Sunday, August 30, 2009

Of wildfires, rainbows, and...bugs?

Just gave Hana a bath, which is a 2-person job. She likes to shake the water off her like a salad spinner every few minutes, so Gilbert and I also got showered. But, that's ok. It's August.

Been watching the local news stations on and off all day on the huge fire (aka the 'Station Fire') that's been burning up in the San Gabriel Mountains since Wednesday. Over 35,000 acres burned, 6,000+ homes evacuated, and the fire's only 5% contained. They're also keeping close watch on JPL and Mt. Wilson, which is home not only to the observatory, but also to a ton of transmitters/communications towers. We've been wondering if the fire has burned any portion of the Arroyo Seco, a favorite hiking spot of ours when we used to live in LA County. But in the overall scheme of things, that's not important. I feel mostly for all the residents, human or otherwise, who have been displaced by this terrible conflagration.

So far this year, we've been lucky in our neck of the woods, with only a few minor fires in Temecula, some smoke wafting over the ridge from Camp Pendleton (I think they ignited some small brush fires on the base as a result of their gung ho, seemingly 24/7 testing of an accoutrement of 'top secret' armaments and munitions), and most recently, on August 28th, a 2-acre fire at Tenaja Road and Avenida Escala, which was quickly contained by our most excellent firefighters.

For all of us here in Southern California, October can be the cruellest month because of those devilish Santa Ana winds combined with the exceptionally tinder dry chaparral in our local mountains. I do NOT want to revisit those horrible fire storms of October 2007 that raged out here in Riverside County and Northern San Diego County.
For pix of some of the fire hazards we've gone through, check out:

And now, for a diversion from the dire meteorological forecast, here's a Kodak moment captured as we were leaving for work at 6:35am on August 4th. Monsoonal flows (although we never really got any measureable rain here in La Cresta) along with a good dose of morning sunshine, created this virtual kaleidescope-in-the-sky. Wonder why I don't miss LA more than I do.

As for bugs, we have plenty of them out here. However, anything that resembles a grasshopper is, IMHO, evil incarnate and MUST be destroyed, killed, smashed, obliterated, and utterly annihilated.

Anyone who knows me knows that I am neurotically, pathologically, insanely, phobically, opposed to anything that remotely emotes 'grasshopper'. Crickets (or the brown grasshoppers), as long as they are less than 1" in length, are marginally acceptable. Everything else? KABOOM!! DEAD!, RAID! Gilbert, kill that thing or else you're not getting any dinner or even allowed back in the house! BLECH!@!!!

I can't imagine why I'm so mortified by these things. Short of paying a shrink to explain it to me, I will self psychoanalyze and say that I probably transferred my childhood fear of those enormous flying cockroaches in Taiwan to the grasshoppers of Southern California. I also vaguely recall an old black & white sci-fi flick I had watched as a small child about aliens from outer space which somehow tangentially involved the discovery of enormous pods of grasshopper-like thingies. Towards the end of the movie, there was this ghastly giant Lucifer-like image that emerged, obliterating the skyline, ready to destroy the world. Thankfully, the abomination was destroyed only after a beam or crane made of iron went crashing into it (and I think with somebody actually riding on it!). As an adult, I'm sure I would have found the plotline of this movie pretty hoaky, but as a youngster, I was just too darned naive and impressionable. So, the unfortunate dye was cast, and I am now cursed with this life-long inability to differentiate between grasshopppers and the evil spectre of Satan.

Religio-neurotic implications aside, all I can say is give me a rattlesnake any day over a freakin' grasshopper!

However, there are other bugs that I absolutely love, or at least am intrigued by, including spidders and the bootiful butterflies. Here are a few I happened on, both in and out of the house.

8/12/07 Tarantula (Aphonopelmus reversum). We found this guy in the garage, and had to catch & release him back into the wilds...

7/23/09 Silver Orb Spider (Argiope argentata), webbed between the Spanish Lavenders

8/13/09 Western Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio rutulus) on Butterfly Bush

9/30/06 I think this is a Stripe-tailed Scorpion (Paruroctonis silvestrii). Gilbert almost stepped on this guy when he got out of the shower. He started screaming like a girl, and I thought he was messing with me when he said there was a scorpion in the bathroom, so I totally dismissed his cries for help. Ooops - my bad! Anyhoo, we managed to get him (the scorpion, not Gilbert) into a gladware container & then set him free in the chaparral hillside behind the house.

