Dear Montecito: Isabelle Davenport

By Stella Haffner   |   January 28, 2021

My mom, Carrie Haffner, has two stickers on her car. One is a harbor pass that expired six years ago, the other is a Bucket Brigade magnet. She likes both and says she keeps them because they “show other people that we’re locals.”

This week we’re hearing from an old classmate of mine, Laguna Blanca alumna, and current student at the University of San Diego, Isabelle Davenport. I was grateful when Isabelle agreed to share her experiences following the 2018 debris flow because I knew what she has to say would resonate. Between the challenge of applying to college during evacuation, the guilt precipitated from being unharmed by the natural disasters, and her work with the Bucket Brigade, I think Isabelle’s letter is a strong representation of the complex and evolving relationship us locals have with the outdoors. 

Dear Montecito,

Isabelle Davenport graduated from Laguna Blanca in 2018, a few months after the Thomas Fire and debris flow

I moved here from Des Moines, Iowa when I was 12 years old. Nine years later, I am in my final few semesters at the University of San Diego where I am majoring in English with a minor in Psychology. And let me say, it’s strange to be rounding the corner to graduation again when I remember what my senior year in high school was like.  

I graduated from Laguna Blanca in 2018, a few months following the Thomas Fire and the mudslides. Despite the natural disasters, my family and I were extremely fortunate. The afternoon before the big storm, my dad had decided to stay at the house while my mom, sister, and I stayed at a hotel. Like many people, we did not have flood insurance, so my dad wanted to make sure the water was able to drain away from the house. When we woke up the next morning, the news was terrifying as reporters showed that pieces of our town that had once been very familiar were now unrecognizable from mud and rocks. We could not get a hold of my dad for hours, and we had no way of knowing what had happened to our house. 

That day, we stared at the TV for hours, hoping to get more information. Eventually, we got a garbled voicemail from my dad telling us that he was okay and that our house was also in one piece. Even though several houses surrounding our own had been destroyed, our house had been spared. We didn’t even have mud on our property. Of course, I was thankful that we’d been left alone, but I also felt very guilty that so many others had lost so much. When I had the chance to help rebuild my community, I immediately said yes and joined Bucket Brigade. It was nice to give back a little.

Between school and my job taking over most of my weekend hours, I didn’t have as many chances to work on Bucket Brigade as I would’ve liked. But each time I did, I found it very rewarding. I remember one friend’s house in particular. Luckily the mud hadn’t managed to creep inside, so I was there helping to remove it from the outside of the house. It was nearly five feet tall in several areas and not at all what you’d expect. I remember the smell of the mud. It was awful. I think it’s because of things like that that made me so happy to help others who’d been affected. I feel grateful, especially after seeing how damaging and toxic mud could be. It was both a very humbling and rewarding experience. 

Now that I’m at USD, it’s even more strange looking back to a point where college was everything I was thinking about. Or had been anyway. As my family and I stayed in hotels and the homes of friends for several weeks, the displacement began to sap my motivation. At school, I had a really hard time focusing and honestly caring about what had been important. Even though college had been the number one goal all throughout high school, I nearly forgot about it. I nearly did not apply to USD at all, but luckily remembered two hours before the deadline.

I was accepted into USD’s Honors Program, and even though I barely applied, I chose that college the minute I walked onto campus. It was gorgeous, with a lovely overlook on the ocean. Since moving out here, the outdoors has been a huge part of my life. My house in Montecito is only a mile away from the Romero Canyon trailhead and throughout high school I’d gotten really into trail running. I always wanted to do and see more. This forms a large part of my plans for the future. 

After USD, I plan to apply to law school. My dad is a lawyer, and he has always encouraged me to consider law school. I used to tell him no, but now I’m seriously considering it. I’m not set on a specific type of law yet, but I realized this was a serious interest of mine, partly after taking a course called “Psychology in Legal Contexts,” which I found fascinating. I’m studying for the LSAT next semester, but until then, I have backpacking on the mind!

My boyfriend, John, and I spent some time in Silverthorne, Colorado recently. The several hikes we had over those three days were my absolute favorite part of the trip. We were at 10,000 feet at a site that intersected with the Continental Divide Trail at many parts. I just knew I needed to come back to those beautiful mountains, so I started doing some research. The Continental Divide Trail starts in New Mexico and ends at the border of Canada, passing through many states I’ve never been to but would like to go. The experiences I’ve had at previous trips and outdoor programs have given me the tools to take on more ambitious backpacking trips, so before I set my sights on law school, I think it’s time for another adventure.



P.S. Parents of Montecito children, if you have recommendations on people to feature in “Dear Montecito” please contact me,


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