And not a drop to drink…unless you’re a Pinniped

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I wasn’t really ready to come home from the Central Coast. Last weekend we headed north to the serenity and beauty of Cambria, mesmerized by the rugged coastline nestled within a forest of coastal pines and spectacular ocean views–and quiet.

In the Los Angeles/Pasadena area where I live–the San Gabriel Valley–early fall often brings temperatures higher than we experience in summer’s July. Accordingly, October is “fire season” and it’s not uncommon to hear locals comment about the “feel” of earthquake weather. There is no such thing, but there is something in barometric pressure or terrarium-like cloud covers or perhaps the squeeze that comes with unrelenting heat that brings a certain jumpiness.

Cambria was calling me. Notice the beautiful sunshine of the day and the fog rolling in with the evening.

I have said quite enough about our drought conditions, I’m sure, but while in Cambria we experienced a few new shifts in awareness and convenience that seem worth conveying.

This was the first time we visited the area and continually thought of Coleridge.

“Water, water, everywhere,
And all the boards did shrink;
Water, water, everywhere,
Nor any drop to drink.”

The Central Coast is experiencing severe drought. Residents are saddled with extreme personal water usage restrictions and struggle against the rationing with an economy dependent upon tourism, naturally leading to greater water usage. The future is uncertain. It makes me jumpier than the heat, quite frankly.

We were encouraged to re-use towels and not expect a routine change in sheets.  The coffee cups and water glasses were replaced by disposable paper. After years of being cautious about what we add to the landfills, depleting water sources makes that a very secondary concern. And in a fine dining establishment we were offered water bottles (think landfill again) and charged a nominal fee. It costs too much to wash the glassware and is too expensive in other ways to offer drinking water to thousands of tourists. It is risky business.

The coastal beauty of Hwy 1, San Diego in the lower south through Mendocino County all the way at the top of the state, is what I call my “happy space” and I never travel without thanking the State of California and the Coastal Commission for its many protections. California is highly protective of preserving the beauty of the coast and guards against development. It remains as pristine as possible.

So when we talk about desalination plants, I have to wonder. All this ocean….water…is it a resource? If we don’t learn how to live within the confines of water restriction even in times of sufficient seasonal rainfall, what course will we be forced to take? What is advancement?

“Will California — like Israel, Saudi Arabia and other arid coastal regions of the world — finally turn to the ocean to quench its thirst? Or will the project finally prove that drinking Pacific seawater is too pricey, too environmentally harmful and too impractical for the Golden State?” 

At this point all we can do is observe. I also pray for rain. And I totally, completely, unreservedly appreciate the beauty that we have and I enjoy sharing some of the little surprises you might not anticipate.

These elephant seals aren’t sitting around waiting for rain, are they? Do they seem worried?

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The Northern Elephant Seal Rookery at Piedras Blancas, just north of Cambria, is a wonderful stop along Highway 1. There are approximately 20,000 elephant seals at Piedras Blancas, but they aren’t all there at any given time.

Once nearly extinct because of hunting for blubber and oil during the 18th and 19th centuries, some saying the population was down to a mere 50 elephant seals, there are now breeding colonies from Baja to British Columbia. There are four major California mainland sites, and this is one of the best for close viewing.

From December through February numbers will increase during mating season, and I’d love to return in mid-February as the females wean their pups.

Turkey Vultures are vigilant sentinels along this stretch of beach. I don’t think I want to know.


Next post I’ll take you with me to “The Enchanted Hill.”


Hearst Castle is a wonderful way to escape the concerns of reality. What a place for fantasy–an excellent way to breathe lighter.

Enjoy your “weekend exhale,” my friends. It’s a beautiful, warm and sunny day here today–big surprise. Sun! But it is cooler and should be a lovely weekend. And I do love weekends!

A glimpse of my work day in review…then off to bed!

I thought I’d share a bit about my day before I collapse into bed.

I covered a lot of ground today.

I left home this morning before the sun was even peeking above the horizon, heading east to lend a hand with last-minute details at a work-related special event. Our Center for Academic Service-Learning and Research (Azusa Pacific University) planned and prepared for many months to host an 8th Grade Majors Fair for the students from the three Azusa middle schools, and today was the BIG day!

8th Grade Majors Fair

Our office was responsible for coordinating this large-scale event with participation from two other Institutes of Higher Education–Cal-Poly Pomona and Citrus College.

Eighth-grade students were brought by bus loads to one of the city’s beautiful facilities, encouraged to interact with faculty and university students, asking questions and studying colorful exhibits and displays.

The day was designed to provide age-appropriate and useful information about the many majors and academic disciplines available to the students in five short years when they are college or university eligible.

The hands-on and interactive stations were prepared to excite the students’ curiosity about how what they study in college supports their interests and what they will choose as future careers.

My contribution to the planning and execution was minimal compared to most of the volunteers, so I took advantage of spare moments to walk around with camera-in-hand.

I can’t really share photos of the children, but I hope you can get a sense of the interaction from just a few.

