This post pays homage to Vincent van Gogh, who loved to paint work shoes. This is not an ad for Merrell. But I have to say, were it not for this pair of Jungle Mocs, I doubt I would still be in possession of my feet. Managed to slide into them around 3:57 a.m. when the mudslide hit. Farewell, old pair of friends and saviors. Can hardly wait to find a replacement pair.
House still standing. Most other houses around us are not. The devastation is unbelievable. Gained access, removed valuables, some art, passports, sentimental items. Saved two bearded dragons (and a baby lizard). The Cow (Escalade) was muddied and, after turning the ignition, it moo-ed. And off we went. Whew! What a day!
Olive Mill Road
Two bearded dragons, six days without food, alive and road-tripping.
I did not realize until taking the sweetest hot shower of my life that beneath the mud my legs were torn up and a bloody mess. I sat on my elder daughter's sofa and soaked vodka over the wounds before adding Neosporin and bandages. And I held Lulu on my lap for a very long time, she swaddled in a towel, shivering.
In a daze, we took a short walk up Coast Village Road (CVR) and could hardly believe the peripheral damage to Montecito's main business thoroughfare. Then we focused on where to go, because the power was out in my daughter's apartment and we somehow sensed there was no short-term future hanging out there. (Two days later the authorities would chase everyone out of CVR and everywhere else in Montecito. Truth be known, this was partly because people other than rescue team members were finding body parts in the mud.) Our hotel options were limited 1) by owning pets and 2) because so many others were now in need of shelter and accommodation. Fortunately, we struck lucky with Bacara Resort, fifteen miles to the west. We drove in another torrent of rain, checked in and began to unwind. I think what anyone needs most in the aftermath of such experiences is rest and quiet. You ought not re-live it in your mind over and over; you ought not fret about the future; you just live one hour at a time, focused solely on the now. Needless to say, the Bacara Bar at cocktail hour was not just busy but full of evacuees from Montecito. Much relief at seeing others who made it out. Emotional reunions. Sometimes hard to talk. Especially when people we'd never met offered cars to drive and houses or guesthouses for longer-term accommodation. It is amazing how people come together during a crisis.
Coast Village Road five hours after the devastating storm
My daughter phoned 911 and found their switchboard frantic as they were being inundated with emergency calls. I called my friends Howard and Wally, who the day before had wisely evacuated from Montecito's foothills to a Santa Barbara hotel. They immediately rallied and tried to reach us getting only as far as Coast Village Road, itself flooded and muddy. Trying to get onto Oliver Mill Road--our neighborhood--was impossible as it had become a fifteen-foot high river of debris-filled mud, central to many of the fatalities that occurred. My buddies were able to tell emergency crews on the scene where we were trapped, far more effective than a 911 call. The problem at this point, about 4:43, was that the emergency crews could not physically reach us. So now it was a waiting game. The good news: no new mud surges, and lighter rain; just that awful pink-yellow glow in the sky that made no sense. The bad: I looked from the upstairs balcony onto the yard below and beheld utter and complete devastation. A rescue crew arrived on the scene and called up to us, and after ascertaining that we did not need immediate medical attention went off to deal with more pending emergencies on our lane, promising to return. Cries for help filled the air, followed by the sound of jackhammers and saws as rescuers (including a scuba diver) did their work. The Johnson family from next door appeared in our forecourt, which was not flooded (the house acted as a buffer) and asked if they could remain. Augie Johnson had just heroically saved a small toddler from beneath one of his cars (another of his vehicles had just floated down the creek). The toddler must have been swept from higher elevation and become mangled in debris. Augie removed mud from the child's mouth, got him breathing, and handed him tor rescuers on the scene. Now the Johnsons (four persons and a dog) needed a place to wait. I yelled down to access the garage and go up to the apartment over it, which they did. As daylight dawned, the rescuers returned, ready to evacuate all of us. They broke through glass doors in two places and quickly configured our routing out. One of them called out, "You have a little dog?" "Yes," I replied, having joined them in the mud on the ground floor. "Upstairs." "No, over here." I could hardly believe it. Lulu was in his arms. Alive. I cannot imagine how Lulu had been able to escape. Usually a deep sleeper, I was certain by now she had been buried in her doggie bed. But Lulu is a survivor, and must have somehow scampered onto one of the chairs or tables that had wedged up against the walls. A golden moment. Now we had to move fast, a procession of rescuers and family members, both dogs in our arms. What normally would be a thirty-second walk down a country lane to the main road took about fifteen minutes, negotiating waist-deep mud, downed trees, boulders--a zigzag path on terrain that to me was unrecognizable. Sheriff Bill Brown later likened the area to a World War I battleground. I wasn't around for World War I, but his depiction seems about right. The river that was Olive Mill Road had dissipated enough for heavy-duty rescue vehicles to traverse. We were loaded onto the open-air rescue vehicle already filled with others, everyone muddied from head to toe. As the vehicles drove south on Olive Mill we were wide-eyed and aghast at the devastation that had been caused to the ranch houses on the east side of the road: all had been ripped from their foundations, walls down. We could see right through every house. The vehicle stopped to collect more survivors, squeezing in as many as we could, along with their very grateful pets. Then a right turn onto Oliver Mill Lane and a roundabout route to the strip mall near Von's. We alighted outside Starbucks. A latte would have been nice, but, alas, they were closed.
