Left Behind

Whenever I go somewhere, I take a lot of pictures. A lot. So many that it is often difficult to narrow it down to the best few and I spend way more time than probably necessary agonizing over which photos to leave behind. There are always a few that I am particular remorseful over not using. This week I scooped a few off of the cutting room floor. This post should serve as both a showing of unseen photos (probably unseen for a good reason) and a waltz down memory lane. I have to apologize to my friend who wrote a post on his blog with this very same concept and I teased him for it, telling him it was lazy and unoriginal. And now here I am. So my sincerest apologies to the author of A Good Example. Okay, without further ado, here are the photos that were left behind.

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Sunset at Hendry’s Beach (see post; By Any Other Name)

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Sunset at Hendry’s Beach (see post; By Any Other Name)

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Sunset at Hendry’s Beach (see post; By Any Other Name)

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Mailboxes in the mountains (see post; Mountain Trout)

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Mother Tree (see post; Among the Rushes)

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Manzanita Tree (see post; Sandstone and Gunshots)

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Lizards Mouth cave (see post; Sandstone and Gunshots)

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Same Lizards Mouth cave (see post; Sandstone and Gunshots)

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Waterfall (see post; Spring-Fed)

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Fence-line (see post; The Valley)

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Kiva (see post; The Valley)

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Roses (see post; The Valley)

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Lotus Protection

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This week I was scrolling through some old pictures on my phone of places I’ve been. I am notoriously bad at taking pictures when I go on adventures. Most of the time I don’t bother bringing my phone/camera, or if I do, I get so wrapped up in whatever I’m experiencing that I just stick it in my backpack and completely forget about it. However, in my idle scrolling (I think I was procrastinating studying for a Biology exam) I came across a relative plethora of pictures from a few months back when I took a wander around the local treasure of Lotusland.

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I must have been feeling really trigger happy that day because I had a regular digital photo album of plants (albeit most of the photos were complete garbage, like “did-you-take-this-while-hanging-upside-down-from-a-moving-helicopter-with-one-hand-tied-behind-your-back” bad). Nevertheless I did have enough decent pictures of cacti, flowers and weird palm trees to inspire me to write a post about it. Alright, exposition over.

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Lotusland is the repurposed estate of Madame Ganna Walska, who spent her life gathering exotic and ordinary plants, developing a fantastic botanical garden. And now her large and beautiful home is open to the public…well sort of. My friend Nicole (author of the blog A Broken Beautiful) has contacts who volunteer at the garden and she was able to get me and my other friend Wilson (author of the blog Wilson’s Animals) in without payment or a guide.

There was almost no one else there. I few groups of tourists and maybe one or two lonesome wanderers like us. The garden is organized into sub-gardens, sometimes by biome or species and sometimes by aesthetic, i.e. the Blue Garden, the Asian Garden, and the Cactus Garden.

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My personal favorite is the Cycad Garden; Lotusland has the most complete collection in the US. The earliest Cycads date back over 280 million years ago, before life had wriggled its way onto land.

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Far more recently the Cycad’s numbers had dwindled to two; one male, one female (Cycads are one of the few plants with distinct and separate genders). Faced with extinction, Walska collected the Cycads and now the garden is home to over 90 plants. Lotusland is a botanical Noah’s Ark, filled with rare and unique species that will be protected forever.

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Inner Peace

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Usually for my blog, I visit some beautiful place out of doors (that almost always requires a long drive to get to) and talk about it. This week I am having to do things differently. My family is going through a bit of a rough time this week. It’s been very emotional and upsetting for all of us. Usually in times of hardship, I turn to my parents for support.

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However they were having a more difficult time with this event than I was and I had to instead find solace and comfort in myself. My parents were away and I was responsible for my brother, our pets and house. This also came about at a time that I am extremely busy studying for finals. For these reasons, I was unable to go for my usual jaunt somewhere in the woods.

