Tag Archive | los angeles

We live in Fire country

For those not familiar with Southern California, there are two seasons: hot and on fire and cool and on fire. We really do have 4 seasons but they can come at any time and are mostly identified at least by me, for the quality of the light. And even then there can be difference in geography, the light on the west side near the beaches is different from the light in the San Fernando or San Gabriel Valleys and that is different from the light up on the mountains like the Angeles Forest that is burning now.

The problem with the mountains burning is that LA is built on mountains. They thread in and out and while some refer to them as hills they really aren’t. I laughed when I was in Scotland and they said how high Ben Nevis is. It’s only 4,414 ft. The camp I worked in in the Angeles National Forest was at 1 mile and Mt Baldy is 10, 064 ft. This is a listing of the peaks in and around LA: http://www.laalmanac.com/geography/ge05.htm

Mt Verdugo, for instance, is the hill behind the house I grew up in at 3126 ft. So we know fire and we know mountains. The house we moved to in Glendale had almost burned the year before we moved in due to a huge fire that burned around a good share of LA from the beach to Glendale where we moved to in 1964. When we moved in there were foot holes in the roof because the neighbors were on our roof trying to protect our house because the owners weren’t home so a garage roof burned down the street, the scorch marks on the inside of the garage were a fascination for us kids growing up.

We early on learned which things to grab if we had to evacuate, Photographs and papers and meds first since those are the hardest to replace. And we learned how to get the garden hose up to the balconies on our house so we could spray the shake roof if we had to do it. All the other rooves in the neighborhood were Spanish tile but no, my parent bough a big Tudor house, the only one in the area. It was the most expensive house in the neighborhood, $36,000 at the time and since dad was an underpaid teacher, I think my grandparents may have helped them buy it even though they sold our tract home in the Valley to move where dad taught 6th grade.

I don’t know how many times I came home from something as a kid and saw flames on the mountain behind our house but it was a lot.
You are always aware of the consequences of a cigarette thrown from the car, which by the way, is illegal but idiots do it anyway. When you work at a camp, you get a bit paranoid about whether the campfire is all the way out. Lightning storms also can put you on high alert.

When I worked up at a camp near Idylwild, a fisherman with no brains lit a campfire to grill his catch, under a tree. It was two of the counselors from camps day off and saw the guy do it on the other side of the lake and there was nothing they could do to stop him. That fire raged for a week and burned through several camps and ranches. It almost got our camp but the wind changed direction and the fire burned through the Girl Scout camp instead. We spent that afternoon in the pool waiting. They couldn’t get busses up to us and the only safe place was the pool so we had orders to sir on the edge of the pool and if the fire came to get under water fast and hold our breath. The rangers had told us because we had a huge grassy meadow that the camp might burn in as little as 30 seconds. I remember hauling fire hose and laying it out and we could see pine trees going up like giant match sticks and it was terrifying.

I remember being pissed off because all the guitar players were told we had to leave them behind if they could get the busses up just because it kept our minds off what could happen to us and the kids.

So those of us who are natives can be a bit paranoid. Last Wednesday I was walking out to take the bus home and smelled smoke. Some idiot had thrown their cigarette into our bark mulch and there was a fire burning about a foot across. This made the old Girl Scout in me rise up and get creative. No hose near by, so I used my cane to spread the mulch onto the nearby gravel. I was not impressed with the coworker that drove out the gate yelling she was going to call security. I kept at it and the next woman jumped out of her car with a couple of water bottles and helped me get the big pieces out. She said she couldn’t figure out what I was doing until she saw the flames and that was when I had it pretty well spread out but we got it out and I didn’t even miss my bus. I found out a day later from security that they had been afraid something like that would happen because under the mulch is some sort of weed cloth that is flammable and if that caught our 2+ acres would go up like a match if it got going under the mulch. That is what happens in a forest when the duff catches fire underneath the trees and spreads underground. My Girl Scour Good Deed for the day in 98 degree weather too.

So now we deal with a huge fire that is only 10% contained. Containment means they have a line around the fire. It’s burned 33,000 acres. http://abc7.com/ for news if you are interested. It’s been in the high 90’s and low 100s for temps for the last week of so here in the SF Valley. This really doesn’t help when fighting fires. Saturday the smoke was blown low which led to the apocalyptic photos I posted early and everything is covered in ash. I went to the ATM and had to wipe the screen off to even read it.

For those who use Celsius 90 degrees Fahrenheit = 32.22 Celsius = bloody hot. 100 Degrees is 37.7 Celsius. 33, 000 acres is 51,562 square miles which is bigger than a lot of cities.

So we are about 10 miles as the crow flies from where the fire is burning and hoping it doesn’t destroy everything and every being on the mountains

A lot of love and energy is being directed at the brave firefighters who are out there on the line.


George Barris, creator of the Batmobile and other famous tricked-out rides, dies at 89


We drove by his garage every Sunday on the way to church. It was on Cahuenga in clear site of the freeway. He always has some fun movie or tv car parker in the lot. For many years the Batmobile sat in front of the building. All was right with the world as a kid if we could see the Batmobile.

