Living with the threat of further natural disasters is a choice that residents of coastal California have been making for years, and scores of people have decided that it’s absolutely worth the risk. (State Farm, Allstate, AIG and Chubb insurers, among others, disagree; all have stopped issuing new home insurance policies in the state.)
In January, on the fifth anniversary of the deadly mudflow, Montecito flooded again. Ms. DeGeneres, who was sheltering in place (her house is on high ground), posted a video of a creek on her property gushing water. “We need to be nicer to Mother Nature,” she said, “because Mother Nature is not happy with us.”
This time, far more people heeded evacuation warnings and left. Although there were other deaths in the state, Montecito was spared this time. Residents were home a day later, and then spent an uneasy winter calculating threat after threat as the state continued to endure alarming levels of wet. Recently, Ms. Chantal Bacon reposted her leaving-Montecito Instagram footage of a cute little Mini Cooper navigating high, brown water as the introduction for an online conversation with her followers she’d be hosting about death.
Montecito, and the embarrassing torrent of clichés it evokes, makes it easy to forget the threats. As I wandered around the near-psychedelic wonder that is Lotusland, I couldn’t believe that just a few hours later I’d be back on a United Airlines flight to Newark, quietly navigating for the shared armrest in coach with more hostility than I’d felt all week.
When I’d first arrived, I sent a text to my husband back in Brooklyn suggesting that we, too, renounce our families and move West for truth and eucalyptus and blah blah blah. I sent more: photographs of a 70-year-old bonsai tree tucked beside a redwood, a trippy cactus forest silhouetted against the Santa Ynez, the Pacific stretching out before me.
“I think it’s time to come home,” he wrote back. “You do know about the Lotus eaters, right?”