A Peaceful Setting in Santa Barbara

<i> Howell is a Los Angeles writer. </i>

I call Rocky Nook Park in Santa Barbara my hospital.

When life has gotten too much for you, take a drive up the coast on U.S. 101. The two hours from Los Angeles will be beneficial to your decompression.

When you get to Santa Barbara turn off at Laguna Street, make a jog (you can see the mission up on the hill) and keep going. At the Mission the name of the street changes to Los Olivos (the olives). Pass by the right side of the mission, cross the stone bridge, make a quick right and turn into Rocky Nook Park.

The 19-acre park was donated in 1928 to Santa Barbara County in the name of Mrs. T. S. Oliver by friends. Although the park is well-attended, the wild atmosphere is retained. There are live oak, eucalyptus, Monterey Pine and sycamore trees inhabited by woodpeckers, titmice, flickers, rufus, towhee and crows.


City Comforts, Too

In addition to these wild things are some city comforts such as picnic tables, a barbecue big enough to roast a pig, swings, a wooden jungle gym and toilet facilities. The park closes at dusk.

But the best part is Mission Creek. When you get out of your car, you leave the city and its machines. In this wild setting a human voice is an intrusion. Wildflowers of blue, yellow, orange, red punctuate your walk, and there is so much green, soothing green, and the smell of eucalyptus.

You see nothing vertical. Everything is curves and leaning, lazy permissive shapes more suited to your humanness than the perfect squares and exact perpendiculars of the city.


The caw of crows and the tit-tit of birds decorate the auditory landscape, but they are secondary to the roar of the creek calling you to climb down to the water.

I come to this place when my tangled mind needs healing. I come away with the knots relaxed and the strands separated, the impasses in my thinking broken through by the white water as it pushes its way between the boulders.

It carries my trouble with it and fills its place with peace, and in the pools and gentle ebbing at the shore I watch the rhythmic reflections and something strong begins to possess me, something eternal.

I sit on a rock and look down at the clarity of the water, unabashedly showing me what lies beneath. It is all beauty and perfection. In each stone, each root, each bit of green moss there is order and harmony. There is cause and response; there is logic.


Among the Stones

I take my bare foot from its shoe and carefully place it among the stones. It is a lighter color, but the inner forms are definitely not foreign but organic with the organic, roots and rocks and the structure of my foot and toes.

My foot seems too eternal, also, until the cold water makes it ache and grudgingly I have to remove it.

Ten crows gather in the white eucalyptus trees overhead, alternately swooping and roosting, calling, “caw, caw, caw.” Am I friend or foe? They line up on a branch. What have they come to say? Are they truth-tellers, I ask the butterfly that waves silently by between us.


After a short while they fly on to make other pronouncements in another location.

Time to Move On

It is time for me to move on, too. I walk up to my car and head down the hill. My subconscious knows the destination, McConnells Ice Cream Parlor at Mission and State streets. They make their own. Sinful.

I stop to savor a scoop of Brazilian Coffee Chip and think about the last time I was there with my friend Susan. She had just received her cone topped with a scoop of Vanilla Nut Supreme when she started laughing at one of my wisecracks.


It fell off the cone onto the floor. She almost cried. But they gave her a free one. That’s the kind of place McConnells is.

But this time I have come alone. With dread I walk toward my car. I hate to leave this place of healing. But as I drive back down U.S. 101 I think, I don’t have to leave it; I can take it with me--the pictures, the thoughts, the feelings, and I can play them back when my stomach is knotted and re-remember the message of the crows, the cleansing of the roaring water.

I can close my eyes and eliminate all straight lines and come back to curves, caws and “tit-tit,” and again I will be soothed by my favorite things in Santa Barbara.