Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Lizard's Mouth in Three Teenaged Acts

Act One: Hanging Out
Time: The Early Nineties

If you take San Marcos Pass out of Santa Barbara, turn onto West Camino Cielo and follow the road for 3-4 miles, eventually you will come to the Winchester Canyon Rod and Gun Club. Just before the entrance to the Rod and Gun Club, there is a large rock. If you happened to be with a local, you could find the faint, unmarked trail out to a huge rock outcropping called Lizard's Mouth.

Lizard's Mouth. So many people who went through their teenage years in Santa Barbara know this place. Much underage drinking took place here, although it is a testament to the teens that very little glass mars the landscape. (I myself did not participate in such debauchery in high school-- it took me until I got into college to fall off the wagon.) I'm sure plenty of random groping (let's leave it at that) happened as well-- Lizard's Mouth is at the top of the ridge that overlooks Santa Barbara. On a clear night, the entire coast is lit up-- to say nothing of the twinkling oil derricks in the channel. There are few places I know of around Santa Barbara with such stunning views. Add to that the starry night and a bit of seclusion and it really doesn't get much more romantic.

Beyond that, Lizard's Mouth felt like our place. I can't remember how many times my friend Katie would suggest we go up to Lizard's Mouth just to hang out and talk. We never took a flashlight, using the light of the moon or stars to walk out to the rocks. If there happened to be people (a rarity), we'd just find another section of the area to sit and stare out to sea for a while. Our parents never questioned our safety or our judgment-- and having had a teenager for a year, the judgment part continues to amaze me.

Act Two: Stranger Than Fiction
Time: August 2000

In August 2000, Jesse James Hollywood (his real name, I swear-- feel free to google it!) kidnaped 15 year old Nicholas Markowitz as revenge for money his older brother owed Hollywood. Hollywood's henchmen took Markowitz up to Lizard's Mouth, where they bound him, shot and killed him, and buried him in a shallow grave. Six days later his body was found, but Jesse James Hollywood was missing until 2005. During this time, Nick Cassavetes approached the Santa Barbara district attorney, interested in making a movie about the still-open case. In a rather renegade move, the district attorney decided to share the Hollywood case file with Cassavetes in the hopes of creating a larger search net for Hollywood. Eventually Hollywood was traced to Brazil, extradited and still awaits sentencing, but the DA's decision resulted in Hollywood attempting to recuse the DA for misconduct and sharing confidential evidence. The case has yet to come to trial, but it has been a long and strange series of events since the tragedy.

While there is much more I could say about the case, I will not, for fascination with criminal cases does not lead to wanting to write about them. What I have been thinking about is how our relationship with places changes when we know something new about the place. I cannot see Lizard's Mouth in the same way as before. Being up there, I can't help but t hink about that 15 year old kid, and how he saw the same rocks and trees and trail that we walked on over and over again before he was hit over the head with a shovel. Lizard's Mouth is no longer a site of simple nostalgia.

I recognize that multitudes of events, both glorious and tragic, have probably happened in places I freque nt all the time. I'm sure I've stood on the site of horrible tragedies before and not known about it--but I DO know about what happened at Lizard's Mouth and it's not the same.

Act Three: Only YOU Can Prevent Forest Fires
Time: July 2008

This summer, my parents' house came the closest it has ever come to the huge fires that have burned countless acres in Santa Barbara County over the years.
I mentioned the Gap Fire in this post, but no one knew at that point exactly where the fire had started. Well, it turns out that a 16 year old (teenage theme here?) started the fire at-- you guessed it-- Lizard's Mouth.

We went up to Lizard's Mouth over Thanksgiving (my mom had never been!) and once again, Lizard's Mouth has changed.

Driving on West Camino Cielo, the fire's path followed the road. Black charcoal twigs raise scraggly arms and I am surprised so few buildings burned--this fire raged over the hills. This time when we get to the trail head, I almost missed the rock because all the foliage was burned. In the intervening years, the county has put up a sign indicating the way out to the rocks, and I wondered if that meant more people have been coming out to Lizard's Mouth now that one could find it without a local guide.

I was amazed at how the fire left some areas scorched and others, merely a few feet away, remained untouched. I found myself imagining what it must have been like for the teenaged boy who was charged with starting the fire. How fast did the flames start to leap over the hills? Was he scared as he drove down West Camino Cielo? When did he realize that he had started a fire that would leave the land so changed?

Act Four: As Yet Unwritten

(But I'm sure some teenager will play a starring role...)


foodie hunter said...

This brings back some interesting memories. I had no idea re: the criminal case.

Gmello said...

This is a cool post. Central California has so many beautiful landscapes.