When the peahens came to visit–and a little more Rancho talk!

I must admit I’m very excited to be sharing this particular post. It combines two of my favorite elements–local history and wildlife. To be accurate, I don’t know that our local peacocks are very wild, but they are plentiful, and for those unfamiliar with their story, their appearance can be very surprising.

I have my exhibits all prepared, but first I need to fill in a little local color.

If you lived within a few miles of my home you would automatically be familiar with the name “Baldwin.” You might not know how the name fits into local history, but you’d recognize the name as it links with familiar streets and towns, bars and restaurants. It’s a common name in the San Gabriel Valley, maybe only slightly less recognizable than Huntington.

Elias J. “Lucky” Baldwin began his California business career selling groceries and dry goods to San Francisco miners during the Gold Rush era. He made serious money in speculating, loaning money to miners and then calling in the debts. One debt, paid through shares in a Nevada mine, was a good business call.

The Comstock Lode was the first major discovery of silver ore in the United States…and the rest, as they say, is history. Baldwin was a wealthy man.

Arcadia Peacock

How Baldwin came from San Francisco and made his home in Southern California is a much larger story I’ll get into soon, but today I’m eager to get on with the story of peafowl.

Baldwin purchased about 8,000 acres of Rancho Santa Anita, planting fruit trees and grapevines, raising cattle, hogs, sheep and horses.

And then came the beautiful, exotic birds, brought to the ranch from India, where Baldwin traveled to shoot elephants. That’s an unpleasant addition to the story, isn’t it?

Arcadia peafowl

All that remains of the old Rancho Santa Anita is 127 acres the state and county of Los Angeles jointly purchased, creating  an arboretum around the old Baldwin home. I’m planning another field trip soon. Would you like to come along?

First, let’s get back to the peafowl!

Peacock on Arcadia lawn

Driving through a residential neighborhood in the vicinity of the Arboretum I spent a few moments with some of the escapees. Peafowl wander! They enjoy legal protection, roam at will, and their number is somewhere in the vicinity of 400 birds. The majority live contentedly on Arboretum property, but there are always the adventurers.


Not all local residents are thrilled with the early morning noise–they have a very distinctive call, and it is loud–then,  of course their droppings are an annoyance.

But the birds were here first! They make themselves at home wherever they go, sauntering in front of cars as they cross the streets, and lazing on lawns for the better part of a day. In springtime it’s a delight to see mamas with their babies.

And then there was the time they came to our house!

Spring 2009 four peahens came for a visit! They stayed a couple of weeks and I have looked for them every spring since. I keep hoping they’ll come back.

Not all of my neighbors were as delighted and enthusiastic. I heard a lot of complaining, which frankly baffled me.

“The gals,” as we called them, sat in our planter boxes, startling me as I’d walk by a window, held lengthy gabfests from their perch on the roof, meandered all over the backyard railroad tracks digging for insects, and gobbled up as much dried corn as we could feed them.

Then every evening they’d take off from the rooftop and fly, with amazing speed and strength, landing in the very tall trees a few houses south. After a good night’s sleep they’d be back to greet us in the morning.

I don’t recall exactly how long they stayed, but it was at least two to three weeks and then as suddenly as they arrived, they moved on. Maybe we didn’t have what they wanted–there were no peacocks, just the hens!

Perhaps they had future babies on their minds and needed to get a move on…It was spring…and suddenly they were gone!

Now that it’s again March, I’m hoping signs of spring will perhaps bring them back for a visit. I can hope!

Isn’t it wonderful to contemplate spring and all that comes with longer, warmer days? I breathe lighter just thinking about it.

Enjoy your weekend, my friends. I hope spring comes quickly to those of you still shoveling snow! And maybe my story of the unexpected peahen visit will remind you that spring can bring many gifts and surprises.

I look forward to hearing what comes your way…so have a good weekend, breathe deep, and then simply exhale!

I need a midweek exhale…How about a Cup of Gold?

One of those weeks?

I could use a midweek exhale…time to set the restart button…change of focus…

Cup of Gold, tropical plant native to Mexico
Cup of Gold, tropical plant native to Mexico

I had never seen a Solandra maxima before our January trip to Santa Barbara.

 A real show-stopper, don’t you think?

Solandra maxima
Solandra maxima

Vivid yellow with purple veins, this gorgeous vine can grow up to 200 feet long.

I found this specimen at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History–blooming in January! Beautiful!