Another piece of childhood gone even thought the garage moved to Toluca Lake many years ago.

Thoughts and geekery about autumn

I have two favourite times of year here in Los Angeles, spring and fall. And yes. L.A. has both spring and fall. Spring is easier to see since California has more varieties of wildflowers than any other place on earth. Partly because we have more varied ecosystems and partly, well, no one really knows why and it can give a budding botanist a headache. The key guide for California plants will always be the Munz and mine is well thumbed and has way too many leaves stuck in it. If you have to have one, here it is but be warned it’s all keys and few pictures. You want pictures get a Sunset Western Garden Book or an Audubon Plant guide. http://www.amazon.com/Flora-Southern-California-Philip-Munz/dp/0520021460

But my other favourite season is now, autumn or fall. And contrary to non-native belief, it isn’t all brown. We do have colour. Some of the colour is from non-native species but others are from natives. Fall/Autumn also involves one of my favourite English words – abscission. What is Abscission? Abscission is why leaves change colour. Abscission is the process that makes leaves separate and fall from the trees. Trees form what is called the abscission layer between the leaf and the tree. Deciduous trees do this seasonally. Evergreens and conifers do it all the time and isn’t as noticeable

The layer forms at the base of the petiole. A petiole is a fancy word for stem of the leaf. Leaves turn colour as the chlorophyll recedes from the leaf back into the tree. (well, they don’t really turn colour, the green fades away.) Some plants do this chemically or functionally such as the light changing as the day gets shorter or the temperature changes or changes in salinity and some do it hormonally with hormones like ethylene and auxin. Either way, it activates the abscission layer and says “Hey! Time to give a show and drop your leaves!”

Interesting fact: Trees that turn yellow are trees that are found in open areas and trees that turn red are trees that have a longer time to send nutrients back to the tree and need more protection from the sun. The red is called anthrocyanin and it is a sunscreen to protect the leaf just long enough to send more food back to the trunk. Warm sunny days followed by cold nights bring the brightest reds out of the red turning trees, according to the US Forest Service.

The yellow is caused by carotene. The same thing that makes carrots, orange and is what’s left when the chlorophyll is gone.

In California, we have mostly trees that turn yellow that are native like alders and cottonwoods. But in the city you find whole streets of liquid amber trees that are specifically bred to change to certain colours. If you buy one in a nursery you can choose a burgundy or a scarlet “Palo Alto” or yellows and oranges. It’s a lovely sight to see whole streets lit up in fall. It’s native in the Americas and was introduced to Europe in 1681 where they call is Sweet Gum. I’ve never heard anyone call it that here.

So now you know why the leaves change and fall and you know one of my favourite words – abscission, and what it is.

Places to visit if you’re a Druid/Pagan/Wicca and don’t want to just go to tourist traps

Hazelwood grove Druid initiation 048-1

If you are a druid or pagan and visiting Los Angeles, how about skipping Hollywood Blvd, Rodeo Dr and the cheesy walk of fame or any of the other plebian and crowded delights that tourists hit when they visit here. How about something that is closer to the spirit of LA and not the places no native would ever set foot in without a visiting relative in tow.

These are in no particular order, just some of my favourites that reflect my LA:

  1. Franklin Canyon – http://www.lamountains.com/parks.asp?parkid=14

Franklin Canyon is the geographical center of LA and you can hike to the marker that says so. It isn’t always on the map you can get at the Visitor Center so ask how to hike there. Wear good shoes and consider wearing long pants and long sleeves as they do not remove the poison oak. That is another thing to take a careful look at in the Visitor Center. Tons of stuff is filmed here almost weekly so you may run into the film crew from NCIS or Criminal Minds. My sister and I get the giggles about how often we can identify places in the park. They have a mountain lion that comes by the park and there are always lots of waterfowl. I love the colourful wood ducks and turtles that crowd one of the ponds. This is really wilderness in the middle of the city.

  1. Descanso Gardens – https://www.descansogardens.org/

I’ve been coming to Descanso since birth. I took summer classes here when I was 7 or 8 and loved almost every minute of it (the exception being the impressment of small children as labour to divide the immense bearded iris bed.) Come in the morning and you can spot deer passing through. We’ve seen Great Horned Owls and their nestlings as well as ducks, koi, wild geese and woodpeckers. There is a large lake with a observation deck on the west end that is full of turtles and fish. I love the large oak groves and the camellia forest.

