It is said that if you are walking underneath the Jacaranda tree and one of the trumpet blossoms falls on your head, you will be favored by a fortune.
I wait all year for the jacaranda to bloom, and when the show begins, I feel the favor of fortune all around me. The city is transformed each year, at a time of their choosing, between May and June, when hundreds and hundreds of jacaranda mimosifolia trees bloom along the city streets of Santa Barbara. Originally found in South America - Brazil and Argentina - they are popular drought-tolerant trees that can be found in warm climates around the world -Australia, India, Puerto Rico, Hawaii - and Southern California.
Upon close inspection, the trees wear a rough brown bark. But to me, their lines and branchlets appear to be drawn with ink-black sumi-e brushstrokes against the turquoise sky - part word, part picture, rife with secrets and implication.
For weeks, I watch closely as the tiny flower buds, tightly closed and dark, begin to unfurl their trumpet-shaped blossoms in the colors of thistle and dark violet, cornflower and royal blue. Some of the trees have no flowers at all, just lush feathery leaves, pinnate and delicate, alongside the trees that bloom with a royal splendor.
Downtown, along the full length of Carrillo and Castillo Streets, and Montecito Street, and others, jacaranda trees line the sidewalks. The trees grow easily to 50' tall, and spread their branches luxuriously and artistically above the streets, sometimes forming lavender tunnels above the black asphalt. Lawns and pavement are soon to be covered with the falling blooms, a mantle of purple - above and below.
In the Southern Hemisphere, jacaranda trees signal the coming of the Christmas holiday. There is even an Australian Christmas song about the White Jacaranda Christmas Tree. I have seen one jacaranda tree with white blossoms on the west side of the grounds of the Santa Barbara Courthouse. It is beautiful and rare, but still, my heart responds to the blooms of royal purple, big-sky blueness, and sugary violet hues.
Australians share our love of this beautiful and unique tree. To learn more about the jacaranda trees in Australia, please visit the blog of Caylie Jeffrey, who has written a post about the White Jacaranda Christmas Tree, here. Thank you, Caylie!
Much of that expanse is ashen white and blackened cinder, now.
At the very beginning, last Tuesday afternoon, we could see a thin column of white smoke that lifted above the mountain, and tall flames that licked the hot air. The temperature soared above 100 degrees. Soon, a curtain of smoke fell and hid the fire from view. The sky was grey and dense, yellow and acrid. More than 30,000 residents fled the area.
As residents left - firefighters and law enforcement arrived and could be seen on every street in Santa Barbara.
K and I left town for a night, and stayed with family. The news improved, and we came back home. Overnight, the fire exploded - we looked at the evacuation maps, finding that most of the city and much of the back country were under siege.
City and county agencies, and businesses and schools were closed. Markets were open - but empty. Normally busy streets were quiet, used mostly by fire personnel. Firefighters fought for hours and hours at a time, and grabbed a drink of water, a sandwich, and a moment of rest here and there.
In our homes, we lost our electricity. Then it came on. The gas was turned off. Then back on, and off again. We were placed back on evacuation warning.
K and I went to Joe's Cafe, downtown, and watched the story unfold on the television screen. We were the only diners, along with one man at the bar, and the employees. We reviewed our options while we had breakfast and drank coffee.
We decided it was time to go - again. We took clothes and a box of pictures, and drove away with hope that home would be here when we returned. And not just home - the parks and museums and 200-year-old trees, and rabbits and deer and wild turkeys that live in the hills.
We chose a hotel in Hollywood, and drove south, away from the helicopters that slid through the dark sky, the roiling smoke that choked the air - and the sirens that sounded, near and far.
Tonight I will say prayers of thanks for those who run into a burning forest - when the rest of us flee into the night. I wish I could tell each one thank you for everything they saved, how much we understand the enormity of their valiant efforts. Homes were lost in the conflagration, but no civilians were injured or killed.
We live in a city, and a county, and a state and country where thousands of people who live among us, work for the common good. They are at their best when we are lost and unsure. They are the heroes hidden in plain sight.
And today, finally, through sheer will and numbers, the mighty power of California's finest were able to gain the upper hand. And while the disaster is not over - and the reckoning of what was lost has still to come - we can see blue skies again. I haven't been out to any of the burned areas; I can't bear to see the destruction just yet.
But life is a perilous journey, under any circumstances. Some days, even more so. This is our third wildland fire in nine months. This is our first wildfire of the season. Every time a light breeze blows, delicate bits of ash flutter down, like the gentle flakes of an early snow. The effects of this bout will be with us for years to come.
We should not be surprised at the power of nature. Humbled, surely, but not surprised.
And always, we should remember to thank those who are not afraid to act swiftly during life's darkest hours. And even if they are afraid, they move forward for the greater good.
So with all my heart, I say, thank you, and god bless you, every one.....
I have only a few pics from around town that I took with my little camera. For some great news coverage, information, and professional pictures, visit the Santa Barbara Independent website.