Courtyard at Museum of Natural History Santa Barbara

Unfortunately this beauty seems to come with some warnings…

Cup of Gold Bud

 The vine is so strong it can choke another tree, so recommendations include destroying it if found in the wild.

Flowers will last a few days in water
Flowers will last a few days in water

Oh, and by the way? The entire plant is poisonous.

I still think I want one.

Searching for Sugar Man wins an Oscar–quite a contrast to Hollywood excess!

So many of you mentioned you didn’t care one whit about the Academy Awards. I just smiled. Once again, I’m aware that I’m influenced by my environment.

I can’t ignore Oscar talk unless I completely unplug from television, radio and print media.

The hype began a full week ago with the local reporters crying about street closures and security measures, warning to stay clear of particular intersections. That’s just a recipe for traffic congestion.

Now,  24-hours after the last award was presented, I’m sitting here listening to my radio while talk show hosts are still animated about the event. It’s  the usual rehashing of what worked and what didn’t but I’m reasonably certain  this is only a local conversation.

I am quite sure you aren’t thinking about The Oscar Economy!

I’m not talking about the local economy’s direct boost from the film industry–not the jobs that are generated by all the supporting crafts while movies are being made. Oh no!

The Variety building on Wilshire Boulvevard
The Variety building on Wilshire Blvd.

Let’s start with the Best Picture campaign, shall we? How badly does the studio want their film to win in this category? Follow the money. Full page ads in Variety Magazine and other trade publications can cost up to 15 million dollars or more.

No one would really want to BUY an award, would they?

Shall we pause a minute just taking that in? $15 million!

And I don’t know why the celebrity attendees needed party favors, but according to USA Today, we don’t need to feel too badly for those who didn’t win a statuette. They still walked away with swag bags valued at more than $47,000.

Staggering, isn’t it? Well, not as amazing as what is included in the party bag.

How about a $12,000 trip to Lizard Island in Australia?

And there’s my personal favorite, a $5,000 Vampire face lift! I didn’t make this up. I’m not sure I want details, but your own blood is somehow involved in this procedure.

Then there’s the food. What did you have for dinner last night? I had a Panini.

The celebrities ate a little better.

Wolfgang Puck reported spending $25,000 on truffles for the Governors Ball menu. I like truffles, but in the end that’s a lot of money for mushrooms!

$42,000 of Möet & Chandon bubbly was served at the after party, and after all that drinking, it’s probably a very good thing that most celebrities were escorted by a car and driver–at between $1,000 and $3750. But to be fair, maybe that’s not too extravagant–do you think the celebrities carpooled?

Don’t forget gowns and jewelry, much of it on loan, but there are hair and makeup expenses–quoted as high as $11,000 for just the styling and in-home spa services.

Add to the other expenses personal security detail at up to $3,000 for the night, and then, of course, the Oscar himself–the little gold men cost somewhere close to $500 a piece.

So perhaps this is why there is so much Oscar talk in Los Angeles. That is a lot of money being poured into the local economy. I like thinking of the companies and individuals who benefit, but the over-the-top glitz, glamor and excess is a little shocking.

In contrast…

I was delighted to see the documentary “Searching for Sugar Man” win the Oscar in the Best Documentary category. Sixto Rodriguez failed to make an impact in North America in the early 1970s, but his albums gained airplay in South Africa, Botswana, Rhodesia, New Zealand and Australia.

The thing that makes this story more interesting, however, is that Rodriguez gave up his American career, with no idea he’d gained Elvis-level notoriety and fame, particularly in South Africa where his songs served as anti-Apartheid anthems influencing many musicians to protest the government.

I don’t want to spoil the impact and surprises in this story so I won’t add more details, except to say the documentary is really quite remarkable.

And in contrast to Hollywood celebrity narcissism, this very talented, but humble man avoided coming to the Oscar event, with no need for the limelight and attention.

Swedish director, Malik Bendejelloul said, “Rodriguez isn’t here tonight, because he didn’t want to take any of the credit himself and that just about says everything about that man and his story you’d want to know.”

This is a fabulous, inspiring story and I wholeheartedly recommend it to all. This humble man is very talented, and doesn’t seem to carry disappointment or regret about all the years he was presumed dead, losing out on music royalties and the attention that comes with celebrity.

I wonder how many of Sunday nights Oscar crowd could say the same?

The video tells quite a bit of the story, so if you’d rather not know how some of the mystery of his past unfolds, skip the YouTube and just go out and rent the DVD. You won’t be disappointed!