that, vile weed!  And how nice it is to walk freely through open terrain when it’s been reduced to ash and bare sticks. That never lasts long, though.

It’s a rather perverse and maddening feeling to have been “lost” one night within sight of people and the city only because an impenetrable wall of chaparral stood between me and Gibraltar Road. I could see cars driving on the mountain road not too far off from where I was stuck in the dark without a trail, but short of a brutal bushwhack–which might have taken hours to cover only a short distance and require an extreme amount of effort and result in being scratched raw and bloody–I could not make it to the road.

In the land of chaparral, the trail is a thin savior through the thicket. A twelve-inch wide life raft promising safe passage home and a return to the comfort and convenience of civilization and the bottomless well that gushes at all hours everything anybody wants.

To lose the trail is to fall from the raft and be cast adrift in rolling seas of chaparral that stretch to the horizon. A puny human marooned in an ocean of dangerous wilderness. A castaway caught amidst heaving peaks and steep mountain slopes that rise and fall like monstrous green swells.

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The Rescue of a Baby Lion

The fleeting, odd bit of noise sounded mechanical when it first hit my ear. But we were in a designated wilderness wherein nothing of the sort is allowed. And so brief was the sound I almost wasn’t sure I heard it.

Then it sounded again. Definitely something humanmade.  Maybe it was a horse since it couldn’t be a machine. It didn’t sound like a horse. I was grasping for meaning. It didn’t sound like anything to do with any horse.

“Did you hear that?”

“Yeah.”

“What the hell is that?”

Silence. A thin wisp of air through pine needles. That far out spacey, desolate sound. Two men and their thoughts. A long wondrous view overlooking a huge swath of piñon forest.

And there was that noise again. A metallic rattle from the direction of our camp where we had left behind our packs with our food, and so now there was another concern.

Other odd sounds drifted over, impossible to decipher and unsettling in the midst of wilderness. More rattling. Muffled rustling. Something.

“Sounds like a bear getting out food.”

I don’t know if it sounded like a bear shredding packs to get food, but the mind imagines and I had no other idea what else it could possibly be.

The noise was loud from such a distance. Whatever it was wasn’t small. It wasn’t a bird nor a rodent.

I stood on a rock gazing over the forest down toward our camp and I saw the tall tree the camp was under. I saw no movement but nor could I see our packs.

“I’ve never had any problems with bears in the Los Padres.”

“Neither have I.”

The afternoon sun struck the south slope of the high desert foothills with an unseasonably warm intensity for November.

We sat in the rocks for an hour or so watching the forest and the sun set behind mountain peaks in the far off distance and several times we each unsettled a yellow jacket nest in the ground nearby and they swarmed out to investigate our intrusion and we withdrew for fear of the tiny buggers.

And the bewildering noises continued.

“Wanna go see if we have anything left to eat?”

Just after the sun fell below the horizon we moseyed back to camp to see if the bear had left anything for us to pick through.

Nothing was touched in camp. No sign of any animal could be found.

Then the metallic rattle erupted as we stood in camp. The noise was nearby. A stone’s throw, perhaps.

“What the hell is that?” The mutual question.

The noises had been carrying on now for quite some time, inexplicably, and became ever more vexing.

Maybe it was a can rattling among rocks in the wind. But there was no wind, just a breeze too light to cause such a noise.

We walked from camp not many yards across the adjacent glade and to its far edge where the piñon pines began again. The noises continued intermittently.

Then we heard the yowls.

The lion cub as found.

The voice was that of a mammal. Finally we had some solid sense of. . .something. No doubt it was. . .hairy. It was a bloody milk drinker! Of some kind.

We surmised either a cat or possibly a bear was over in yonder darkening forest. Maybe a bob cat or lion. Maybe it was a young cub of some sort playing with trash, a can perhaps.

Bingo! Finally something was beginning to make sense way out there in the woods. Yes. Of course. It was a cub playing with a can. A curious and playful kid.

The first visit I made to this camp some number of years ago I found numerous old pull tab beer cans scattered about the trees. Imagine that.

