“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

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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The Chumash Arrowhead

April 2019

Black     So what am I supposed to do with you, Professor?

White     Why are you supposed to do anything?

Black     I done told you. This aint none of my doin. I left out of here this mornin to go to work you wasnt no part of my plans at all. But here you is.

White     It doesnt mean anything. Everything that happens doesnt mean something else.

—Cormac McCarthy, The Sunset Limited

I can’t help but wonder. What’s it mean? It shouldn’t mean anything. Just because it happened doesn’t mean something else. Or does it?

Seven years ago I found a metate in the creek: Chumash Grinding Stone. No trail led through the canyon and the creek was still dry in November.

I had been hiking the cobblestone bed, several hours by foot into the mountains, when the narrow otherwise unremarkable canyon opened into a pocket of oak woodland surrounding a creekside meadow, mountain slopes rising all around, and views of rocky crags in the distance.

I walked up to this enticing transition in the land and I saw the shallow sandstone dish sitting in the middle of the creek like any other cobblestone.

Intact artifacts are always a thrilling sight, especially something rather large, but I didn’t think the experience was out of the ordinary.

The place I had just wandered upon was so attractive to my mind that I had not been surprised to see the artifact.

At first sight, in merely looking at the place, I knew other people had long ago spent time there, not just walked through.

There were a number of geographical features characteristic of this place that were rather appealing to a person with my way of thinking about these sorts of things.

These forest things. These sites and settings. These odd and infinite arrangements of innumerable natural features—the hills, the meadows, the streams, the rock outcrops, the plants—put together just right in certain ways only in certain locations which all then come together to create a unique. . .place.

Seeing this place, I had expected to find remnants of humanity’s past, it seemed, although I had no thoughts earlier that day of setting out to hunt artifacts.

I showed no more excitement in first seeing the Chumash artifact than I would have in seeing a fossil stone I might examine for a moment during a hike. I wasn’t surprised nor thrilled. It was like finding a plant growing in its preferred habitat. It was expected. If you find the proper habit you’ll find the animal you’re after.

I didn’t wonder if the chance happening or if my luck meant something.

I didn’t wonder if the chain of events peculiar to myself alone in my life which led me to that singular place in space and time added up to a larger meaning. I don’t generally think in that manner.

I had been out for a hike to explore a canyon. That is all.

I just happened to find something.

It’s not an unusual occurrence for me as I spend lots of time out in the forest. I find things. People find stuff.

Chumash cynegetic art. A relic of a master craftsman, keenest of hunters. An artifact laden with the knowledge of countless generations as gleaned from individual personal experience through thousands of years of close and intimate, visceral interaction with the land, plants, animals and the earth’s elements and natural forces. The breadth and depth and amount of knowledge is unimaginable. It is beyond my ability to imagine. So much knowledge has been lost. The intellectual hard drive destroyed through conquest with no back up, no record. And so it is that I walk into the same land where they lived and I quickly perish from ignorance and an inability to merely survive where they once thrived. 

The following year I returned to the canyon for further exploration, but the land is rough and difficult to travel through afoot with no worn trail aiding access. Walking is strenuous, hard work.

Rocks are abrasive and unstable, brush pointy, sharp and burdensome to pass through.

Rattlesnakes are camouflaged, somewhere, potentially everywhere, every minute all day long. Walking in the woods is not just physically demanding and tiring, but such sharp and constant focus on unseen deadly risks is mentally exhausting, too.

(An aside: Earlier this year on a hike up the canyon with a buddy I nearly stepped on a long thick viper, my buddy grabbing my pack from behind and yanking me backward.

The trip alone up the canyon prior to that incident I twice crossed paths with vipers in close ways.

One large rattler I unknowingly stepped over while inspecting the underside of a rock outcrop, only to then follow my steps back around the boulder and nearly step on it a second time before I noticed it lying still, well camouflaged in the shadowy mottled light amid rocks and dry grass. I must have stepped right over it the first time completely oblivious to how close I was to death’s deliverer.

And then on my stupidly hasty way back down the creek, nearly jogging, I jumped over a tuft of grass and small rocks, and my foot landed heavily in an explosion of gravel and furious rattle on the far side as I almost landed on a viper, which then went sidewinding out of my way and slammed itself into the underside of a rock to hide.  That one was real close.)