3/31/01 Bramble Green Hairstreak (Callophrys dumetorum)? Photographed this little cutie on a visit to the property several years before our house was built. Looks like he or she is imbibing on Popcorn Flower (Plagiobothrys or Cryptantha species?)

6/3/01 Mormon Metalmark (Apodemia mormo) on Deerweed (Lotus scoparius). Again, photographed on one of our trips to the property before our house was built.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

A PLETHORA of Hanny Toys

Only a Pet Parent would understand. We treat our pets like we gave birth to them...

A 'Plethora' has been variously described by some lexicons as: "an embarrassment of riches," "an excessive amount or number," "an overabundance: not problematic, but more than required," "in humoral medicine, the condition of too much blood, resulting in an imbalance of the humors... usually treated with phlebotomy."

Ok, I will concede that the last definition is neither here nor there in the context of this post. Particularly the reference to 'phlebotomy', which I believe involves the ancient medical practice of bloodletting, totally not my (nor Hana's) cup of tea.

HOWEVER, I am embarrassed to admit that Hana (aka "Hanny") does have too many toys. Whose fault is that? Her mom and dad's, but primarily her mom's.

I confess that I am afflicted with an addictive need to purchase poochie toys wherever I can find them, and especially the ones that produce the most obnoxious noises, because I think Hana/Hanny needs them. How's that for anthropomorphizing?

But, just look at how contented she seems here, shredding Turkey while surrounded by her entourage of resigned groupies!

Hana's toys are:
Turkey (her favorite)
Ball Ball

To see more of Hana, go to her website at

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Summer ain't necessarily the doldrums in the native plant garden (& some other odds and ends)

St. Catherine's Lace (Eriogonum giganteum) along the wall

Santa Cruz Island Buckwheat (Eriogonum arborescens)

'Ghostly Red' California Fuchsia (Zauschneria californica)

I know that the traditional summer native garden palette here in Southern California trends towards the brown-grey-olive hues - what I have fondly dubbed as 'Chaparral Camo' in the Crayola Crayons of my mind. So, it always makes my day to happen on some seemingly errant gems of color that emerge from the monochromatic expanse of our native coastal sage scrub in the otherwise humdrum months of July and August.

Some of the stuff in bloom right now that's native to our site includes California Buckwheat (Eriogonum fasciculatum), Tarweed (Hemizonia spp.), Small Wirelettuce (Stephanomeria exigua), and the lovely but 'Pepe le Pew'-with-a-hint-of-mint scented Vinegarweed (Trichostema lanceolatum).

Scarlet Monkeyflower (Mimulus cardinalis)

There are also some bright spots in my garden, which is not exactly a purist's notion of a 'native' garden, but rather a mix of California natives, Mediterraneans & drought tolerants, interspersed with a hodgepodge of fruit trees, grape vines, vegetable, herb & New Englandy cottage garden. Product of a slightly confused mind...

Desert Willow (Chilopsis linearis)

Pink California Fuchsia (Zauschneria californica)

"Yo planto, ergo sum," is the only way to explain my garden concoctions, a phrase you won't find in Wiki or any proper Latin dictionary, but then, hey! who's checking?

San Miguel Island Buckwheat (Eriogonum grande rubescens)

Anyhoo, for what it's worth, which for me is a million bucks (in 'in your dreams' Monopoly money), here's the run down on what's blooming in my summer garden on the native plant front, in no particular order:

Bur Marigold (Bidens laevis)