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This past week was really hard for me, but I couldn’t really talk to anyone about it; it was harder on my parents and I can’t let my little brother see me upset, it would only make it worse for him. But that’s not the point of this post. My blog is called sacred places, and this week that name can be taken a little more literally.

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It sounds corny I know, but I’m going to acknowledge the sacred space that exists within each of us where we can retreat when things get tough. Not to sound like some emo kid’s tumblr blog. Its important to spend time by oneself, to find comfort and solace in the one person who will always be there for you; yourself.

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When everything else has spun out of control or slipped away and the only place left to turn is inward. And it is here that we may find peace. If only we are not afraid to be alone.

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The Valley

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Behind Santa Barbara, over the mountains, there is an area of flat land that stretches North to the San Rafael Mountains, West to the Purisima Hills, and East to the Solomon Hills. It is the Santa Ynez valley; a sprawling, grassy plain of rolling cattle-fields, dotted with oak trees and carpeted with vineyards. Small towns (only a few stores and surrounding houses) are scattered haphazardly like marbles spilled by a careless child.

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In the winter the fields are stark and bare. The wind whips mercilessly about, biting and chilling to the bone. At night, standing water is covered by a thin layer of ice. In the spring, rain is light and misty and comes maybe for or five times on a good year. Because of this the ground doesn’t not allow a drop to be lost, swallowing the water at a tremendous rate, almost before it hits the dirt. By the next morning, the fields will be carpeted in thick green grasses.

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The statuesque lives oaks will grow soft, pale leaf buds and the Santa Ynez river will roar again.  Spring is short-lived in the valley; soon the heat of summer will come and turn the grasses brown and the earth to dust.

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It is a dry, arid heat that cracks the ground and skin, and pulls moisture from the very air and breath. It lasts for months, relentless; day after day pressing down on the valley. Not a creature dares leave its from between midday and sunset; the heat is too intense, making thoughts and movements slow. At night, with no marine layer to regulate it, the temperature plummets.

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This is horse, wine and cattle country. Rows and rows of grapevines stretch to the horizon, interspersed with large grazing meadows for black cattle and beautiful horses.

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But this rural land is under threat. Most of it is privately owned. And its owners are looking to develop it; to cover the grassy fields and great oaks with housing complexes and strip malls. I go out to the valley often, and it would break my heart to see it paved over.

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Many people in Santa Barbara never go and experience the valley. If you have never made the journey over the mountains, I encourage you to do so; I promise it’s worth it.

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Spring-Fed

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Deepest apologies, but I’m afraid that this week I am unable to reveal the precise location of my sacred place. It is on private property and I’m not even sure if I’m allowed to be there. I can say that it is in a small canyon nestled in the Santa Barbara mountains (big surprise there). It is a small, spring-fed creek.

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The water cut the canyon deep and narrow, and the scramble down into it is steep and rocky. The last time I was there a misty rain was falling, blurring the edges of my vision, swallowing the canyons far wall in white, and covering everything in a wet sheen, making the climb terrifyingly slippery.

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Once at the bottom, travel becomes no easier. The creek itself weaves among enormous boulders and through narrow cracks. In several places the water collects in deep pools as big as a bedroom. I parked myself by one of these pools and sat. Mist drifted through the bay and cottonwood trees and the only sound was that of water, lightly dripping from the leaves and flying swiftly through the rocks. The pool is deep. The water itself is the deepest of greens, clearer than glass and stiller (usually) than the surface of a mirror. It looks as though it is liquid emerald.

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The raindrops distort the reflections of the trees and sky on the water’s surface, rippling them like watercolor. Angles Hair fern fringes the edge and thick moss coats the waterfalls. Not many people know of this place and it is rare that I see another human sitting on the boulders or standing among the trees. I took my clothes off and slid into the water.

