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rural sprawl

the middle world

vultures being vultures

picnic sky

arroyo retreat

passers-by

stoned layers of time cracked

Gaviota cowgirls and boys

the vernal hues of Naples

home on the coast range

Indians’ Water •Territory of the Tomol

prairie by the sea

no air fare

Montana with an ocean – Naples’ southern fence line

USGS 1927 bench mark

counting coup

rest stop

ground truthing

surveyor

ah Naples

the solace of weathered wooden things

you shoulda seen it yesterday

the brotherhood

a Chumash Beach

another rest stop

west side gang

the bee house tree

accidental offering

Santa Barbara Bachelors

In May of  2010, most of Naples (Santa Barbara Ranch) was acquired by Missouri-based First Bank in foreclosure. About a year later, the bank granted the public temporary, revokable access to the beach and coastal acreage to thwart efforts by environmental groups seeking permanent public trails across Naples via implied dedication. Prior to this, relatively few people had had the pleasure of entering and getting to know this bucolic landscape. Nevertheless, for nearly twenty years Santa Barbara and Goleta’s visionary residents fought to protect Naples from the construction of potentially hundreds of homes. Local citizens and their leaders value open space and believe Naples and the Gaviota Coast should be protected.

 

In the summer of 2011, at Santa Barbara’s Casa de la Guerra Gallery I displayed photographs taken over decades while wandering and exploring Naples. For the first time people got an intimate look at this often stunning place, and replenished their connection to an area they treasured, but hardly knew. The citizens and politicians of surrounding communities became even more committed to protecting this iconic setting.

 

You will find some of those photographs and others of Naples to the right.

 

Naples is still threatened with development that will overwhelm this landscape.

 

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Off the beaten path, just west of busy Santa Barbara and Goleta, lies Naples, the remnant of a failed late 1800s development scheme with an ill-fitting name. Naples is an as yet unsettled tract of sprawling, beautiful Gaviota Coast gifted with timeless qualities, rural beauty and desperately needed elbow room.

 

For the moment still undeveloped and feeling spacious, the geography of both Naples and the Gaviota Coast helps ground us locals. This precious open space is fundamental to the natural integrity of where so many people live and visit—and so many more would like to—and to the keen sense of place enjoyed and cultivated here for generations.

 

Whole and undeveloped, Naples helps sustain the perception that Santa Barbara and Goleta are farsighted communities with an exceptional land ethic and connection to place.

 

 

 

Astonished, I spent over an hour hanging around with this wake of vultures right under their Naples seaside snag. My choice to frame panoramic and try for a pleasing composition of these shy creatures using a 30mm, 97° wide lens on my Xpan forced me a lot closer to them than it appears—at times I could hear the fog soaked sea breeze ruffling their feathers.

 

Years ago, one afternoon, finishing a nap on the “lawn” at Naples and feeling really hungry, I woke up, rolled over in the grass to gaze upon the ocean and munched on this mouth-watering scene.

An arroyo opening to the ocean can be a comfortable, private place where one encounters the shyest creatures and light; where the earliest settlers of the Gaviota Coast built their Chumash Indian towns—not in the mouth of this particular drainage, which has bitten through just the rim of these ramparts, but in nearby deeper cuts where restless streams have chewed their way to bedrock and sea level.

 

Sheltered in this hollow by the grassy shoulders of higher land, hidden from winds and mountain eyes, one is less evident. Embraced by the latent smell of kelp on a stilled sea breeze, I am visited by imagination.

 

I discover that the lords of open country are humbled and passers-by are few. Coyotes and deer spring upon me, then later a cow and her calf mosey over; all easily slip away. Parading clouds cross the narrowed ceiling going elsewhere. The winged surveyor, low-riding bluff top currents, patrols for carrion, but, before heading on, takes the time to circle me twice. In a primordial journey, silhouetted pelicans, they too on the move, suddenly, silently drift across my southern portal.

 

And on the ocean, waves arrive. From between the islands and around Pt. Conception they come to end their great journey on the arroyo’s aqueous stage. As if seeking an audience, one by one they roll in from the horizon for their performance. Their ocean sounds resonate like music in a theater, wash away time and fill the air blending with the terrestrial notes of frogs and insects.

 

The grassy Naples we know lies on the surface of the contours and compacted, decomposed remains of countless other places and times which now appear like fractured tree rings sixty feet deep in the earth at the base of her sea cliff.

 

The cattle here grazing the Santa Barbara Ranch have it made—they’re fat, clean, relaxed and not driven mad by flies like those out in Nevada. And what a view to moo about.

 

Cows are easier to look at than vineyards, but also hard on the land. And it is an escapable fact that ranchers too often kill everything wild from black footed ferrets to wolves to wild horses on their behalf.