Joaquin Sunflower/Bur Marigold (Bidens laevis)
'King Range' Yarrow (Achillea millefoium)
Desert Willow (Chilopsis linearis)
Desert Willow 'Burgundy'
Bush Monkeyflower (Diplacus aurantiacus)
Acton Encelia (Encelia actonii)
'Cape Sebastian' Seaside Daisy (Erigeron glaucus)
Santa Cruz Island Buckwheat (Eriogonum arborescens)
San Miguel Island Buckwheat (Eriogonum grande rubescens)
St. Catherine's Lace (Eriogonum giganteum)
Longstem Buckwheat (Eriogonum elongatum)
Cliff Buckwheat (Eriogonum parvifolium)
Wright's Buckwheat (Eriogonum wrightii)
'Dana Point' Buckwheat (Eriogonum fasciculatum cultivar)
Saffron Buckwheat (Eriogonum crocatum)
White California Poppy (Eschscholzia californica alba)
Island Snapdragon (Galvezia speciosa)
Coastal Gum Plant (Grendelia arnicola)
Scarlet Monkeyflower (Mimulus cardinalis)
Desert Four O'Clock (Mirabilis bigelovii)
San Antonio Hills Coyote Mint (Monardella antonina)
Hooker's Evening Primrose (Oenothera hookeri)
'Deer Spring Silver' Cleveland's Sage (Salvia clevelandii)
California Goldenrod (Solidago californica)
Canada Goldenrod (Solidago canadensis)
Apricot/Desert Mallow (Sphaeralcea ambigua)
Hedge Nettle (Stachys bullata)
'Catalina' California Fuchsia (Zauschneria californica)
'Ghostly Red' California Fuchsia (Zauschneria californica)
'Pink' California Fuchsia (Zauschneria californica)
'UC Hybrid' California Fuchsia (Zauschneria californica)
Rose Mallow (Hibiscus lasiocarpa)
Cardinal Flower (Lobelia cardinalis)
Southern Indian Pink (Silene lacianata major)

Cardinal Flower (Lobelia cardinalis) at top of falls; backdropped by Cuyamaca Manzanita (Arctostaphylos patula ssp. platyphylla) on the left and Pointleaf Manzanita (Arctostaphylos pungens) on the right.

Friday, August 21, 2009

A non-apologia for 'The Lizard' and a covey of California Quail

Well! (ahem). Leave it to Gilbert to hijack my blog and post a semi-grody depiction of Hana's lizard squishing propensities.

We've had a population explosion this year of what my best guess is the Western Whiptail (Cnemidophorus tigris). A few of the regular denizens around here are virtual Yao Mings of the lizard persuasion, in the 6"-10" range. Their inescapable visibility just doesn't help their plight when faced with the incredibly fuzzy and enormous spectre of Hana, Supreme Killer of All Moving Objects Within Her Scarily Owl-Like Visual Range...

We've also had a rather alarming number of Tarantula Hawks this year buzzing over the property like pseudo hummingbirds with their devious, Quentin Tarantinoesque intentions. For those unfamiliar with this largest of wasp species, go to for the lurid details.

In fact, I have to watch Hana like a "hawk" whenever she's tied up outdoors to make sure she leaves these guys alone. These ain't nothin' like those Paris Hilton foo foo lizards! I read somewhere that the sting of a Tarantula Hawk is as excruciating as being electrocuted by a live hair dryer that's been catapulted into your jacuzzi. Of course, if you've done and survived both, then you really deserve some kind of medal (for "Spectacularly Unlucky Dude"?) or at least an honorable mention for the Darwin Award.

I refilled the birdfeeder and tossed some random nuggets of bird seed in the orchard above our pond after we got back from work today. Then, lo and behold, about 6:45pm, I noticed a large contingent of about 20 California Quail stealthily descending on the morsels. Now, usually, I will hear these guys before I see them, doing the "chi-CAH-go or clucking notes", as described in Kenn Kaufman's Focus Guide Birds of North America. But this time around, they were as quiet as church mice.

Anyways, it was a cool visage to end the day with, since we haven't seen many quail around here for the past two years.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Lizard

Hi, this is Gilbo, I am Arleen's other half.
I have just come from removing a plastered lizard from the garage floor. Our doggie, otherwise known as Hana-Banana, left the remains of a large, 5 to 6 inch lizard, not including its tail, in the garage. She must have stepped on it with her paw, and the lizard must have stuck to her paw, because there was a "double print" of "lizard juices" on the floor. I had to scrape off the remains with a shovel and then come back with a wet rag to remove the remaining pieces of plastered lizard skin. Ugh!!!
Oh, and I kept the tail. It has colorful bands. Taped it to the fence a reminder to all lizards!...this is what happens to you when you invade Hana's domain. Today a lizard, tomorrow you rascally rabbit...