  1. Rancho Santa Ana Botanical Garden – http://www.rsabg.org/  this is a garden of California Native plants that is also full of wildlife and has great views of the nearby Sierra Madres mountains. We had our Grove Companion ritual out in the north portion and people walked around us and never saw is which was really cool.
  1. Huntington Library and Gardens – http://www.huntington.org/   This is the most expensive place to visit but well worth it and you could really spend more than one day here. I always have to visit the Audubon folio to see what bird they have on exhibit for the day. It’s also a great place to have tea and dress up before a walk through the rose garden. You have to make reservations for tea usually. Visit the herb garden and the Shakespeare garden. There is a Japanese garden with bonsai and a Chinese garden with another spot for tea and snacks. I really love the Children’s Garden with it’s fish fountains and rainbow making tunnel and the mist garden. If you like succulents and cacti, you can satisfy that urge too.
  1. Ferndell is part of Griffith Park- http://www.laparks.org/dos/parks/griffithPK/ferndell.htm  It has a natural spring that Gypsy Boots used to say had curative water but I don’t think the spout is functioning any more. One of my Sunday School teachers used to cram us all in her car on Sunday mornings and take us crawdad fishing in the stream. It must have looked hilarious to see 8 or 9 little girls with their hooklines and bacon and Sunday best hanging out over the stream. It’s cool and beautiful on a hot day and filled with ferns and a feeling of sanctuary.
  1. Griffith Park Observatory – http://www.griffithobservatory.org/   has always been a big place to visit with my family. Dad would have us running in and out to see what the camera obscura showed. I always loved the spectroscopes showing the rainbow signatures of the elements. They upgraded it a few years ago but it’s still free and on nights of astronomical importance the telescopes are open to the public
  1. A great place to hike to in Griffith Park – http://amirsgarden.org/
  1. Eaton Canyon Nature Center – http://www.ecnca.org/ is a great place to hike in the San Gabriel valley and they have night hikes at the full moon and a great nature center
  2. Natural History Museum of Los Angeles – http://www.nhm.org/site/  love, love, love this place and in summer they have a great butterfly tent too. They have a big dinosaur hall and a hall devoted to the history of LA and a fantastic gem and mineral room that makes the magpie in me go crazy. This was where my dad took us every school holiday along with what used to be the Museum of Science and Industry and is now the California Science Center
  1. Ranch Palos Verdes Interpretive center http://www.palosverdes.com/rpv/recreationparks/pointvicenteinterpretivecenter/   This is the only place I know of in Southern California where you can watch for whales from shore. A really good thing if you get seasick or can’t to take the whole family on a whale watching trip. They also have a great interpretive center on whales and sealife
  1. Paramount Ranch – http://www.nps.gov/samo/planyourvisit/paramountranch.htm  This is both a film set still in occasional use and the original site of the first Ren Faire. The oak that was the centerpiece of Faire and is still there and more than one Faire person’s ashes have found their way here. It still holds the magic of Faire. If you have read Mercedes Lackey’s books about elves, they start right here. There are wonderful hikes in the chapparal and a nice covered area to have lunch.
  1. Scripps Oceanographic’s Aquarium – https://scripps.ucsd.edu/ – this was a must go when I was a kid mad about being a marine biologist before I knew they had to swim and I sunk. Still a very cool place.
  2. Cabrillo Marine Aquarium – http://www.cabrillomarineaquarium.org/ This aquarium’s price is only $5 as opposed to the multibuck one over the estuary in Long Beach. I like this one better. When I was a kid this one was free and I loved going here. Always good to see the jellies. I love jellyfish.
  3. Sepulveda Wildlife Refuge – http://www.laparks.org/dos/horticulture/sepulvedabasin.htm

My sister and I love taking hikes here and I drag friends here to walk. This is where we had our Druid ordination early on a January morning and it was the last ritual we did with Laura. The basin is loaded with waterfowl and on the flight paths for migration so you can see different birds all year long. White pelicans winter here every year for a short period. They are magnificent birds and one year there were swans. There is an island in the center that ospreys and other birds. If you go really early you can see the owls before they go to sleep.

15. Self Realization Fellowship Gardens – http://www.lakeshrine.org/

I love walking here in the peace of the garden. This is a wonderful place to go to get away and be quiet

Druids in LA

Okay, trying to get back on track with my proposed gathering of LA Druids. I got derailed by personal events but I still want to have a gathering of Druids of all the organization and like-minded individuals. I know there are ADF and OBOD people and obviously DCD people here. I’ll bet there are others hiding in the LA shrubbery.

I’m thinking of Franklin Canyon which is the geographical center of LA and has a nature center and an amphitheater and lots of nature trails or Sepulveda Basin Amphitheater which also has nature trails available and I think April 22, 2016 would be great since it’s Earth Day weekend. It would be fun to do a clean up or service project too while we are there.

I’m hoping we can get at least 50 people and if it works continue it every year. We could use the amphitheater for a few presentations and get to know one another in a wonderful outdoor setting that’s pretty central to all of LA. If I can’t get those maybe I can rent a Scout House that weekend or go to some place like Chilao Nature Center up Angeles Crest or out at one of the other sites like Arcadia Wilderness Park.

I think if we have a shareable picnic feast and have everyone bring something to share and sample, we have people do that with TOILA rituals and we always get a wide variety for people to eat and people with allergies can bring what they need to eat and still eat and network with other Druids. And if it gets hot in the afternoon we can have a Bard sharing corner where people can be quiet and not be too active in the heat.

Anyway that is sort of the idea, I’m tossing around right now. If it works we can always grow.