Tucked away behind the Santa Barbara hills on the central coast in California, sits a 18,000 acre playground. It was this particular natural playground that set in motion what 20 years later would be the driving force for a nonprofit, and education, and a social platform.

However, in the early summer of 1996, the quirky, wild-haired, little brown girl knew nothing of this at that time. All she knew was that the oak trees around her, the shallow waters embrace, the smell of damp soil, these were indicating markers that she was in her favorite place in the whole world. She was in “el rio” as her parents called it, this was her safe space.

This poem is dedicated to her and the forest that raised her.

Deep breath.


Deep breath.


Deep breath....

“Karen, Karen,

Ya 15 minutos más y nos vamos.”

I hear my mom’s muffled voice.

I let the water drown out her sound and pretend I can’t hear her.

My eyes squint open,

a clouded frame from water drops clinging onto my eyelashes.

Little rainbow ors forming around the silhouette of my moms face,

as she blocks the sun.

The blue sky,

the long unkept grass singing to the wind and

my mom’s beautiful brown face.

Her gentle fingers on my back keeping me afloat.

The current rocking me softly.

If love could ever hug you, it would feel like this.

Before the fancy water shoes, the ultra-lightweight-quick-dry gear, the bathing suits, the over excess of it all.

Before I knew of all the politics and sacrifices she made to get me here.

Just me, my mom, and the river.

This was our playground, our refuge, our safe space.

This is where I wanted to stay forever.

About the Author

Karen Ramos is the founder of the nonprofit Get Out, Stay Out/Vamos Afuera. Learn more about Karen at naturechola.com and on Instagram at @naturechola.

National Forest Foundation