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The creek is fed by several springs along its route; it is the very blood of the mountain, colder than ice, so cold it burns like fire. Every cell in my body screamed in protest and the breath rushed from my lungs with incredible force. But soon the feeling had passed and the water began to work magic on me. It felt as though everything inside me was waking up after a very long sleep. When I at last pulled myself from the water’s embrace, my skin was glowing and alive and the cold could no longer touch me.

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I knew where one of the springs bubbled up from inside the canyon walls, and I scrambled my way downstream until I found it; a tiny hole in the rock, surrounded by feathery green, with a trickle of clear, liquid life. I pressed my lips around the spring and drank. The water was cold and tasted of ancient stone and spring rain and green life.

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That creek is one of the few places left in Santa Barbara where I can always expect to find water; those springs will never run dry, no matter how parched the surrounding earth may be. Since I can’t suggest you visit this truly sacred place (what with the whole trespassing thing) I can only implore you to think of the places where you can always find water, that precious element without which we could not exist, and show your gratitude by paying them a visit.

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Sandstone and Gunshots

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Most of my blogging excursions take outside of town and down a long windy road into the mountains. And this week is no exception. Lizard’s Mouth is one of the more cherished and well known sacred places, and with good reason. Standing at 2,980 feet above sea level, it is a great sweeping plain of boulders and chaparral with a complete 360° view of the sea and mountains.

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Great sandstone formations have been twisted by wind, water, and time into structures that seem to shift into recognizable forms from every angle from which they are viewed. Many of them are riddled with networks of large caves.

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Most of the time a chilling, biting wind whips across the mountain. Seeming to come from all directions it claws and screams as though trying to throw you from the mountaintop. It lights the blood on fire so that every muscle tenses and one no longer feels the cold. It ignites a primal animal instinct to run and leap with no fear of falling.

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It’s fury and power often drives one into the caves looking for brief refuge to crouch on the course sand while it howls outside. Just over a high ridge is the Winchester Canyon Gun Club. Often the crack of a shot will echo through the boulders.

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This combined with the desolate and almost alien landscape gives Lizard’s Mouth a feeling of archaic danger. A feeling not entirely misplaced. The gangs of Santa Barbara have divided the town into two separate territories. However, Lizard’s Mouth is a relative gray area. The rocks are painted with graffiti, many of them tags.

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The stone holds the memory of innocent blood shed. 16 years ago, a teenager named Nicholas Markowitz was kidnapped, brought to Lizard’s Mouth against his will and shot 9 times with a semi-automatic pistol. His half-brother owed money to drug-dealer Jesse James Hollywood, who ordered the execution.

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I feel the need to include this bloody anecdote in this post on Lizard’s Mouth, not to incite fear, but because I think it’s important in understanding the place. I believe everyone should at some point make their way up to West Camino Cielo and take a walk through the sandstone and chaparral.

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Walk the Path

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I realize the title of my blog can be a bit misleading. “Sacred Places” calls in consciousness images of stained glass windows, towering cathedrals and hidden mountain temples. That is generally pretty far from the truth. Not this week. This week I took a walk through the Santa Barbara Vedanta Temple. Vedanta is a philosophy based on the ancient Hindu texts the Vedas.

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The Vedanta Society of Southern California has several temples along the coast, and the nearest one is in Montecito. It is collection of a few buildings, the largest one being the temple, on the crest of a foothill tucked away among sandstone boulders, eucalyptus trees and succulents. The grounds have a sweeping view of both the mountains and the sea.

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The temple itself is adobe with a dark tile roof curved up at the edges. I took my shoes off, cracked open one of the great wooden doors and slipped inside. The temple was quieter than death; my bare footfalls echoed through the chamber as though they were the boots of a thousand marching soldiers. Wooden screens let tiny slits of light in that curled in flowery patterns on the carpet. Rows of wooden benches and chairs faced a pair of great iron gates behind which were locked an ornate altar. On either side hung life-size paintings, one of Jesus, the other of the Buddha.

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I sat cross-legged, face back into the temple and breathed in the smell of incense and silence.

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