Surf and Turf

In WTV, I suggested that my 'home turf', for the purposes of this blog, consists of the Ojai and Upper Ojai valleys and portions of their watershed which feed one of two rivers, the Ventura or the Santa Clara which, in turn, wind their way to the ocean and, taken all together, delineate a comprehensible turfdom. If you drive up behind Ventura City Hall, along Brakey Road (named for a successful Ventura house mover, Robert E. Brakey, a City Trustee in 1916-17 and owner of a large portion of the hillside between Oak Street and present-day City Hall) and leave the car where Brakey threatens to run over the escarpment that tumbles down to the flatlands below, and then walk up to the eucalypts at the top of the hill, you should be prepared to comprehend, and be dazzled by, a view of said turf.

Once, somewhere in South Wales on an English fortnight's holiday with my parents, my father read from a guide book and winced when he spoke, "sweeping estuarial vistas lie before you". It was estuarial that got to him. Now his son is guilty of taking all kinds of adjectival liberties and estuarial does not rise (for me) to the level of embarrassingly prim or excruciatingly pretentious: it falls within the broad range of the acceptable. In memory of my father, however, I will desist from using it to describe this view, although, at first blush, it would seem to be mighty apposite.

The fact is, my concern for geographical accuracy offers me an out: for what lies before you, to the north, is a delta, the Ventura River delta. The river feeds the ocean with fresh water, silt and cobbles whilst threading through alluvial debris; this is echoed, to the south, by the Santa Clara delta. Strictly speaking, an estuary is a deep, fan shaped sunken mouth of a river valley whereas a delta is a depositional alluvial mass through which the mouth of the river flows shallowly and unpredictably. An estuary is deep, stable and possesses gravitas; a delta is frivolous and changeable.

There is an easy mnemonic. Delta is the fourth letter of the Greek alphabet and is used, in its upper case form of a triangle, to signify change in mathematics, or physics. What we have before us (since you are along for the ride) are two deltas (of the watery, unstable kind) about three or four miles apart that describe the base-line of a quadrant that, in my mind (I won't burden you with this mental bric-a brac) has its origination point in my back yard.

At the mouth of the Ventura River, as an article in CCBER (see below) notes, wetlands occur seaward of the coastal dunes and berm and here the substrate of the intertidal and subtidal habitats is characterized by sedimentary cobble transported to the river’s delta during major storm events, and sorted by ocean waves, tides and currents. This cobble ranges in size from three inches to three foot boulders, and is derived from a wide variety of inland sedimentary rock formations, from the Pleistocene (geologically recent) to the Eocene, as well as several granitic and metamorphic rock types (The Dance of Time). The cobble substrate, which extends over a mile along the shoreline of the Ventura River Delta (visible from the 101 driving south) is intermixed with fine sediments derived from river flows and the long-shore littoral current. (Mark H. Capelli in UCSB's Cheadle Center for Biological Diversity and Ecological Restoration Newsletter, CCBER, June 2010).

J. Garnett Holmes and Louis Mesmer in their Soil Survey of the Ventura Area, 1901, write that,

"In the remote northern and eastern portions of the county the mountains are of granite and volcanic rock, but the hills and mountains surrounding all the cultivable land are sandstone and shale. Santa Clara River runs from the east and flows in a westerly direction to the ocean. Piru, Sespe and Santa Paula Creeks enter from the north. These tributaries, coming as they do from areas of different geological formations, make the sediment of Santa Clara River of complex character and produce the Oxnard types of soil."

The two rivers then, differ in their depositional character. The northern delta dumps roiling rocks onto the beach (when in spate) for the river is funneled by the narrow Ventura River Valley pinched between the ridge from whence this view unfolds, and the northward upslopes that reach toward Red Mountain where the hillside is, for the most part, riddled with oil development; although a broad swathe of many hundreds of acres has recently been developed as citrus orchards by a local rancher. Thus constricted in its flow, the river, in flood, increases in velocity and shoots seaward spewing its sand, silt and cobble upon the littoral.

The more languid Santa Clara River has, over the ages, created the broad Oxnard Plain, the State's richest agricultural soils. Between them there is the sprawl of Ventura fatally bifurcated by the 101 and the agricultural flats (Camarillo Brio).

US 101 is arguably the most historic highway in California. It follows the route the Spanish explorer Juan Gaspar de Portola established in 1769, which later became El Camino Real, the King's Highway. This historic road connected (more or less) the twenty-one missions of California and served as the main north-south road in California until the 1920s. In 1926, Route 101 was established which faithfully followed El Camino Real and was only slowly up-graded from two-laned blacktop, through the 1940's and 50's, to a mostly four lane highway. 1959 saw the completion of four lanes up and over the Conejo grade and ten years later the two local towns of Camarillo and Ventura were riven asunder by the extension of this divided highway, now dubbed the Ventura Freeway. In 1992, the last traffic signal at Santa Barbara was finally removed and now State Street dips elegantly beneath the freeway thus preserving the towns primary connection to the ocean. Ventura's Main Street runs parallel to the ocean and thus enjoys no such grand terminus at the Pacific.

Major roads (State Highway 33 and the 126 Freeway) run alongside the course of the two great, mostly wild rivers which bookend the City, but development is terraced into the Ventura Hills running in-line with the surf. As I pointed out in An Island on the Land, California, through the Mission period and during its annexation to a newly independent Mexico into the 1840's, was both explored and peopled along a north-south axis, up and down the coast - by sea or land. Only towards the end of the nineteenth century did local east-west traffic develop when a stage line was established, to and from Los Angeles, via the Simi, Conejo and Santa Clara Valleys which then travelled out to Ventura through the Ojai Valley and up the coast to Santa Barbara, thus taking advantage of terraces forged by both the local east-west rivers - as would the 33 and 126 in the twentieth century (Saturday Night Special).

I stand here (now) above Koenigstein, my out-stretched arms encompassing about 30 degrees and imagine my finger tips straining to reach the two river deltas somewhere over Sulphur Mountain, over the trackless wildlands (unless, somehow, the meridians briefly align with Canada Lago or Aliso Canyon Roads), over the chaparral, the oil lines, the nameless oil roads and the canyons, streams, arroyos, seismic faults and game trails and proclaim it as my turf, as my home.