There must be a trash dump a young animal got into, I thought. But the noises continued. On and on. And on. It made no sense.

“What kind of animal could possibly be occupied by a ******* can for so long?!”

None. No animal, of course. We couldn’t figure it out. The longer it carried on the stranger it seemed.

In the lingering twilight of autumn with an intense and fiery sunset burning up the tree silhouetted horizon, we walked through the glade spotted with Great Basin sagebrush to see if we could find a clear way into the piñon pines and scrub oak and take a gander at whatever it was out in the woods there.

We found no open natural easement through the forest with a cursory glance and so pulled up short and stood looking into the woods, not seeing much.

“Want to go see what it is?”

We stood along the treeline in a darkening forest. We’d have to push through some scrub and light branching and enter a more enclosed area within the trees, listening for the odd noise or a screech and trying to pinpoint. . . something. . .in there.

“I’m not inclined.”

Very funny. Some poor fool walked into the woods one fine fall night to investigate an eerie noise and he was promptly ripped to shreds by a mother mountain lion protecting her cub. That was the hypothetical news story imagined at the time.

No. We’re not entering Pan‘s lair to investigate. The origin of the word “panic.” We’ll save that for mañana, ese.

I returned my rather large and freshly sharpened carbon steel blade to its leather sheath. Maybe I wouldn’t have bled out from catastrophic lacerations and puncture wounds about the body and face after I liberated myself from the lion’s jaws and paws using my knife, and I would have instead crawled home like Hugh Glass. Very dry humor, indeed. It was all we had besides the deterrence of our presence, two lumbering bipedal primates.

We moseyed back to camp which took all of thirty seconds or so. The noises continued. Of course they did. I thought of the Blair Witch Project.

“What the hell is going on over there?”

It was too late to see. We’d wait ’til morning.

I had a nervous twinge. Not that I’d suffer harm. But the animal we thought for sure must be over there, because we heard its voice earlier, that animal was not actually acting at all like we know animals should normally act.

The animal didn’t seem to care about our voices or our loud walking about in the crunchy and sparsely covered soil or our scratching through the wiry scrub brush as we walked or our scent. And no animal plays with trash for hours on end.

We laid out beneath the Milky Way in the warm night. Stars shot across the speckled firmament. White dots drifted unblinking in orbit, satellites and space junk. And the noises rattled on once in awhile.

Maybe there was a cat den over there. But even so, we’d expect silence and not hours worth of loud noises and no seeming concern whatsoever for our presence.

At four o’clock in the morning I rose from my cot to irrigate the bushes and I stood within a trillion points of light sparkling all around even despite the beaming moon. The air was not cold. All was quiet. Finally.

But the noises had not ceased through the night, so my friend advised the next morning after sunrise, suffering as he had a fitful night of virtually no sleep, listening to the beast in the bush rattle around on occasion.

After coffee and a few slices of a Renaud’s almond croissant we finally went to investigate the noise. By this time I was thinking an animal had somehow gotten tangled up in old trash, like fencing or wire, and it was thrashing about trying to free itself.

We found an old latrine pit without a lid. Trapped inside the hole was a baby lion three or four months old.

I have only seen two mountain lions in the Los Padres National Forest in all my time out there. The first was a desiccated body of a young lion that had been hit by a car on the 101 freeway along Gaviota Coast and crawled into the creek and died in a cave. The second lion was this one here trapped in an excrement pit among beer cans.

We collected a few old bits of cut wood and tree limbs and stacked them inside the pit as a ladder for the lion to climb out. The poor animal was terrified, shaking.

The lion eventually climbed to the rim of the pit and stood there for a long time on the branches looking around at the forest, its head silently turning in the quiet morning air with a real slow fluidity that almost looked machine-like.

The little cat waited quite some time before venturing out. Then it finally crawled ever so slowly from the pit and crept off in slow motion, slinking, super leery, as if not wanting to provoke a chase and get eaten should it run for freedom. Then it did bolt and was gone.

 

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Chumash Stone Bowl

“I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was 12 – Jesus, did you?”

