The place. Note the white mineral deposit on its far side.
“Our history is carried by word of mouth, but it’s anchored to the land. The old boys used to play a game: one of them would leave his cap on a rock, somewhere in the mountains. Then he’d go into the pub and tell the name of the rock to a friend. That was all the information they needed. The friend had to run out and retrieve it. All the rocks had names. My uncle could remember all of them. They were never written down.”
—Dafydd Morris-Jones, as quoted by George Monbiot in “Feral: Rewilding the Land, the Sea, and Human Life” (2014)
So far as I know, which isn’t much, this here field is officially unnamed. How has it escaped this long? Isn’t everything labeled these days? It seems like a remarkable enough place that it would have a name by now.
Among the Chumash, the Spaniards and Californios and early Americans that followed, surely the place had a name. Through the years, the millennia, at some time it must of had a name.
“It’s landscape associative. Folk traditions and oral history always have been. Professional history tends to regard a fascination with place as antiquarian. But mythology is all about place. . . . I wish the West Texas pioneers, like those in the Far West, the Deep South, even New England, had learned and retained more of the Native American names once attached to these canyons.”
—Dan Flores, “Caprock Canyonlands: Journeys into the Heart of the Southern Plains,” (1990)
As with the Comanche and Kiowa of which Flores writes, sense of place and the importance of the landscape figured prominently in Chumash culture. Whereas in American culture places are often named after people, the Chumash tended to name peoples after places. Each prominent geographical feature likely had a name and placenames were commonly taken from minerals found in the area. Applegate quotes Harrington: “In ancient times there must have been placenames all up and down the canyons.”
A place of this remarkable nature — a grassy flat with a mineral deposit, near a river once stuffed with steelhead trout, at the foot of pine capped mountains once teeming with game — seems like it would have been an attractive location in times past. It’s just a wild guess.
When I hiked through in 2011 I don’t recall the area being as salty as it was this last summer. Maybe because back during that particular season a lot of rain had fallen, 160 percent of normal county-wide up in Santa Barbara, and the minerals were diluted by abundant freshwater.
After several years of drought the crusty white buildup was much more extensive in late 2015, as shown in the snapshots. In some places the crystals were finely shaped and well-developed. Small puddles of extremely concentrated salt water pooled in the cavities of the rock that when stirred with a stick swirled like oil in water.
The word for salt in Barbareno Chumash is tip. Adding emphasis through reduplication signifies that there is a lot not just a little. Thus tiptip may be roughly translated as “lots of salt.”
“Goleta Slough was called tiptip, ‘salina, salt flat,’ and not surprisingly, the Ventureno equivalent sitiptip was applied to Hueneme lagoon,” Applegate writes.
Alternatively, sitiptip might be understood to mean “the place with lots of salt.”