And Then There Was Vesper . . . [AKA, Winter 2017]

February 11th, 2018 - filed under: The Farm » Family

skateboarding family

Hello hello, it’s winter! Which means that here in southern California, as I write this today, it’s a frigid 66º outside. Brrrr!

But it is winter, and wow, what a winter it’s been. Our little corner of the world has been through a lot these last few months, and everything feels like it’s been turned upside down.

First there was the Thomas Fire, the largest wildfire in California’s history, burning through early December. The air quality was so bad that they shut down the University, businesses closed their doors, and half the city was under evacuation orders. 8,000 firefighters were deployed. They worked tirelessly, and somehow managed to save the vast majority of structures while 280,000 acres of forest and farmland burned. It was horrible. But we all came together as a community, and the fire was mostly contained by the holidays. It seemed like things were going to be okay.

Until the rains came in early January. And all that burned earth just . . . slid away. The mudslides were devastating, they claimed dozens of lives and hundreds of homes. It’s still hard for me to comprehend. Fire, I get. Fire burns and it’s scary and it’s dangerous — that makes sense. But it’s just so hard to wrap my brain around mudslides. Because it’s rain. Precious rain that we here in southern California pray for. Treasured, cherished, life-giving rain. Rain isn’t supposed to kill children while they’re sleeping in their beds.

This beautifully-written article about the mudslides helps to explain what happened, but I still have trouble reconciling it. Regardless, the rain came, and then the slides, and then the aftermath. The freeway was shut down for over a week, and so were all the side roads. We were completely cut off. Store shelves were empty. There was no mail. My students couldn’t get back to campus after the holiday break.

It’s been chaos, this winter.

All this panic and pain, all this loss. Our family has been lucky, but watching my community go through this has been so hard. I’m grateful that I’ve had a little bundle of pure love, to channel all my energy into.

That’s right, a new bundle of love! About a week before the fire started, Jeremy and I travelled to LA. We got to see Hamilton at the Pantages (dream come true) and then the next day, we set out on an adventure. I had charted and mapped every single one of the LA County Animal Shelters, a route which was 4.5 hours of drive time. And we did it — we hit every single one.

seeing Hamilton

We knew that we wanted to adopt from LA because they euthanize 200 dogs each month in LA County, while our Santa Barbara shelters are mostly no-kill. And we knew we wanted a puppy. I’m actually in the rare position of being able to provide all of the time and energy that a puppy requires, so I couldn’t pass up that opportunity. But other than age we had no constraints. I always say, You know your dog when you see them. You just know it.

We spent all day Friday visiting shelters. ALL day. And we didn’t find any puppies we connected with. I was devastated, I just knew in my heart we were supposed to find our baby that weekend. But there was nothing, and we were supposed to drive home the next day.

Saturday morning in our hotel room, I checked the shelter websites one last time . . . and was surprised to see a new face pop up in Long Beach. It was completely the wrong direction, but we weighed our options and finally decided to take a chance on a blurry photo of what looked like a timid little terrier.

When we got to the shelter we looked everywhere, but we couldn’t find her. Could she already have been adopted? That had happened multiple times the day before, so we feared she was already gone. We went inside and asked at the desk, showing them the website and her ID number. “Oh” they said, “She’s in quarantine.”

“Oh okay. Well . . . can we see her anyway?”

The vet came out to talk to us, explaining that this tiny 9-week old puppy was recovering from parvo, a virus that is almost always fatal in dogs her age. I was direct: “Is she going to die?” She was honest: “I don’t know. But I don’t think so.”

The vet explained that the pup was through the worst of it, and considered to be “in recovery.” She’d had the last of her course of meds that very morning, and hadn’t vomited in more than 24 hours. It was promising.

When we met her, she was all wags and wiggles. She was a little weak from the disease, but she had so much spirit. “Quarantine” was in the euthanasia room, in a little cage, all alone and surrounded by death. It was heartbreaking. And the moment I picked her up I knew — we’d found our girl. I snuggled my face into her and I cried. I was so happy!

She slept in my arms the whole 3-hour drive home. We named her Vespertine. We fell head over heels in love.

That was December 2nd, and since then, everything’s been upside down . . .

9 week pitbull

Our little Vesper, the most beautiful Blue Nose Pit Bull pup in all the lands.

The Thomas Fire broke out on December 4th, but at first it wasn’t so bad. It was way back in the foothills of the neighboring county, so we all carried on with business as usual. Vesper came to work with me every day, hanging out in my office and sleeping in my arms while I worked at my desk.

But by the weekend, the fire had crossed into Santa Barbara county, and the smoke was thick in the air. Fire skies are so strange, they cast an orange glow over everything. We took a Saturday trip up to wine country that weekend, to try and get some fresh air.

refugio ranch wine tasting

Wine tasting with friends at Refugio Ranch Vineyards in Los Olivos.

refugio ranch tasting room
With the puppy, of course!

It was a lovely afternoon respite, but it wasn’t enough. The air quality was terrible. Waits’s school cancelled classes . . . UNTIL JANUARY (this was on December 9th, mind you) and the University officially postponed finals until after winter break. UCSB became an evacuation center. Everyone was wearing respirators. I was planning to return to work on Monday, but my boss called a meeting with the whole team. “Go away” she said. “Get out of Santa Barbara. You can work remotely, just leave.”