—Stephen King, “The Body”

I spent an inordinate amount of time at the beach when I was ten and eleven and twelve. My mom and I would show up in late morning or around noon and we’d stay six or seven hours.

Our preferred patch of sand was a long walk from the car, to a nude beach, so we had to haul a day’s worth of supplies with us.

Cold, thick, home-fried cheeseburgers on slices of white bread soggy with ketchup was often for lunch.

Something like the storied “house burger” detailed by Eddie Murphy. But I loved them. The hard, crusty, coagulated, iron skillet-fried, well done, corn and chicken shit-fed, cardio-toxic wad-o-beef. A nutrient dense power pellet to fuel a boy at the beach.

There was the usual suspects at the beach. Our group of friends. We were black and white and various hues in between and gay and lesbian and straight and whatever. We spent many hours sizzling on the sand.

Although boogie-boarding was our favorite thing to do, my best friend and I, there are typically no waves during summer in Santa Barbara. And the particular shoreline we frequented was not a surfing beach anyway so it was especially flat.

My friend and I found other entertainment during those long summer afternoons. For a few years we were inseparable. We were brothers of the beach. Those were some of the best times of my life.

Back then as a kid it seemed like that seaside routine with great friends and family carried on for a long time and many, many years. Now looking back I realize it was fleeting and only but a short glorious dance in the sun. Some of those people are dead now. Including my friend.

We’d run as fast as we could on the wet sand at low tide and pounce onto our boogie boards on our knees, skimming over a thin sheet of fizzing seawater after a wave broke, and slam headlong into each other.

A natural seep nearby issued from the foot of the bluffs and formed a small pool just above the sand and then drained onto the beach. We’d play in the organic stink of the black pasty soil, then wash off in the sea. Somebody once put a few goldfish in the pool.

On the misty and gloomy days of early summer in May and June the beach became the set of a Scooby-Doo cartoon shrouded in fog, mysterious and full of adventure.

We played hide and seek, one kid counting, the other one or others if we had company running off and disappearing into the thick swirling fog.

With so many hours to fill, sometimes we’d wander the backshore way down the beach away from the adults to see what we might see.

We discovered that our bare feet squeaked when slid quickly across dry hot sand, the friction ridges on the soles playing against the miniscule grains of stone.

There were always loads of beach bugs in the cobblestone rubble along the high tide line. They resembled gargantuan pill bugs or sow bugs or rollypollies like we’d find at home in the yard. We smashed the hell out of those big beach bugs with rocks a time or two. The rocks sparking and a burnt smell in the air.

June 2019

One day we found ourselves scrambling up the steep south face of the coastal bluff. This wasn’t a smart idea being that my friend’s beloved dog, Bongles, died on the same beach after running up the face of the bluff like a mountain goat, at first, then loosing his footing like a clumsy dog, and tumbling rag doll to the sand below.

Think about naked California hippies in Santa Barbara and a certain weed and the name “Bongles” should make perfect sense.

Up off the beach, on the eroded shoulder of the coastal bluff, we kids came across a huge deposit of old weathered abalone shells. Shells were scattered everywhere

That’s some of my story at this place in recent time. A select slice of the happenings of one wee lad at a beach otherwise long frequented by other humans. This beach where somebody’s old stone bowl lay tumbled in the surf. I wonder about their stories. I wonder about their children’s playtime on this seashore. What of those stories at this beach? What else has happened here?

“In the beginning was the word, and rightly so: the world is constructed of stories, supported by stories, inhabited by stories. We get up in the morning, go for a beer, tumble into bed at night, and before we know it our lives have blinked out and we are none the wiser as to the essential story, the only one that matters: the story of what we are doing here on this mysterious planet.”

—Santa Barbara County resident, T.C. Boyle, as quoted from his introduction to Robert Coover’s short story collection, “Going For A Beer”

As kids Kelcey and I couldn’t make sense of all the old shells. Why were they there and where did they come from? We wondered. It was mystifying. We knew there was a story behind all the shells. There was an answer. But we couldn’t understand what it was the shells told us.