Then the sun. The ball of fire blazing overhead is, uh, hot. And it’s difficult to hide from. The sun wears you down to a nub the day long, robbing your water, burning your skin, working your body even when just standing still.

On this day’s hike up the canyon six years ago I lost interest and motivation. I crawled under a boulder, beaten by the sun and hot dry conditions, and napped before returning to the truck. I failed to get any farther up the drainage than I had the previous year when I found the metate. In fact, I hadn’t even made it that far.

Five more years would pass before I made it back to the canyon. The time ticked by, but thoughts of the canyon always simmered on the back burner of my restless mind.

I tended through those dry and droughty years a deep desire to get back up there once more for a looksee around, as I continued to wait for a decent, normal season’s worth of rain.

This last winter the rain finally fell.

The forest this year, if the benchmark is water and all it brings, is the best it’s been in almost a decade.

This was the spring to get back up that hot, often dry, miserably fly infested, tick-strewn, rattlesnake slithered canyon. Finally.

So on a Sunday I was hiking toward the canyon, toward the place. It’s not a particularly long hike, but the going is not easy through the creek without a trail.

After nearly three hours of hiking with minimal, short rests, I began to think I had confused the canyon I was in with the canyon where I had found the metate.

I wrestled with the fact that after three hours I still was not at the place. I should have been there by now, I thought. How much farther up the bloody creek should I push myself when not knowing for sure if I was even in the right canyon?

Shortly after that consideration, I came around a meander in the creek and forest features that I recognized came into view.

I had finally arrived, I believed, with relief. I hiked a bit farther up the creek and toward what I was hoping was my destination.

I hopped out of the creek, up a bank and into the oak trees for a view around to confirm I was where I had been six years earlier. Yes, indeed. This was absolutely it.

I jumped down the bank and back into the creek bed and walked across a sandstone rib of bedrock bridging the flowing water.

I hopped off the rock and into the gravel beside the water, spun to face the sun for proper lighting, and within 60 seconds I spotted the arrowhead shown above.

Seven years later and a three hour hike and within one little minute of looking I had found the arrowhead.

As if that’s not strange enough, I will have you know that I found the arrowhead within ten feet or so of where I had found the metate seven years earlier.

What are the odds?

And in my mind’s ceaseless quest to make orderly sense of random nutty events, other strange factors stick out.

A week prior to returning to the canyon and finding the arrowhead I received an email out of the blue that provided added impetus in driving me back up the canyon.

I had received a note from an old friend I had not talked to in about a decade and had not hung out with in about two decades.

In the email my friend mentioned this particular canyon, of all places in the world, and he asked if I had ever been up the drainage before. He had just come back from a few nights backpacking in the area and had been in the upper reaches of the canyon.

I told him I had indeed been up that canyon and how crazy it was that he happened to mention it, because I had found a metate up there and I really wanted to get back to explore and had just been thinking about it.

A few days after this email exchange I made the hike and found the Stone Age projectile point seemingly just waiting for me in the creek for years.

Now, just because something happens doesn’t mean something else, but I can’t help but search for meaning in happenings like this.

Sandy Dearborn in Stephen King’s From a Buick 8 says, “I don’t believe in coincidences, only chains of event which grow longer and ever more fragile. . .”

The chain of events that in my life led me to this canyon and these finds was indeed long and fragile.

At any moment I could have made innumerable different decisions that would have led me away from this canyon and these finds. (Obviously, this can be said of any occurrence in a person’s life.)

Yet somehow everything came together as it did.

The links kept coming together just right, one joined to the next, the chain growing ever longer.

The chain never broke. And it eventually led me to the treasure.

Maybe it’s just coincidence, but maybe what happened means something else.

I can’t help but wonder.

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The Mood Altering Stream Orchid

A stream orchid (Epipactis gigantea) growing near the Santa Ynez River in late May of 2019.

Stream orchids grow where constant water is found at seeps, springs and perennial streams. The plant is known for its mood altering and sedative effects.

