“Most of these places, however, were not marked as special on my map. But they became special by personal acquaintance. … I remembered what Ishmael had said in Moby-Dick about the island of Kokovoko: ‘It is not down in any map; true places never are.’”
Robert Macfarlane “Wild Places”
The Essence of Place
Our natural inheritance here in this neck of the woods may not include the largest or most spectacular of water parks. But nor have we such wants. We certainly have no need. We barely have water these days, but we get by just fine.
We appreciate each place for its own character. We do not measure our place by the standards of other places. “I—the royal we, you know. The editorial.”
We are humble in our desire. Allow us a small sandstone tub just large enough to dive into, to feel the wash of cool fresh water over our face on a warm day, to sink to the bottom with held breath and pinched eyes, to bob around. And we are happy.
For even the grandest of waterfalls and deepest, largest of pools may find it hard to compete with the affection for a small place in your home county.
Pinners. Scrawny drought-stricken coast live oak acorns in the fall of 2018.
After seven years of scant rainfall and extreme drought—Santa Barbara arguably being hit hardest out of any county in California—finding pools that aren’t stagnant or moss-covered and still appealing enough to jump into has become increasingly hard to accomplish, if one finds water at all remaining in the watershed. Many places have dried up altogether. Many places have remained dry for years now.
And so one must put in more effort venturing farther and deeper afield where what little rain has fallen in recent years still manages to trickle out of the ground in sufficient volume to fill a few puddles worthy of attention.
My dad and uncle first stumbled upon this swimming hole over 50 years ago when out exploring the wilds of Santa Barbara County, a favorite family hobby.
They knew not what they might find that day so long ago, but went anyway with not so much as a hint from anybody that a cool emerald pool awaited them out there in the forest after a hot sweaty trek.
On a hot summer day we sat poolside smoking Cuban cigars and listening to the blues, the two elders telling tales of meeting tobacco farmers in Cuba and enjoying the fruits of their labor.
They told of learning from the farmers how they dried and cured their leaves over the course of a couple of years; of visiting the drying sheds; of sitting in their humble homes; of chickens standing on kitchen tables beside makeshift wood-burning stoves; of a farmer withdrawing from under his straw mattress supple, golden-brown cured personal stash pressed between sheets of newspaper and hand-rolling cigars of exceptional quality for their indulgence.
These stories were those of travelers that went out to find for themselves lively experiences, not tourists having been led to trendy traps detailed in books and articles with explicit directions. That’s personal acquaintance. In that grows a deeper appreciation. It’s to love rather than merely like. And one begins to know something of the essence of true place.
Once upon a time many decades ago in a similar vein, these two adventurous travelers had set out and found for themselves this liquid gem we now enjoyed on a sunny summer afternoon, somewhere yonder deep within the wilds of Santa Barbara County.
It’s the old swimming hole. Where relaxation is found, fun had and memories made.