Decades later as an adult, I came to understand that we had found a midden heap left by the Chumash Indians. A village had once been located a short walk down the beach from where we always spent our days as kids. Ancient skeletons had been unearthed. The pile of abalone shells were a telltale clue that only later I was able to understand.

I returned to this particular beach recently to see what our old hang out looked like after so long. It’s not a beach I frequent these days. I was particularly curious about the old abalone deposit.

I searched the coastal bluffs, scrambling around the steep, loose and unstable hillside, but was unable to locate a single piece of abalone. Not one little bit. I remain baffled about how it all disappeared and where it went. 

It very well may still be evident somewhere, but in the fraction of an hour I put in looking I didn’t see anything. Another shell midden deposit is located nearby, but there is no sign of the abalone. None that I saw.

I don’t imagine the site has been cleaned up by people. Maybe the slough eroded from the bluff over the years and has once more buried the abalone. Maybe a huge slab of the bluff calved off and buried the shells. Maybe I was a kid and my memory is apocryphal. Maybe  I lost my mind at Lizard’s Mouth one night and there’s a Scab On My Brain and all these shells never existed.

On my way back down the beach on that recent walkabout, I was hopping cobblestones along the high tide line and saw the Chumash bowl, amid the rubble, right on the beach below or very nearby where we had found the abalone decades earlier.

The load of abalone shells may be missing, but there still remains other telltale clues telling stories about those people that came long before me. With open eyes, once in a while I stumble across one.

The bowl is a deeply personal item. Like a bowl from my kitchen. An artifact of the home used to prepare food and to eat.

If I were to ask what to do with the bowl that would presuppose that something should be done.

Should the bowl be let alone? Should it be left to nature so that eventually the earth takes it back and it is no more? And nobody ever sees nor feels nor contemplates it again. It has already been broken.

Some folks say let artifacts be. Admire them on-site, then return them to the earth.

In one of his books, “Soul of Nowhere,” Craig Childs writes about finding an Anasazi pot, “an artifact of the home,” that is nearly 1,000 years old. He discovers the artifact deep in the myriad folds of the trailless American Southwest canyon country.

After admiring his find he returns the pot to the earth, packing it full of soil for support so that it does not collapse upon itself under its own slight weight, and then burying it in the ground.

Three years later Childs returns to the canyon to show a friend the ancient pot. As if an intact thousand year old pot wasn’t an incredible enough find, this time they unearth the pot and discover that, due to wetter weather conditions than when Childs had first found the clay vessel, an intricate black and white geometric design now showed that had been invisible in drier conditions.

Once more, Childs admires his find, astonished at the design rendered in thousand year old invisible ink of a sorts, and he allows such of his friend, and then he returns the pot to the earth, and walks away.

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Letter to Editor Regarding Plastic Pollution

A snapshot showing plastic debris in the mulch. I walked out my back door, knelt down in a random spot in the garden, looked for just a second to spot some plastic, and took the photo. So pervasive is the plastic trash in the mulch that I can find it anywhere I kneel within seconds of looking without even digging.

I have made a point of trying to keep this weblog free of politics and tightly focused on my experiences when recreating outdoors and my related interests in nature and history.

Believe me, you do not want to hear from me about politics!

I would for a moment, however, and I beg your pardon here, like to publish a letter I emailed to a local news outlet months ago regarding the issue of plastic pollution and drinking straws in Santa Barbara County.

Perhaps this here may serve in some tiny way to raise awareness and spur discussion about this issue.

For context readers may hit the link below to a Noozhawk story regarding the Santa Barbara City Council’s decision last year to ban plastic drinking straws, which is the story that spurred my letter.

The City’s action garnered national attention in print and television outlets and stimulated widespread discussion.

Santa Barbara City Council Bans Plastic Straws, Expanded Polystyrene

A small sampling of the plastic found in the mulch. This took about 10 seconds to collect while kneeling in one spot.

In 2008, I wrote an article published in a local magazine describing the catastrophic impact of plastic pollution in our oceans and the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch” off the coast of California.

