It’s hard to breathe lighter when I’m outraged!

Against better judgment, I typically begin my day with a dose of news radio. There is no shortage of exposure to stories that disturb and distort the peace of the morning, and to liberally borrow from Alice, “Sometimes I’ve been bombarded by as many as six outrageous stories before breakfast.”

I can’t quite explain why out of all the horrors of human behavior one particular story stands out, but you may have heard about the vandalism and theft of ancient Native American petroglyphs from the California-Nevada border. It’s appalling! Federal authorities discovered the vandalism on October 31st, but I heard the first news report just last week.

The Eastern Sierra Mountains are ancient and majestic–emphasis on the word ancient. Hunters and gatherers populated this area more than 3,500 years ago and the area is still used by the Bishop Paiute Tribe for religious ceremonies.

At least four petroglyphs were chiseled from the face of the mountain and taken from the site. Others were defaced with saw cuts. One was broken during the theft and then just propped against a boulder near visitor parking! Dozens are damaged by scarring from hammer  strikes and saws.

It’s a tragic defacement to what area Native Americans have held as sacred space. Their ancestors told stories in those lava boulders with renderings of concentric circles, bows and arrows, deer, rattlesnakes and bighorn sheep. The images depict the  life of the ancient tribes, and terribly selfish and malicious thieves violated the sacred grounds, stripping history and meaning away from their culture in a matter of a very few hours.

Archaeologist David Whitely, who wrote the nomination that succeeded in getting the site listed on the National Register of Historic Places said, “How do we manage fragile resources that have survived as much as 10,000 years but can be destroyed in an instant.”

Yep! Once gain the “few” have threatened the ability of the rest of us to enjoy the freedom to commune with the past through nature. I predict it won’t be long before federal authorities will find it necessary to completely protect the area, and perhaps others like it, by making it impossible to approach.

The Bishop Paiute Tribe is a sovereign nation, the fifth largest tribe in California with around 2,000 enrolled members. The culture of the people is deeply embedded with the natural resources of the area that have been safeguarded by the Paiute people for hundreds of years. This is very tough news to take!

The idea of sacred and spiritual place, timeless historical implication and general natural beauty being stolen from future generations is devastating, and I’ve been thinking about it all week.

The destruction of the petroglyphs is nothing more than vandalism. There is no archaeological team behind it. No one was studying the historically rich escarpment. A few well orchestrated thugs may sell the pieces to private collectors for a few hundred dollars.

I thought about this while we were touring the Cleopatra exhibit at the California Science Center this weekend. I’m certainly not equating authorized archaeological expeditions with vandals, but it did come to my mind that perhaps we are a little cavalier about the search for lost treasures, the burial grounds of ancient kings and queens, and historical artifacts that belong to lost civilizations.

I suppose I’ll be thinking uncomfortable thoughts for a while. I’m too interested in history and what we learn from the discoveries to put aside curiosity on a not yet well-formed principle, but while “touring” I was mindful of the people and civilization of Cleopatra’s Day. It was a bit overwhelming.

Cleopatra: The Search for the Last Queen of Egypt will be leaving Los Angeles and the west coast at the end of the month. I’ll share more about this very extensive collection next time, but for today, let me just share a couple of photos to whet your appetite.

Dealing with antiquities is tricky business, isn’t it?

Stay tuned….

Woodman spare that tree! Apparently it takes more than a poem.

Although I received multiple text messages from friends asking me when I was going to go meet the Space Shuttle, I think I made the right decision to pass on the crowds!

Endeavor arrived at Exposition Park more than 16 hours late, following a three-day, 12-mile journey. I hate to admit it out loud, but that’s too slow for me.

To travel across town, park blocks away, enter heavily policed and monitored perimeters in the hope that I could perfectly coordinate what would undoubtedly be no more than a quick glimpse of the shuttle,  just didn’t seem a good use of weekend. I will be one of the first to do my reporting directly from the California Science Center when the installation opens to the public.

Besides, we had other priorities. Our beautiful old oak tree needed a significant haircut. It needs to be professionally manicured every two years to guard against limb breakage and disease. We are faithful in keeping that appointment. And the time was now!

The oak is the heart of our backyard, and the very large canopy creates an amazing micro-climate of shade and cooler temperatures. In the current heat wave, I hated to thin the foliage, but this is the optimum time of year for a mature oak to withstand a heavy pruning.

There are 20 species of oak native to California–worldwide there are 500 to 600 species of oak.  I found an identical species at the Huntington Botanical Gardens and identified our oak as Quercus agrifolia–or Coast Live Oak. It is an evergreen oak and I was pleased to learn that some specimens may flourish more than 250 years.

Judging by the age of our home and the size of the tree, I’d estimate its age to be about 80 years old. With great care the tortoise and the oak are probably more permanent than I am.

Darwin decided to help us transplant a volunteer fig tree. He can be very assertive!

I have felt great sympathy for the people living in a particular swath of Los Angeles along the Endeavor travel route. Not everyone was comforted that the Science Center was prepared to replace approximately 400 mature trees uprooted in order to provide passageway of  the five-story-tall, 78-foot-wide Endeavor. The city was happy that some “problematic” trees were being removed and touted the Science Center’s promise of doubling the number of replacement trees.

But it stands to reason the new trees will take decades to provide the canopies and beauty of the ones removed.  The local citizens were not consulted or brought into any discussion prior to the decision being made to uproot the trees, which sadly, were a source of pride in an otherwise concrete, urban landscape. Many of the city residents were very troubled at the decision. I’d mourn, too.

I think it will be up to the larger community to advocate for the best possible replacement scenario and to make certain the enthusiasm directed towards transporting Endeavor now builds and shifts to bolster urban beautification.

The words that came to my mind were “Woodman, Spare that Tree!” I’m of a “mature” age, but I’m not so old as to really know that poem. But the words came to mind and I found poem and song.  Apparently saving trees has been an environmental challenge for a long time!

The 4th stanza of the 1830 poem by George Pope Morris:

 My heart-strings round thee cling,

Close as thy bark, old friend!

Here shall the wild-bird sing,

And still thy branches bend.

Old tree! the storm still brave!

And, woodman, leave the spot:

While I’ve a hand to save,

Thy axe shall harm it not!

I think Mr. Morris was an early environmentalist, don’t you?

I’d probably be tempted to chain myself to my tree if someone threatened it.

Do you have a favorite tree?

Take my lead…go and give it a hug!