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  • Writer's pictureIsaac yelchin

Reign of Rain

Cracking, while dust spirals off in the hot wind, the river beds are void of moisture. Grasses begin to grow in the middle of the creek, sucking up the last few drops of water. The streams become unrecognizable to their former selves as they begin to blend in with the banks. Walking through is a nightmare of burs and snares. A loose stick knocks your hat off and when you bend down to grab it, another stick, that had been waiting for this moment, pokes your eye. However, these small battles are well worth it to see the beauty deep within the mountains.

Overgrown Creek bed in Santa Barbara.

The creeks overgrown with flora begin to lose sight of themselves and resign to being any old part of the landscape. Their puddles dry up and soon only the deepest shaded pools remain, hiding the few aquatic refugees. However, their crowded lives in the muck will not be this way forever.

Protected from the boiling sun by a cave, this is one of the only pools with water along the Sespe River. Hundreds of fish take shelter and hope to survive the summer heat in the muck filled pool.

First comes a biting wind, shaking the leaves and warning the trees. Then it spurs faster, without sole direction, whipping, hitting, and piercing through the hillside. This wind is heavy, it is not alone. In its turbulence it carries water. At first it just sprays, sharp and sideways, then with vehemence it begins.

An overgrown creek in Ojai.

As the first drops of rain hit the earth, dust flees upward in ghostly spirals like the smoke from the edge of an empty pan left on high heat. Soon the rain reaches maturity and falls in its prime, blanketing the earth, filling the dustpan, and quelling the dust across California into simmering mud.

Probable bobcat prints in wet mud.

My eyes glow in the spotted light squeaking through the rain clouds. I run outside and laugh, allowing the rain to coddle me in its cold and sweet hands. The rain kept falling, day after day, something so unusual here in Southern California. I stand in it for hours, and I must seem crazy to all the people living in Oregon. These torrential rains only lasted for seven days over two weeks, which is nothing for most places on earth. In Southern California, this much rain is record-breaking.

Aftermath of the high flows in Santa Barbara leave felled trees strewn across the bridge.

The earth, dry and dusty, drank until it could not anymore. But the rain kept falling. It streamed down, carving into the landscape, and slid off the hydrated mud. It began to flow into the rivers and creeks. The grasses and plants that had taken over their dried beds, began to strain their roots to fight the oncoming water. Soon they were bent backward in their efforts, some holding on and pendulums back and forth in the flow. Clouds filled with water kept rolling in from the Pacific Ocean, and soon the rivers reached their maximum. The grasses were ripped out one by one like pigeons leaving a telephone line until nothing remained but a muddy swirling mess careening down towards the ocean.

Trees were ripped out and bent 90 degrees by high flows in San Antonio creek.

It didn’t stop there. The rain grinned in malicious glee and thundered down even harder. Exhausted, the banks of the rivers began to give way to the sweet caress of erosion. Their muddy walls, held together by roots of sycamore and willow, let go. The ferocious nature of the creeks grabbed all in reach and dragged them along towards the sea.

Trees and boulders were shucked downstream making Ventura river unrecognizable. Acres of invasive Arundo was ripped out by the high flows, a lucky side effect!

In just a few hours, the rivers could not contain this power. Water is the origin of all life, the mother of us all, and sometimes she must discipline her children. Walls of mud, 20-foot trees, and somebody's porch, were all taken by the scolding hand of the river water. Flows increased further and the rivers were given new life, or rather they took back their old playgrounds. The water jumped out of the river like cottontail rabbits fleeing your dog on a hike and shot into streets, backyards, and even some unfortunate living rooms.

A few feet of somebody's backyard was eroded into the creek in San Antonio.

In a salvo of force and life, the hidden strength of California's waterways was revealed to all, whether we liked it or not. Roads were torn down and collapsed into the abyss. Houses slid, and cars became sunken ships.

The edge of the 101 freeway hangs recklessly over Gaviota creek after a mudslide.

And then, just like it was never there, the water subsided. It pulled back from its devilish destruction, and cooly flowed downstream in its designated channel. The momma bear had seen her cub returned unharmed, and she flowed downstream and out of sight in haughty calmness as if she hadn’t just had you pinned against your own front door salivating through barred teeth.

Over 100 yards from the usual edge of the Ventura river flows were so vicious they slammed this metal dumpster into a tree.

The rivers flow with more strength than months previous now, but they are a relic of those few days at their peak. Yet the scars exist throughout the state as a reminder of the rivers and creeks' latent fury.

Also over 100 yards from the usual bank of the Ventura river, the aftermath of high flows is evident.

Alas, this is good, we survive and rebuild, and so do the animals and plants. The willows ripped to shreds by the waters rage, regrow as new sturdy trees from their shattered stems. Salmon can swim upstream for the first time in decades to meet their landlocked brethren, as creeks normally too dry to connect to the ocean finally flow true. Almost to say thank you, and remind us of the magic of mother earth's cruel but loving reign, a blanket made from the finest emerald silk grows in thin grass stalks across every spare inch of land.

A sheet of pure green grass grows along the edge of the San Antonio river. The eroded bank shows how the waterline was almost ten feet higher at the peak of the storm.

All photos taken by Isaac Yelchin

Isaac Yelchin is foremost a herpetologist. He studies lizards, frogs, newts, and the like. Specifically, he spends all day and night thinking about what it is like to be an animal. What are the animals thinking about? What is their perspective? When he should be working, he sits and stares at his pet lizard asking himself these questions.

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