At first I kind of thought everyone was overreacting, until I started reading about what kind of particulates are found in the air during a fire. And it was thick, the worst I’ve ever seen. The ground was covered with ash; it looked like snow.

Okay, so we were evacuating.

boy with pitbull puppy

On the road, in search of cleaner air and brighter skies.

We didn’t have a plan, it all happened really fast. Jeremy’s work closed down too, so he was able to join us at the beginning. When I think “clean air” I think mountains, so that’s where we went. We found a cheap motel in Lake Arrowhead, booked a room for us and one for our friends, and caravanned out of town.

I feel very fortunate to have been able to take my family and leave. To have a job that allowed me to do that, to work remotely and not lose pay, and to have the means to afford a motel. I am incredibly lucky and I have a lot of friends who were not in that position. I just want to acknowledge that.

After Arrowhead, Jeremy had to go back to Santa Barbara. But my friend Jennie and her son Oliver were down to road trip. So we piled two moms, two boys, and a baby pit bull into a Prius, and pointed it east. Jennie’s mom had a time-share in Sedona Arizona and we could stay there for free. Hello! Yes please!

hiking sedona

Hiking in beautiful Sedona.

We were in Arizona for 3 days, then made our way back with an overnight in Palm Springs to break up the drive. We didn’t really want to return, but we both share-parent (on the same schedule, win!) so we had to get the boys back.

palm springs hotel

baby pibble

Palm Springs.

Once we were back Damian immediately took Waits out of town, which made me feel good. The air was still terrible. But Jeremy had life-hacked a super-powered air filter for house, so I just holed up with my puppy and my kitties and worked from under the covers.

December 16th, my first day back, was actually the worst day of the fire (for the city of Santa Barbara). I took this video from a freeway overpass a block from my house. You can see flames raging on the hillside right above downtown SB. It was such a scary day, we were glued to our computers scanning the updates, watching houses burning on the non-stop local news livestream. It was awful.

But that was as bad as it got. The winds shifted, and the firefighters began to get things contained.

puppy with santa

I mean come on!

california christmas
Weirdest Christmas ever.

christmas mom and boy
But hey, we make the best of it.

Christmas morning was a blast, of course. Damian and Danielle came over, like they do every year, and I am so grateful that we are able to maintain this strange modern family of ours, with a whole cadre of parents to love and nurture Waits.


Christmas morning.

We got Waits a new skateboard, which he fully customized himself, picking out the deck and the trucks and the wheels and the bearings and the grip tape. He and Jeremy put it all together that day, and the rest of the holiday break was nonstop skating (as soon as the air was clear enough).


He’s getting really good.

attachment dog parenting
We call it “attachment dog parenting.” (kidding! she did love being worn though)

Honestly, most of January was a blur, after the mudslides. I feel like I went through a 2-week time warp. But now Waits is back at school and I’m back at work, and things are finally starting to seem normal again.



First time at the beach, by now an experienced adventurer.

walking baby pitbull
Another day trip to wine country. I really, really love it up in the valley. Jeremy and I dream about moving out there, where he could get into the production side of wine, and I could finally live all my farm girl fantasies. Maybe some day.

witchy wednesdays
But mostly, these days it’s back to normal life. Just another weekday night, sitting on the floor making magic with friends. These are the moments I live for.

This post is already feeling epically long, much longer than I had anticipated. So I’m going to skip the Love List, and save it for next time. Right now, I just want to express a general sense of intense gratitude. This winter has tested my city, and I have witnessed an outpouring of care, love, aide, and an incredible sense of *community*. In the wake of this tragedy, in the exhausted aftershock, in the stillness and sadness, I find myself filled with hope. People are good. People are kind. We do have each others’ backs.

I am so comforted by that.

you have chosen wisely

I snapped this pic in a Thai restaurant in Los Angeles, on the trip that would eventually lead to Vesper.

And in more ways than I could possibly count, I just couldn’t agree more.

♥ ♥ ♥

  • Lindsey

    Beautiful. I realized how much I miss your insight and words, Sayward. Thank you for sharing again :)

  • Sayward Rebhal

    Thank you so much Lindsey, it really felt great to sit down and write out my insides again. =)

  • Becky Carpenter

    Wow this was an incredible read. I’m completely on the other end of the coast and so have only heard about the fires in the news. It was amazing to hear your perspective. My heart breaks for all the damage and devastation out there. I’m so glad you and your family are alright!

    Vesper is ADORABLE. What a gorgeous pup! Dogs are seriously the best.

  • Sayward Rebhal

    Thank you Becky. I’m really glad we’ve had this sweet puppy through this difficult time. ♥

  • Claire

    Sadly this will only happen more now with the reality of climate change. The question is what are we going to do about it, how will we adapt?

  • Claire

    Sadly this will become regular now thanks to climate change. That’s the reality of it. How can we adapt?

  • Sayward Rebhal

    Very true! It’s scary how much we are seeing the consequences of our actions, just in my lifetime. =(

  • Sarah C.

    She’s a beauty! Congrats on that new family member. We got a dog this fall (an adult from a shelter), and I can’t believe we didn’t do it earlier – she’s such an integral member of our family already, and a source of much delight.

    I’m sorry the fires and mudslides were so scary for your family – I can’t imagine how bad that must have been for low-income and low-mobility folks! eek.

  • Ann Brumley

    I’m glad you’re safe from all the wildfires AND Vesper is adorable!

  • Lina

    Also, Vespertine is an amazing album by Björk. Give it a listen! (: