Did you know the newest National Monument is practically in my backyard?

Despite the fact that so many, maybe most, define Southern California in terms of undisputed cacophony and congestion created by more than 22 million people living on top of each other, I can tune that out because I make it a practice to tune IN to a different frequency.


My well-being depends on frequently lifting myself out of all that noise. And in the last few days I’ve had several opportunities to be reminded that if I want to listen just a little harder, I can tune in to an abundant natural world that also co-exists with the very same noise and congestion.


One encounter with “the wild” caused me to reflect on John Muir’s words, “None of Nature’s landscapes are ugly so long as they are wild.”

You be the judge!  Just a week ago my water lilies were beautiful!

Thrashed water lilies

I wonder if the goldfish not previously eaten by a marauding heron fulfilled their purpose as dinner for one BIG and Hungry raccoon? I can’t find a one…gone!

Then just two days later the girls and I were caught off-guard, startled when our backyard hedge burst open as a young hawk came out of nowhere. Was he actually hiding in the shrubbery eyeing the bird feeder? I think our close proximity, and Zena’s sniffing around, interrupted his plans.  Later in the re-telling, Karina added a little extra to the story replacing the hawk with an eagle as the central character. She tells good stories.

Every encounter with urban nature gives me a thrill. I am caught in wonder just knowing “they” are out there. Lately that’s been almost every night. The dog knows when the opossum or raccoon or skunk is out in the backyard and won’t rest, or let us rest either, until the animals pass through, but I still try to be as welcoming as possible.

I’m not alone. There isn’t exactly an urban wildlife movement, but wildlife hospitable initiatives once dismissed by the U.S. Forest Service as ridiculous–“nothing urban can be wild,” are proliferating in cities all over the world.


And to round out my delight this week, I’ve been clapping my hands in glee since October 10th, last Friday, when a large portion of the San Gabriel Mountains, the mountains I share with mountain lions, California Condors, yellow-legged frogs, big horn sheep, bear and hundreds of species of small animals, received a Presidential designation as the newest National Monument.


The designation offers significant protection against future gas and oil leasing as well as protecting against private development. Thirty percent of our water comes from these mountains, and the area is home to more than 600 archaeological sites preserving evidence of more than 8,000 years of human history. The mountains were home to the indigenous people, the Tongva-Gabrielinos, until the Spanish Mission period.

Of course there are some loud and unhappy voices, too, but the President and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation praised the local communities who have fought for fifteen years to see this day.

John Muir spent time in these beautiful mountains and wrote:

“In the mountains of San Gabriel, overlooking the lowland vines and fruit groves, Mother Nature is most ruggedly, thornily savage…But in the very heart of this thorny wilderness, down in the dells, you may find gardens filled with the fairest flowers, that any child would love, and unapproachable linns lined with lilies and ferns, where the ousel builds its mossy hut and sings in chorus with the white falling water. Bears, also and panthers, wolves, wildcats; wood rats, squirrels, foxes, snakes, and innumerable birds, all find grateful homes here, adding wildness to wildness in glorious profusion and variety.”

And now the San Gabriels are a National Monument. I always knew they were special.


A strategy for breathing lighter to send you on to another week

One of the nicest comments that I receive is that something I’ve shared on this blog has changed, favorably so, an opinion of Los Angeles. Visitors have frequently maintained their previous notion of Southern California, perhaps particularly of the greater Los Angeles area, was strictly one flat note. I’ve enjoyed expanding the vision.

There is much that is really wonderful about this state. Then there are undeniable drawbacks.

Los Angeles County accounts for about 26% of California’s population estimate of 38 million people.

When it takes me 60 minutes to go 30 miles–and that’s not the worst example I could give–I will admit breathing lighter is not what comes to mind. I have my survival strategies, however. Sometimes I spend the entire “trek” thinking about pioneers who traveled across the Oregon Trail. Fantasy works.

Bottom line? I live in the center of a pressure cooker.

But rather than focus on the negative, I long ago made a choice to find the “people, places and things”  that excite my curiosity or quite literally lift me out of the congestion and provide a breathing lighter escape.

My latest adventure has been to fully immerse in the story of John Muir’s interest in Pasadena. I am enjoying Elizabeth Pomeroy’s  “John Muir: A Naturalist in Southern California,” and as so often happens, one story leads to the next.

My curiosity was first aroused at the Huntington Library when I noticed a letter from Muir to Theodore Parker Lukens.