During the wee hours of Tuesday, 9 January, I lay sleeping in bed, occasionally awakening to listen for rain, surprised there was so little, given the forecast. That changed at around 3:03 a.m. when the skies opened and a torrent of rain pounded down. Sometime around 3:45 a.m., laying awake, I began to feel the earth shudder. On top of everything else, I thought, are we now having an earthquake? I got out of bed and walked to the glass doors that face north toward the mountains and Montecito Peak. I expected to get a sense of how hard it was raining. But I could hardly believe what I saw, an image that will stick with me forever: an avalanche of muddy water heading straight at me. It was surreal. Like a disaster movie a la Indiana Jones. I turned and within several steps the water smashed through the door windows behind me and, within ten seconds, filled the bedroom knee-deep in mud. I grabbed my five year-old grandson, who had been camping out with me, and did a handoff to his mother, my daughter, who had also awakened and looked out her upper floor window facing north, terrified by what our backyard already looked like. All this in mostly blackness, no power, illuminated by an eerie yellow-pink glow near the foothills that I later discovered was a fire ignited by a glass explosion that blew up several houses and took lives. We were lucky to have an upper floor; many ranch-style houses in our neighborhood did not. Moments later mud and water burst through the glass doors in the open-plan kitchen/living room, launching furniture in all directions, lodging a sofa and stuffed armchairs in the oddest places. When that surge ended I was waist deep in mud and sludge, dressed only in boxer shorts and a pair of Merrell Jungle Mocs I'd somehow managed to slip my feet into. At this point, one dog was accounted for (which had had the good sense to run upstairs), one not. Armed with a flashlight, which quickly muddied and died, I waded through mud into the den looking for Lulu. I thought I could hear her whimper, so very slight, but I could not see her, and she did not respond to her name. And when her whimpers went silent, I returned to the foyer to try to open the front door, a presumed escape. Of course, the heavy door would not open, the mud thick and high and pressuring it shut tight. And good thing, because in my muddled thinking (and not knowing what was out there) leaving the house would have been the dumbest move of all. Had I managed to open the door, the flow of mud would have blown me out to join a river that would have rushed me a quarter mile south to I-101, which had already been decimated and transformed into a lake. I had a friend who suffered this fate. Instead, I returned to the den to try to find Lulu, in vain. After a short rest upstairs, I returned once again through the mud, climbing over furniture, holding onto hope I would find her, in the process not realizing that my legs were being cut up by sharp debris, parts of trees, I'd guess. Finally, I had to give up, and returned to higher ground upstairs, full of sorrow thinking Lulu had been buried alive beneath three feet of mud.
When I got into bed on Monday, January 8, I saw this image on my ceiling. It seemed so out of place; I looked around to find a source of projection or reflection, something to somehow explain it, but could find nothing, so I got out of bed, found my camera, and snapped a few pics. I completely forgot about the image until I purchased a new Mac laptop today and, as part of cranking it up, uploaded the last pics from my camera. Barely six hours after I snapped this photo, an avalanche of water and mud struck Montecito from the mountains above and devastated my neighborhood. It is miraculous, having endured the full experience, that my family members and I (plus two pets) survived this catastrophic natural disaster. Our hearts go out to the friends and neighbors who tragically lost their lives. And to the awesome emergency crews that selflessly and oh so professionally worked all out, in the most difficult conditions, to rescue so many. We are safe thanks to them, and humbled by the compassion shown to us by friends near and far. Treasure every day, every moment, and everyone around you. We are all connected.