Green at the Heart

Atop Mount Hollywood with Clear Views in Three Directions

Cleveland, Ohio, used to be called “The Forest City” because of its semicircular diadem of parks. It was one of the few good things about the city of my birth. It is interesting that from Cleveland, I moved to Los Angeles, which not only has parks but giant mountain ranges within the county limits. In fact, at least one peak—Mount Baldy, a.k.a. Mount San Antonio—is almost two miles above sea level.

There is one rather large park right near the heart of Los Angeles: Griffith Park, with over 4,000 acres. Mount Hollywood  overlooks downtown L.A., the San Fernando Valley, and southward to Palos Verdes and Long Beach. With over 10 million visitors a year, it’s not exactly uncrowded. Within its boundaries lie the Los Angeles Zoo, the Autry Museum of the American West, and the Travel Town Museum, to name just a few. There is also an equestrian center, a golf course, a famous observatory, a merry-go-round, and numerous picnic areas.

The Hollywood Sign from the Back

Over its history, many famous films were shot in the park, beginning with D. W. Griffiths’ The Birth of a Nation in 1915. My favorite, however, was Nicholas Ray’s Rebel Without a Cause (1955) with James Dean, Natalie Wood, and Sal Mineo. The scene at the observatory is one of the most classic in the whole history of the American cinema. The nearby Bronson Caves were used in Don Siegel’s The Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956). It was there than Dana Wynter drifted off to sleep and was irrevocably lost to the human race.

Then, too, there is the famous Hollywood sign. It was originally erected as a real estate promotion for a development called Hollywoodland. The “-land” was eventually dropped. See if you can find Dory Previn’s album Mary C. Brown and the Hollywood Sign.

The Death of P-64

Mountain Lion P-64 Survives Woolsey Fire, Dies Weeks Later

Yes, there are actually mountain lions in the Los Angeles Metropolitan Area. Unfortunately, the recent Woolsey Fire in Malibu led to the death of mountain lion P-64. All the mountain lions have been tagged with GPS collars; and their whereabouts are tracked by rangers with the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area. P-64 was nicknamed “Culvert Cat” because he was known to use culverts to cross the two freeways (U.S. 101 and California 118) that crossed his territory between and Santa Monica and Santa Susanna Mountains.

Although P-64 was still in action when the Woolsey Fire was contained, his body was found with burnt paws subsequent to that announcement.

When Martine and I visited Banff National Park in Saskatchewan, we noticed that at several points along the main access road, there were bridges for wildlife to cross in safety. Trip wires connected to video cameras have enabled wildlife authorities to determine how just how successful these bridges have been. I can imagine it will be snowing in hell before American politicians commit any funds to do the same here. Perhaps they could be induced to cross the freeway during rush hour to show how it could be done.

The Brown Area in the NASA Photo Above Shows the Massive Extent of the Woolsey Fire in Northwest LA County

Although dwellers in Malibu would not agree with me, I get a thrill when I see a coyote or a mountain lion near where I live—but then I don’t have any dogs or cats that could be eaten by natural predators.

 

Wild December

What With Rain and Santa Ana Winds …

I like to think of the month of December as The Passing Parade. Now you have the Santa Ana Winds blowing from East to West, sending the humidity down to near zero and fomenting the horrible brush fires we have seen around Malibu and Paradise. Also I have a wicket hangnail on my right forefinger. Then you have the winds suddenly reversing direction and bringing rainstorms from the Northwest, making the humidity rise precipitately. Not to mention the massive floods and mudslides.

Imagine what all that does to the human body. Yesterday my blepharitis flared up again; my left eye dissolved in a flood of tears unrelated to emotions; and upper left eyelid look swollen and angry. As an accompaniment, I burst out in truly frightening sneezing fits that were so loud that I received long-distance calls from St. Louis, Missouri saying “Gesundheit! And please keep it down!” Sometimes these allergic bodily responses are so intense that they segue into a miserable cold. So far that has not happened to me yet this month.

As I am leaving for Guatemala next month, I’m hoping that when I board the plane, I will be well. Unfortunately, I have no control over the crazy weather systems that swing back and forth across the state during this wild month.

 

“An Appalling Record of Death and Destruction”

The Disastrous Flood Caused by the Saint Francis Dam Break in 1928

The worst disaster in recent California history is the San Francisco Earthquake of 1906. Over three thousand people lost their lives in the quake and the ensuing fires. Today, while Martine and I were visiting the Santa Clarita Valley Historical Society in Newhall, we were forcibly reminded of the second worst disaster in recent California history: the collapse of the St. Francis Dam in March 1928 and the resulting wall of water that swept some fifty-four miles until it found its way to the Pacific Ocean at Ventura. Almost five hundred people lost their lives, decimating much of the then sparsely populated northern communities of Los Angeles, as well as many in nearby Ventura County.