Lukens, a two term Pasadena mayor and prominent civic leader and well-respected conservationist, traveled to Yosemite in 1895 and joined Muir in the Hetch Hetchy Valley. This initial visit set the stage for Lukens’ lifelong commitment to protecting the timberland and forest reserves above Pasadena and beyond.

A mountain peak in Southern California and a lake in Yosemite National Park, for which he urged federal control, are named after Lukens. Muir often called upon his conservation-minded friends  to assist him in his tireless effort to protect the Yosemite Valley.

I’ve driven by the Lukens house hundreds of times. It happens to be on the same street as my favorite independent book store. But I had never previously connected Lukens to Muir, so now the house takes on a whole new interest!

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Notice the hitching post and mounting stone just sitting there waiting for a horse-bound visitor!

There’s every reason for me to believe that Muir spent time in his friend’s home. Muir, often called “Professor Muir,” was a frequent speaker in the area, including lecturing at the local high school.

The independent bookstore I mentioned? Vroman’s books is a Pasadena landmark.

Vromans sign

A.C. Vroman was also a friend and supporter of Muir’s aims to protect the San Gabriel mountain area and other state-wide conservation efforts.

This is all new information to me, and I’m completely enjoying putting the pieces of a very large puzzle together, while also being pulled back to the relative “quiet” of the early 20th century.

Horse traffic would have been more my speed, I think.

I sometimes simply enjoy imagining what Muir and other early settlers in the Los Angeles area must have experienced and how they interpreted the natural beauty. I wonder what they would think if they could drop in for a visit today?

I get lost in this imagining and it somehow modifies the incessant noise that is a part of every day.

And to breathe even lighter?

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The beautiful San Gabriel Mountains are close enough for me to touch them. And if I need to escape just a little bit more intentionally? Fifteen minutes can put me at Chantry Flat, about three miles into Big Santa Anita Canyon, and home to the last pack station in Southern California.

Just sitting here in the coolness and among the trees, and I contemplate what Muir said of the San Gabriels, “I had to contend with the richest, most self-possessed and uncompromising chaparral I have ever enjoyed since first my mountaineering began.”  

I tamed the chaparral by car. But I could still imagine.

Breathing lighter? It’s all about where you put your focus.

If stress starts to build this week, replace the stress by identifying an area of interest and begin your own adventure. And if that doesn’t work fast enough for you…just find a place to rest your eyes and escape.

Let me know if it works!

Look who I found nosing around…more San Gabriel Mountain adventures

What a nice change in weather direction! Rain! And lots of it. If you didn’t happen to catch my last post about the fire area and potential mud flows, not to mention my nod to John Muir and the San Gabriel Mountains, you might want to see the photos I shared HERE.

After two solid days of rain, the flooding and mud damage was well-contained, and from what I can tell, we should be very happy with rainfall totals. Ski areas have opened and everyone is enjoying the clean air. We need more of these storms, but for now, let’s be happy for what we did receive!

Our poor Zena was a little undone by the sound of thunder. Poor thing! It’s a good bet she’s never heard it before. It made me think we might do well to have some puppy Xanax on-hand before the 4th of July. Fireworks will undoubtedly be entirely too much for her.

Since I’m now enjoying a book about John Muir’s time in Southern California and in particular, his study of the San Gabriel Mountains, I’m feeling an itch to explore. I just couldn’t pass up the opportunity to take a little drive. Between storms, of course.

Six miles from my home–I clocked it–is the entrance to the Angeles National Forest with an easily navigable  winding road up into the San Gabriels.

And then–surprise!

Before I was even on the mountain highway, I was treated to a private show.


I am surprised I saw this little guy, so nearly camouflaged in the brush. But then, before I moved on, brothers and sisters crossed the street right in front of me, and joined their sibling for some late afternoon munching.

In the words of four-year old Karina when she saw a family of deer last month, “Oh! My dream has come true!”

These are some of the animals I worry about when there isn’t enough water, or when the wildfires ravage the area,   or when their habitat is threatened by human encroachment.

After a brief visit with these little guys, I just had to take a few minutes up above the city. Every once in a while I just need these views!

The next storm was coming and visibility wasn’t as clear as I might find another time, but it was quiet and peaceful. What more could I ask for?


I think you’ll be seeing more of these views. Next time I’m taking a picnic dinner…and of course, Jay can come along!

Weekend is over…on to a good week!