Volunteers from Azusa Pacific’s ROTC and Office of Military and Veterans Resources took fully loaded military backpacks and demonstrated how heavy they were by inviting 8th grade volunteers to test their strength and endurance.

ROTC army backpack

The students loved this!

Another big favorite was the Police K-9 unit and deputy Roby.

It was a very busy time, but a nice change from my usual office habitat.

And I was able to spend some time outdoors, too, an obvious benefit.

I couldn’t help but be impressed with the way the city’s Memorial Park North Recreation Center was fully committed to water saving vegetation, drought tolerant and California Native plants.

Do you think this type of landscaping is important?

San Gabriel Mountains

Do you see how close the homes are to the San Gabriel Mountain foothills?

It may only be mid-March, but we have had three days of 90°  record-breaking heat. At this rate the foothills will be tinder before we even get into summer.

So water-wise landscaping is incredibly important.

Not everyone is completely on-board with the aesthetics of grasses, chaparral, succulents and sage. But as my concern about water shortages and the generally wasteful way most Southern California gardens drink up such a valuable resource increases, so does my appreciation for these very natural California Native gardens.

At noon I left the Majors Fair and quickly changed hats, traveling an hour on five different freeways, cutting across  town in strategic traffic-avoidance patterns hoping to have a few minutes of quiet with Karina before walking to pick Sophia up from Kindergarten.

We spent the remainder of the day between homework and reading a new dinosaur book. How is it they can pronounce all those names and I trip over them?

It was a full and special day…an ordinary day, but of the best kind. I suspect I will breathe lighter from satisfaction and sleep well!

I need my rest. Our weekend plans include a preschool talent show–that should be entertaining, and this is the weekend for the Wistaria Festival. You may recall I mentioned the vine is listed in the Guinness Book of Records.

I recharge quickly so I’ll be up to it. And I’ll have my camera with me. Stay tuned!

The Southern California garden…the weeds are thriving!

I’d be very unwise to imply any complaint about winter weather conditions in Southern California. Many of you comment with a hint of awe at the warmth that comes through in the photos I’ve recently shared.  Our coldest day in February is probably warmer than most in the northern hemisphere.

But we have had some cold weather, too.

Mt. Baldy with snow

Southern Californians know this peak as Mt. Baldy–it’s rarely called by its real name, Mount San Antonio. This tallest point in the San Gabriel Mountains was named “Baldy” by the miners who came in the 1860s during the Gold Rush.

At 10,068 feet it’s the highest point in Los Angeles County, so when topped with snow, we certainly gawk a bit, marveling at the sight of all that unfamiliar white stuff.

This week’s storm didn’t produce that much rain for the valley, but we did gain plenty of fresh white powder in the mountains.

Baldy’s snow is beautiful, but what I’m most wondering is what is happening to the snow pack in the Eastern Sierras?

While we Southern California gardeners like to pretend water is not a problem, drought conditions are always a threat.

And since 65% of the water intended for Los Angeles comes from the Eastern Sierras, we hope for a good snowpack and a healthy supply of runoff to feed the Aqueduct.

I’ll never complain about our mild winter weather, but I do sometime feel weary with year-round garden maintenance. We don’t get much of a break in garden chores.

The weeds continue to grow, and although the sky may spit a little of the wet stuff, it rarely lets loose! Gardens still require some watering even throughout the winter.

These are just a few of the many succulents that  sweetly bloom in winter adding quite a bit of warmth to our landscape. They are drought tolerant, requiring very little care except for a covering of frost cloth during the most extreme cold snaps.

But do you notice the weeds? They never stop thriving!

Last weekend was dry and warm, and we thought about heading out to do something fun. Instead, I evaluated frost damage and trimmed plants, alternately spreading several bags of compost, while Jay spent the better part of two days on his hands and knees pulling dandelions and spotted spurge.

That’s part of the price we pay for a garden in a year-round Mediterranean climate. Light moisture and warm sun equals fresh weeds.

I haven’t yet decided how much time I’ll spend working in the garden this weekend, but I have a couple of hours between appointments in Pasadena today, so I’m going to spend at least a little time soaking up some garden inspiration.

Arlington Garden is a heavy dose of serenity in an urban setting. If I’m going to spend so much time weeding and pruning, I like to go where I soak up inspiration.

The garden emphasizes drought tolerant plants and the most creative use of space. It has an interesting history, too, so I’ll share that with you soon.

Arlington Garden will be my first step towards my weekend exhale.

Don’t you think we all could use a transition from the workweek to the weekend–a change of pace to help eliminate stress?

I like to give gifts.

So my gift to you is a short article from a few years ago,  “A Poet in Winter Relishes Spring in His Garden.”  This 2005 NY Times story features Stanley Kunitz, the Pulitzer Prize winning poet laureate of the United States, as he approached his 100th birthday.

Kunitz loved his garden in Provincetown, Massachusetts, and this short article makes me smile as I picture a poet using the joy he received in his garden as the palette from which he painted words…and I’ll bet that’s also where he did a lot of his own exhaling.

Now it’s your turn!