If you have seen the movie Chinatown (1974), you know something about William Mulholland, the engineer behind the Los Angeles Aqueduct that brought water to L.A. from the distant Owens Valley along the eastern edge of the Sierra Nevadas. Almost singlehandedly, he made Los Angeles a viable city that could sustain its amazing record of growth. It was the same man who took responsibility for the dam failure that was to end his brilliant career, referring in a speech to the disaster’s “appalling record of death and destruction.”

The St. Francis Dam Site in San Francisquito Canyon in 2012 (The Dam Itself No Longer Exists)

According to the Santa Clarita Valley Historical Society:

To this day, the exact number of victims remains unknown. The official death toll in August 1928 was 385, but the remains of victims continued to be discovered every few years until the mid-1950s. Many victims were swept out to sea when the flood reached the Pacific Ocean and were never recovered, while others were washed ashore, some as far south as the Mexican border. The remains of a victim were found deep underground near Newhall in 1992, and other bodies, believed to be victims of the disaster, were found in the late 1970s and 1994. The current death toll is estimated to be at least 431.

From Point Conception to the Mexican Border

The Lighthouse at Point Conception

For all the years I have lived in Southern California I have heard weather reports that included the phrase “from Point Conception to the Mexican Border.” It has finally entered my skull that, in terms of the weather, the border between Northern and Southern California is at a place in Santa Barbara County called Point Conception. North of Point Conception, the California coast is fairly vertical; south of the Point, the coastline goes from northwest to southeast. If you look at weather maps showing wind patterns, it is a fairly good bet that they split off in two directions once they reach Point Conception.

The area around the Point is sacred to the Chumash Indians as the “Western Gate” through which the souls of the dead pass between the mortal world and the heavenly paradise of Similaqsa. When a natural gas exploration firm attempted to drill there in 1978, the Chumash protested and faced them down.

Tonight, we have rain in the forecast, for only the second time since early last spring. It’s not supposed to be a big storm, only about a half inch or so; but any amount is most welcome.

 

Malibu Up My Nose

This Is What I Have Been Breathing for Weeks

Take a deep breath: You will notice a certain burnt flavor to the air, because it is full of ashes … from brush, from houses, from unfortunate pets and wild critters, and from God knows what all. When the devil wind blows in the autumn, it doesn’t take much to turn Malibu into a charnel house. It’s not so much the trees that burn as the underlying brush, which thereupon sends up flaming embers that land on roofs hundreds of feet away. And when one house goes up in smoke, there’s a good chance that surrounding structures will as well.

All evening, I have been blowing my nose constantly, turning several handkerchiefs into soppy messes. There have been times in the past when this constant sneezing and nose-blowing is the prelude to a nasty cold. I hope that this is not one of those instances. I got my flu shot six days ago, and I am not sure it is protecting me just yet.

I often wonder why people want to live in Malibu. There is only one real highway in and out, with a couple of mountain routes that connect California Route 1 to the San Fernando and Conejo Valleys. There is something to be said for a nice ocean view, but the people who could afford to live there get pretty blasé about the view after a few weeks. And there is a near certainty of destruction by fire or flood over a period of several decades. I suppose it is one of the things people do “because they can.” Regardless how stupid it is in the long run.

 

On Fire—Again!

Firefighters Battling Flames in the Woolsey Fire

Consider this a recipe for disaster: High winds blowing from east to west, bone dry humidity, and large swaths of dry brush. The result? One of the giant fires that sweep through California destroying trees, brush, and houses. Martine and I have been sneezing all night from the accumulation of ash in the air. Tomorrow, my car will probably be covered with a thin layer of the stuff, because I am parked in a carport rather than a closed garage.

Please let me begin by assuring you that I do not live in a zone that is susceptible to brush fires. The people whose housing is threatened are, generally speaking, wealthy. Such top-drawer areas as Malibu, Bell Canyon, Calabasas, Agoura, and West Hills have been requested to evacuate their homes. Those who don’t are in danger of burning to a crisp with all their possessions.

I don’t sympathize much with the home-owners so much as I do with the poor firefighters. Combating these blazes is like working overtime in hell. In addition to the local fire departments, many prisoners and professional brush fire fighters are involved.

As many houses are destroyed will be rebuilt, paid for with insurance money. In a few years, during another drought, they will go up in flames again. And again. And again.