Not a bad place to ride horseback: writer Tiana Molony at the family ranch | Credit: Courtesy

When I was 11, I remember riding my bike and speeding down a steep hill on Dos Pueblos Ranch. Filled with youthful recklessness, I sliced through the air, then, within seconds, I went flying and hit the ground. I got up, dusted myself off, and discovered cuts on my knees and elbows, and a sharp pain in my arm, which I later found out I had sprained. My first thought was, “If I could just go back, I’d apply my brakes harder or try to slow down.” 

Writer Tiana Molony and her pup at Dos Pueblos Ranch | Credit: Courtesy

But my thinking was absurd. Instead of wishing away what had happened, I needed to move on — which, in this case, meant walking back up that hill, accepting defeat, and getting some help. Admittedly, with some crying along the way. It wasn’t the first time — or the last time — that the unpredictable place where I grew up forced me through a crucible of life’s lessons. 

One of the most transformative lessons, it turns out, has been accepting that this special place has a destiny I can’t control.

In 1977, my grandfather Rudi Schulte purchased Dos Pueblos Ranch — a property just outside of Goleta on the coast. But, instead of turning up the soil to serve his needs, he let the land live peacefully. After his death in 2005 — until the coastal side sold over a year ago — we did the same.

Growing up on the ranch fueled my insatiable desire to explore every corner of the land, from the abundant avocado and cherimoya trees to the mountainous terrain to the historic Big House. But it was the beach that hooked me. The beach granted me an oasis of perspective in the face of uncertainty. One could travel over the bridge and river, under the train tracks, past the flowers that look like egg yolks, and finally to the green grass. A view of the flowing ocean and storied bluffs would emerge. This scene became the backdrop of cherished family gatherings — weddings, anniversaries, and birthdays. 

And beyond the beach were thousands of acres of beauty. The house I grew up in was nestled deep in the ranch and shaped my most formative years. The eggshell-colored structure sat on a hill overlooking a vast green ocean of avocado orchards. I remember mornings waking up to chirping birds outside my window, accompanied by the distant neighs of the horses echoing below. Each day was different; the rhythms of nature were fluid.

Writer Tiana Molony and her family gather at Dos Pueblos Ranch | Credit: Courtesy

The ranch exposed me to many memorable encounters with wildlife — like a zoo, without walls separating you from the animals. Enjoying the presence of the ranch’s docile animals such as owls and deer came easy, but navigating some of nature’s dangerous predators such as mountain lions and bears was daunting. When I was 7, I was riding in the Kawasaki with my dad one night and we abruptly stopped the car as a mountain lion crossed the road in front of us. He leisurely moved and disappeared into the abyss. At the time, I didn’t know whether to feel scared or relieved, but moments like this helped me navigate the complicated feeling of uncertainty. 

And after many brushes with wildlife, I discovered that not all predators cede peacefully. When I was on a trail ride with my sister, dad, and our Labradors Mocha and Lola, we slowly ascended the mountain when we heard a faint rattle. It didn’t take us long to react to the familiar defensive sound of a rattlesnake. Concealed in a bush, the closer we got, the more enraged it became. But we remained calm. We carefully dismounted and left the threat behind. Our valuable understanding of the rhythms of nature kept us safe and aware. 

But, whenever I fell ill during my childhood, it reminded me of my lack of control. On one especially bad round of strep throat, my mother suggested that we venture outdoors and lie in the grass. So we did. I lay down as the sun blanketed my body and felt my symptoms ease. “Sometimes going outside in the sun can make all the difference,” my mother said. And it did. The sun didn’t cure me — antibiotics helped with that — but on the ranch, even something as simple as lying in the grass was a transformative memory and a life lesson learned.

When my healthy self freely roamed outside, I still couldn’t avoid accidents or encounters. For a young imaginative kid, the ranch’s possibilities were endless. I often heard my mother’s voice behind me, calling, “Be careful!” But despite my wariness, my younger and spontaneous self fell victim not just to nature’s capriciousness but to my own. I was cautious while riding my horse, but I still fell off and got a concussion. And I balanced myself while searching for rocks upstream, but I still slipped, leaving a deep scar on my knee. My younger self learned that being careful doesn’t always mean you won’t get hurt. 

A girl and her dog exploring the wilds of outer Goleta | Credit: Courtesy

Try as I might, growing up in nature taught me that I had no control over it. I couldn’t quiet the rooster or soften the cries of coyotes every time the train went by. I also couldn’t rescue our cat Cheerio — a small orange tabby — who lost her life to one of the ranch’s predators. Despite its beauty, nature is cruel and fickle. Accepting that fact is hard, but dwelling on it is futile. 

However large or small any situation was, acceptance helped me move forward. I had to accept that when my grandfather died, I might never smell the licorice he brought over every time he visited. And more recently, I had to accept that the place where I grew up my entire life would become a distant memory.

While brief and relatively insignificant in scope, the moments of uncertainty and change made my upbringing on the ranch so memorable. I remember the falls, not the countless times I rode or hiked smoothly. Despite those lessons, letting go of the ranch is daunting. But I have the scars to prove that my childhood self stretched on.


Please note this login is to submit events or press releases. Use this page here to login for your Independent subscription

Not a member? Sign up here.