For all the summer hype California receives, it has been our experience as Midwesterners that fall and winter are actually better times to experience the Sunshine State. The crowds are diminished, the weather remains warm during the day and although cooler at night – at 50 some degrees, it is still usually warmer than at home in November.
This week we headed west to attend the wedding reception for one of Cicely’s Washington, D.C., roommates. As we checked locations and distances we realized we would be only about 90 minutes away from one of our landlords. We flew out a few days early to spend some time with her and her daughter. We had made this trip before and used it to start planning for the coming crop year. We decided this year especially, an in-person visit would be fruitful in outlining the many uncertainties that loom with trying to plan for 2022 crop input costs.
So last Tuesday we left cold and frosty Nebraska and arrived early evening to temperatures in the 70s. We were blessed with smooth and timely flights, something in this pandemic travel chaos we are particularly grateful for.
After an overnight stay in Thousand Oaks we ventured north to the Santa Ynez Valley in Santa Barbara County where our landlady lives. On the way we stopped at Mission Santa Barbara, the only original mission still standing in the long line of Spanish missions established by Franciscan friars in the mid to late 1700s.
It was founded on Dec. 4, 1786 on the feast day of Saint Barbara, and because that is my name it was a particularly interesting visit. The mission chapel has twice been the victim of California’s earthquakes, first in 1812 when the third chapel was totally destroyed.
The fourth chapel took until 1820 to rebuild and remained intact until 1925 when an earthquake of 6.8 magnitude struck the Santa Barbara area. This time the two towers were severely damaged, but the walls remained intact, being held by buttresses. The reconstruction was completed by 1927 with attention to keeping the work historically accurate, and the mission remains an active part of the community with regular services to present day.
Part of the mission’s work was to bring Christianity to the indigenous peoples of the region. In this area the Chumash tribe was prevalent and by 1803, more than 1,700 were living in adobe huts surrounding the mission. They were indentured servants of the Franciscans and sadly their population dwindled rapidly in the following decades due to ill treatment, malnutrition and disease. By 1840 there were fewer than 250 Chumash at the mission.
The Chumash were able to obtain ground near present-day Solvang, further up the Santa Ynez Valley, where they established a reservation. They were among just a few tribes whose treaty held and allowed them to remain on ancestral grounds.
We also toured the Santa Barbara Historical Museum. It further shares the community’s history and development from the days of the Spanish Presidio of the late 1700s through the area’s Mexican occupation through the Gold Rush of 1849 to present day.
As we traveled through the other valley towns of Solvang, Santa Ynez and Los Olives, we were intrigued to learn most communities away from the coast weren’t founded until the 1880s. Solvang came even later in 1911, founded by Danish immigrants who purchased 9,000 acres surrounding the Mission Santa Ines. That mission was founded by the Mexicans.
In 1947 city fathers decided to recreate the village using the architectural style of their Danish homeland and it has become a popular tourist attraction complete with Danish bakeries and restaurants and scores of shops, art galleries and wine and olive oil tasting rooms.
The wedding reception was hosted in the backyard of the groom’s parent’s home in Agoura Hills. We enjoyed meeting and putting names and faces together of many we have seen in pictures. We chuckled as we were quite comfortable in our shirt sleeves but as the sun set the Californians all started grabbing jackets and shawls. We assisted with the lighting of the patio heaters brought in for the occasion and as the evening wore on were also grateful for the bit of extra heat as temps hovered in the low 50s.
Sunday we went on a driving tour with Don’s cousins who took their farmer cousin to the orchard and organic farming areas of Fillmore and Ojai. We also drove through Santa Paula, where the former Union Oil company was founded in 1890.
Circling down to the coast we drove the California coastal highway from Ventura to Malibu and wound our way up through the “hills” on a 14-mile curvy road back to Westlake and Thousand Oaks. Sadly we saw the devastation caused by some of the many fires that have hit this region during the extended drought. Campers sit on driveway pads where homes once stood, only confirming that every paradise has its price.
As you read this column we are once again home, grateful for the experience of travel, but ready to sit still a spell and get our harvest finished.
Barb Bierman Batie can be reached at email@example.com.