I had noted at the time that, in 2005, a scientist had found a scrap of plastic inside the stomach of a dead albatross. Countless marine creatures die from ingesting such trash, from fish to birds to whales.

By tracing the origin of a serial number on the shard of plastic, the researcher found that it had come from a World War II-era airplane.

The discovery served as a shocking testament to the longevity and lethality of plastic pollution. Six decades later the small piece of trash was still a killer.

Plastic is forever. It degrades in sunlight, breaking apart into smaller and smaller pieces, becoming minuscule particles, dust eventually, but never rotting or biodegrading.

A decade ago when I wrote that article, I described the problem as a “a global blight of epic proportions.”

At that time researchers taking samples of sea water in certain places found that bits of plastic outnumbered plankton by as much as 6-to-1.

What must the ratio be now?

In recent months, numerous international news headlines have chronicled shocking accumulations of plastic garbage washing ashore in various locales across the world, from Indonesia to the Dominican Republic.

The sea is awash in plastic.

On July 17, 2018, the Santa Barbara City Council banned plastic drinking straws. So serious does the council believe the problem to be that the new ordinance affords a possible six-month jail sentence for violators. See story here: Santa Barbara City explains jail time controversy over potential plastic straw ban.

As a side note, that’s the same jail sentence given to some rapists in this county.

See two different stories here: (1.) Former UCSB Student Receives 6-Month Sentence for Rape. (2.) Isla Vista Rapist Gets Six Month Jail Sentence.

Something seems a tad askew. Nevertheless, the issue of plastic pollution is a serious problem.

The City of Santa Barbara advises residents to spread free mulch on their yards, which is available for self-service pick up at a couple of locations.

The City even pays for its water customers to have mulch delivered by the dump truck load.

But there is a huge problem here: The mulch is contaminated with large quantities of plastic.

Surely I cannot possibly be the only one to have noticed.

Ironically, the City tells us that the mulch is made from the garden clippings we put in our so-called “green” yard and garden recycle bins.

The City promotes the use of this contaminated mulch wholeheartedly with a full-throated promotion of the practice under, of all labels, and once more ever so ironically, the tab “organic.” See the City’s page here: Mulch Does A Garden Good.

The City tells us this is “natural” mulch. See their page here: Santa Barbara County’s Mulch Program.

In other words, under the advice and financial sponsorship of the City and their dubious assertions of “natural,” “organic,” “green” mulch, plastic is being spread across the land in large quantities at the same time the City launched it’s anti-plastic drinking straw crusade.

Does this make any sense to anybody out there? It’s utterly, and obviously, senseless.

Day after day, year after year, the plastic is being spread.

I made the colossal mistake of mulching my garden with a load delivered to my home.

Now my yard is littered with bits of plastic. It. Is. Everywhere.

As the mulch biodegrades, more bits and pieces of the trash begin showing until I am left with native soil covered in a layer of microplastic confetti.

I have even found bits and pieces of hypodermic needles in this mulch in my yard!

And, considering how plastic photodegrades into dust, the pieces visible to the eye are only a fraction of the amount now on my property.

And what about the rest of the gardens and landscapes across all of Santa Barbara County?

It’s disconcerting to think about how much plastic has been spread over the land out there, as advocated and subsidized by the city for years on end.

There is no doubt that some plastic washes into streets, sewers, creeks and, eventually, the ocean.

This was precisely the concern the City had in mind when passing the straw ban; plastic pollution getting into streams and the ocean.

If we as as a community are serious about addressing the deadly and poisonous problem of plastic pollution, then this issue must certainly be addressed with resolve.

Something must be done.

Will something ever be done?

I have yet to see any public discussion about this issue at all. Please show me something I’ve missed. Where and when has this issue been raised?

I suspect that an immediate moratorium on the plastic mulch program, at least until this issue can be remedied, would do far more in reducing plastic pollution than the straw ban and the City Council’s lunacy of six month jail sentences for straw-use violators.

Such a halt would certainly be no more drastic than giving straw providers or users the same jail sentence as rapists.

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