Santa Barbara Post Card

18 Jul

When I was in Santa Barbara, I visited the botanical gardens. A good part of them was scorched to the ground by a wildfire last year, but a new sprinkler system saved the core of the place, and my favorite part is undamaged. That’s the deep, narrow little canyon where a couple of Franciscan padres put their Chumash converts to work building a dam back in 1807 or thereabouts so that the mission, just down the hill, wouldn’t run out of water again the way it had in the two previous years. A little trickle of a stream was reinforced by diverting a couple of other, smaller streams, and ever since then a steady stream of water has flowed delicately over the stones the Indians set to trap it. The Americans “improved” the original work in the 1870’s — the ruins of what they did are still there, and until 1940 the dam provided water to the city.

I don’t know where it ends up now. I know it flows onto the grounds of the mission. There’s a long stone trough there that used to be used for washing clothes. But that is what makes Santa Barbara special to me; the degree to which the original Spanish and Mexican works, names, and streets persist. California likes to brag about its Spanish heritage because it makes us seem old and exotic, (even though the first settlement , San Diego wasn’t even begun until 1769. By that time, Massachusetts was coming up on its 150th birthday, and even Georgia, the last of the 13 Colonies, had been around for a generation) but in Santa Barbara at least, there is a kind of continuity between the first europeans and the present.

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