The Year of the Camellia

Camellia Japonica at Descanso Gardens

On Saturday, Martine and I went to Descanso Gardens. We were amazed at the lushness of the camellia forest after the torrential rains of the last six weeks. And, to make things better, there was also an exhibition of particularly beautiful camellia blossoms. It was a good day, something like the old days, which ended when a sudden switch was thrown and Martine was too depressed to enjoy anything. I hope this is a portent of better days to come for her.

I have finally succumbed to the cold, rainy weather and come down with a nasty cold. It’s as if my body were down a quart of the oil it needs to run. But this too shall pass.

Award-Winning Camellia Blooms

Actually, I’m surprised I haven’t come down with something earlier. The temperature has not edged much above 60° Fahrenheit (16° Celsius) since I’ve returned from Guatemala. Moreover, this is the rainiest winter we have seen for a couple of decades, it seems.

 

Tut Tut

The Guardian Ka for the Afterlife of the Pharaoh Tutankhamen

There has been a major exhibit of treasures from King Tut’s tomb at the California Science Center in downtown Los Angeles. The exhibit started in March and is ending in a few days, so I decided I had better hustle if I didn’t want to miss my second chance at one of the world’s great archeological treasures. (I missed my first opportunity some years back.)

In the end, it was not a pleasant experience. The exhibit was well mounted, but it was mobbed with family groups who were intent on SmartPhone snapshots of everything on exhibit. It was as if instead of people with minds attending the exhibition, the attendees were actually digital devices. No one understood what was being photographed: They were merely putting together a portfolio that could be used to demonstrate to friends that, yes, they had been in the presence. The children were mostly bored and acting up.

In the end, I seriously suggested that, at the entrance to the exhibit, all SmartPhones be collected and smashed to smithereens with mauls. That got a few laughs from the museum staff, but I seriously doubt they acted on my well-intentioned comments.

Although I have been interested in Pre-Columbian archeology for many years, I know very little about Egypt under the Pharaohs. I know I have Howard Carter’s book somewhere in my library about his discovery of King Tut’s tomb, as well as a few other volumes on the general subject, I have been extremely remiss. Resolved: After I return from Central America at the end of the month, I will try to catch up on the subject.

And that is my only New Year’s Resolution for 2019.

 

 

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.