“Medicinal Plants of the Pacific West,” Michael Moore:

“I have seen it help depression resulting from cocaine burnout; it can also aid people with a lot of emotional stress, in whom every little ache and pain is magnified and whose tolerance for noises, smells, and bright light is virtually nonexistent.”

“Wild Plants of the Sierra Nevada,” Ray S. Vizgirdas and Edna Rey-Vizgirdas:

“Native Americans made a decoction of the fleshy roots for internal use when they felt ‘sick all over.’”

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US Coast Survey Patterson Camp Inscription Vandalism (1873)

Inside a cave in the Santa Ynez Mountains on the Gaviota Coast somebody carved an inscription memorializing the United States Coast Survey of 1873.

The name is apparently in reference to Carlile P. Patterson, the Hydrographic Inspector for the USCS at that time.

The wall of the cave with what is apparently an historic inscription is increasingly being covered in graffiti, some of which has recently been scratched right over the old marking itself.

It seems this cave may go the way of other more easily accessed caves in the area, which I have watched over the years become filled with names and initials and dates and whatever else. Bare stone not too long ago is now covered in graffiti, some of it carved deeply into the surface.

I wonder if this inscription from 1873 will be covered over and scratched up and carved out of existence not long from now.

One can only expect a sign to accomplish so much, which might be little, but at this site there is nothing to note the significance of the inscription or to politely plead for restraint for sake of preservation.

Of course, it wouldn’t be long, probably, before the sign was annihilated in some manner in a fit of misplaced emotion and energy. I’d return to find vestiges of its corpse strewn about the kill site and a hole in the ground from whence it had been ripped with causeless fury. You know how these things work out there in Humanityville.

But then again, maybe, just maybe, some of these people with shallow thoughts and twitchy hands would be just a tad less likely to carve up the old inscription if’n they only knew about it.

Inside the cave, the historic inscription center frame amid a growing tangle of names, initials and other vandalism. The “Jack” written there in the upper right is not me.

What appears to read “i Patterson Camp U.S.C.S. 1873.”

In the latter half of the nineteenth century the Santa Barbara Channel environs had yet to be properly charted.

Maps of the time were not accurate, locations misleading. The US Coast Survey corrected the matter.

An image taken from the original 1873 Coast Survey annual report showing the triangulation network between points on the Channel Islands and the mainland coast from Santa Barbara to Point Conception, with Gaviota clearly having been a major station. Click for a larger view. (Hat tip Sam Green)

Cropped view of previous image showing Gaviota Peak station.

Reportage from the 1873 document mentioning Santa Barbara and Gaviota:

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A Rocky Killdeer Nest

Santa Ynez River swimming summerSanta Ynez River

Long days on the river.

Six. Seven. Eight hour sessions.

The sun.

The wind.

The sweet mineral scent of the cool emerald water.

Jet airliners soar over the Santa Ynez Mountains trackless and silent through the depthless blue, their bellies glowing hot white in the blast of sunlight reflected off the top of the fog blanket lying unseen along the coast, over on the Otherside.

killdeer eggs nest rocks santa ynez river Santa BarbaraFour killdeer eggs.

On one of these days not long ago it became evident that I should explore a gravel bar along the far side of the river.

Long, wide swaths of gravel was spread neatly like a Japanese rock garden between tufts of mulefat and cottonwood saplings and clumps of young willow.

Nothing out of the ordinary caught my attention over there, where it was dry and hot.

There was no apparent reason to walk over yonder for a wander, which of course may just be the perfect reason in itself.

You just never know what’s in that box of chocolates out there.

I found myself hobbling barefoot along the searing hot gravel bar in mid-afternoon motivated by whatever to go look somewhere for something or. . . whatever.

I walked up on a killdeer nest, which is, as evident, a generous description for the egg bed.

Although the eggs were in plain sight in an open setting they were hard to see from any distance.

I hadn’t seen the eggs until I was looming over them about to crush them under foot.

When I came back with the kids the eggs disappeared in the rocks even when I knew they were right there somewhere in front of me. The camouflage was brilliant, my brain easily tricked.

Two eggs disappeared since we first found the clutch about a week ago. No shell fragments have been found. No babies have been seen. The parents still tend to the remaining two eggs.

killdeer eggs nest rock santa ynez river Santa Barbara

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