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Thar be GRAPES, my pretty! Anyone for some Zinfandel Jelly?

I was just a teensy bit worried about the prospects of having a good grape harvest this year, considering the considerable fog we had up here on the Plateau through late June. And weirdly enough, we've been hit again with dense fog & 56F temps in the early AM just these past few days - what gives? Our weather is on a schizophrenic bender, is all I can say.

Gilbert said that when he was walking Hana this morning up on Via Huerta, he stopped to chat with one of the neighbors, an old timer who's been living in La Cresta for a couple decades, who made the cryptic statement - "In all the years I've lived here, Fall has never come so early..." Whaaaaaaa? wtf, Fall? Right smack in the middle of August? So were those shooting stars we saw from the Perseid Meteor Shower last Wednesday night really a portender of the next mini Ice Age to come? GET OUT!!! I mean, GET OUT the firewood, MREs, Spam & other canned goods that will sustain us through this catastrophic catastrophe!

Ok - Arleen, time to down some grog & meds and take a really deep breath. Ohmmmmmmmm.

The Thompson Seedless has definitely walked the plank. Alas, the poor bloke is 'ensconced' in mildew, since Gilbert did not take my advice (what's new?) about inundating the damn thing with wettable sulphur.

But, shiver me timbers - do we have some fantastic fruit coming off the Zinfandel, Cabernet, Columbard & Champagne grape vines. And in preparation for the upcoming Winter of our Discontent, I decided to take up the curious domestic craft of "canning", to preserve the fruits of our labor. I won't deny it, but I was initially petrified at the prospect of doing something that I had never done before (insert here the musical theme to the original Star Trek series).

But, canning I did, and ended up with six 1/4 pint jars & two 1 pint jars of Zinfandel Jelly! I have no clue if the end product was properly processed and sealed. But, as the first tasters, if I or Gilbert end up as casualties of botulism in the next couple weeks, I think my canning days will be severely numbered.

Pix from top to bottom are:
Zinfandel grapes (for the jelly!)
Zinfandel, on the vine
Cabernet, on the vine
Columbard, on the vine

Sunday, August 9, 2009

California Citrus State Historic Park is for the dogs...

Stunned and amazed. A State park that actually allows dogs free reign, as long as they're leashed. I didn't quite believe what I had read about this place, that poochies are allowed on all trails and generally everywhere throughout the park, as long as they are on a leash - no freakin' way!! Last I heard, Canis familiaris was Fido non grata in the vast majority of the KALEEFORNIA State park system...

We trekked out to the pleasant environs of this SHP on July 18th and made a preliminary stop by the visitor center to first get our bearings. The ranger on duty was very informative and confirmed that dogs are indeed welcomed here with open paws, including inside the visitor center.

So, we forced Hana to enjoy our trek through the citrus groves in 90+ degree heat (don't worry, PETA PEOPLE, we had loads of water for her & stopped at every conceivable millimeter of shade along the trail). Besides, Hana loved amusing herself by goosing all the round, ball-like fruits within her reach in the grove...

What a cool place. The park opened in 1993 and preserves a very important slice of our state's history, when "Citrus was King" during the second "Gold Rush" in California at the turn of the 20th century. On the 377-acre site, there are over 75 varieties of citrus growing in the "Varietal Grove" near the Visitor's center, and miles of trails through picnic areas, Craftsman-style structures (including the historic Grower's House, the Sunkist Center and Interpretive Gazebo), and 180 acres of working citrus groves.

And of course you can't leave without stopping at Gless Ranch's fruit stand at the park entrance to buy a 20-lb bag of locally grown oranges (for only $8 bucks!) and avocados for a guacamole fix. I was juicing oranges for about a week after our trip and we were imbibing on fresh OJ at least 3 times a day thereafter. I'm not ashamed of our unabashed indulgence and plan to do it again, very very soon.

I am one with the Orange.

For the full gallery, go to:

Citrus State Historic Park is at 9400 Dufferin Ave., Riverside, CA 92503

Buddha's Hand Citron at Varietal Grove

1889 Grower's House Farm House

Gazebo at Sunkist Center

Gilbo and Hana on Varietal Grove Trail

Gilbo and Hana squirrel-scouting near group picnic area

Gilbo haggling with vendor at Gless Ranch fruit stand