# 41 was a calf when I first started hanging around her lovely pasture. Over time, she got use to me being there and I liked it when she began paying little attention to me—that made for more natural pictures with her not staring back. That was a few years ago. She’s now gone, either making calves elsewhere or burgers.

Today, all day, again I saw no one—Naples could not have been mellower. Separating her earthly hues of sea from sky were only the dark blue silhouettes of distant islands and the white, slow spilling of long, long, indigo waves.

 

The tomol, or Chumash canoe, was built of thin, hand-split redwood planks. Redwoods were not native to the Chumash area—fallen trees would enter the sea north of here and drift south on the ocean’s currents into the Santa Barbara Channel. The logs were then transported by the Chumash to places like Carpinteria, Rincon, Santa Barbara, Dos Pueblos and other village sites where a skilled brotherhood of canoe builders constructed the tomol. Split, shaped boards were drilled, sewn and glued together using strips of hide and locally available tar (plus pine pitch from inland). They might be painted with red ochre and inlaid with shells such as olivella and abalone. Relatively light, graceful and fast, the tomol was used to trade and carry people up and down coast, as well as to and from the Channel Islands.

Regardless of what the future brings, it’s unlikely the grander dimensions of space, solitude and isolation I have enjoyed at Naples can survive. Passing too, her secret knolls graced with faint tracks yet unspoiled by trail guides, itineraries and agendas.

You might stay put sky surfer, cultivate home ground and your roots.

 

I was raised north of here on California’s Central Coast. As our surfing became increasingly exploited back in the 60s and 70s, and our breaks jammed up with people, we often dreamt of surfing other western landscapes, but without all the folks, and some of us wished Montana had an ocean.

 

Today, a half century later, the last open stretches of Gaviota are still good places to find adventure, belonging and peace of mind—and to have nearby on a crowded planet when growing up Californian.

Far, far inland on the Pozo Road, further up in Central California, there is another of these survey markers with the same date, 1927, as this one at Naples. Although these brass plaques have given way to incredibly accurate GPS, I am bound by the infinitely more mysterious, more rewarding dimensions of place measured by things stuck in the ground.

Some folks would agree, it’s fun to hold down a cow pie.

Rest stop—the same could be said for all of Naples.

Ground truth is a term used by geographers for the process of validating remotely collected information, for example from a satellite, by comparing it with that observed up close on location on the ground. Seems vultures, such as the one in this old snag, are particularly adept at ground truthing.

 

AH NAPLES, THIS SANTA BARBARA, THE LANDSCAPE OF HOME. Santa Barbara County has a well-known history of protecting its coastal lands, but Naples has been too long on the endangered list and is still terribly threatened. Imagine these bucolic scenes replaced with the likes of Laguna Beach, Malibu or Santa Maria.

 

The integrity and wholeness of such land defines who we are. Its future is who we will become.

Scattered about Naples are impermanent offerings of the past–ephemeral efforts of fugitive connectedness–all mostly returning to earth. This is the tail section of what was once a really nice paddleboard. The photo was taken in about 2005. Cattle, weather and other vandals of time and place have since pulverized it.

Despite being but a tiny parcel of crowded coastline that is elsewhere overrun with little elbowroom, space and stillness endure at Naples. Under a boundless nautical sky, on an expansive terraqueous surface, Naples rejuvenates with anticipation, openness and the touch of the primeval.

Where did the missing buttressing go?  Does everything eventually become sand?

 

At the day’s end, when on this wet beach, I imagine the brown bodies and pure black hair of naked children running around. They leave footprints and mirror images as their ancestors did for over ten thousand years. I picture walking past two sprawling Chumash villages at the mouth of the stream behind me, their Indian inhabitants shaped as much by Gaviota’s natural forces as these bluffs, and as much a product of this shore as angled rock and surf.

 

After the early 1800s, the indigenous Chumash way, and a once remarkable presence and compliance to place, were no longer reflected in the glassy water of ebb tide here, but only in the ripples of musings.

 

In the early 1800’s, the tide came in and the sun set for the last time on their indigenous way.

 

 

On this day, I laid in the grass to compose a sinewy tree limb against the setting Naples sun. A nearby curious cow strolled over. I sat up, but stayed still—slowly others joined her. Soon I was surrounded by what seemed like every bovine in the pasture, encircled with my back pressed up against the tree’s trunk. As a bull stomped around the herd’s perimeter bullying the cows at the edge, I took some pictures and got the feeling the old gal looming over me in front with the knock knees had a message to deliver.

 

 

Herds of the West’s wild horses are made up of independent family bands of mares, a lead mare, yearlings, etc. and a stallion. Often there will be a gang of eager, young males within their range seeking mates by challenging the band stallions.  We call them the bachelors. The above are yuccas found in the chaparral covered mountains behind Naples. They too appear real excited like some aggressive male wild horses.