Monday, June 30, 2008
A plant is considered a native of California if it grew here before the Europeans arrived. California is home to 5,862 species and varieties of native plants, and given the size of the state, the variations in topography, climate and soils, of this number, 2,153 grow nowhere else on Earth. To keep the overall number of species in perspective, know that it is equal to the number of plant species in all the other states combined.
Over the summer, we'll be highlighting some individual natives, including trees, shrubs, bulbs, grasses, vines, annuals and perennials. Don't let names like tarweed, greasewood, and miner's lettuce fool you ~ there are some real beauties amongst these native plants. Perhaps you'll find a place in your garden for some of them, as they are bound to thrive in their native terrain, most are drought tolerant, and you'll have a hand in perpetuating our natural heritage.
Pictured is the California Brodiaea, a bulb that returns and multiplies every year.
Sunday, June 29, 2008
The word "comet" comes from a Greek word coined by Aristotle, "kometes", meaning star with hair. Comets are thrown from the farthest reaches of our solar system by gravitational irregularities from outer planets and nearby stars, or as a result of collisions. The comets are made up of ice, dust and rocky debris particles and can measure a mile or many miles across. They orbit the sun, and when they get close enough, the solar radiation affects them to such a degree that they become visible from Earth. When the Earth passes through the comet's trail of debris, the result is a meteor shower. There were 3,354 known comets as of last November.
The comet pictured is called Comet Hyakutake, discovered in southern Japan in 1996 by a dedicated amateur astrologer, Yuji Hyakutake, who spotted it with a pair of high power binoculars.
Saturday, June 28, 2008
The son and grandson of noted lighthouse designers, Robert Louis Stevenson was born in Edinburg, Scotland in 1850. He was always sickly as a child and most months, except for summer, were spent in bed, attended by a nurse. Chronic health issues affected him for most of his life, and he often travelled to find suitable climates.
From the sheer power of his imagination, he created such timeless classics as "Treasure Island", "Kidnapped", "The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" and "The Black Arrow". His books were successful and popular, admired greatly by Ernest Hemingway, Rudyard Kipling and other authors of their caliber, but ignored for most of the 20th century by the likes of the Norton Anthology of English Literature, which didn't even mention him until 2006. Incredibly, he was often disparaged by "modern" authors who thought his books were too popular and considered them "books for children". On the contrary, his colorful adventures have literary depth, characters who live and breathe, and stories that are as fresh today as when first written.
In 1888, he chartered a yacht for himself and his family, and sailed for three years, exploring the Pacific. There were extended periods in Hawaii, where he became close to King Kalakaua and his niece, Princess Kaiulani. He spent time in Tahiti and Samoa as well, and in 1890, he purchased 400 acres on a Samoan island, where he spent the rest of his life. He died there, at the age of 44, of a cerebral hemmorage. His beloved islanders bore his body on their shoulders to where they buried him on Mt. Vaea, overlooking the sea. His epitaph, which he wrote for himself, and is engraved on his tomb, reads in part:
"Here is where he wanted to be;
Home is the sailor, home from the sea"
The portrait of Robert Louis Stevenson was painted in 1887 by John Singer Sargent. The illustrations for "Treasure Island" were painted by N.C. Wyeth, still the most famous painter of pirates.
Friday, June 27, 2008
The skies were overcast and a salty, south wind kicked up early yesterday. It was low tide in the morning, and there were more birds on the beach than people. Mostly the sand is fine in texture, shades of gray and black, but there are always odd patches of sand that are more coarse, lighter in color, made of ground up shells. Not many shells make it to the beach intact, as they get pounded against the reefs and carried up and down in the ocean currents before the tides pull them in. The picture shows one such shell, only partially intact, washed up amidst the fool's gold, with a visible trail where the waves pushed it ashore.
Thursday, June 26, 2008
The country lane lined with cypress trees led up the hill to the one room schoolhouse in Green Valley. The photograph is of my grandfather, Otto, with his older sister and brother, Helen and Lionel, and their teacher, Mrs. French. Taken in 1895, it shows them standing in the schoolyard with their lunch pails and the pets who followed them to school.
The one room schoolhouse, family farm with almond and peach orchards and way of life are long gone, Six lanes of traffic cut through there now, with a Home Depot down the way and a Target across the street.
Wednesday, June 25, 2008
There are hard and fast rules in ikebana and other structured styles of flower arranging and words that professional florists use, like harmony, rhythm and unity, can be intimidating. If you take a more casual approach to your flowers, there are a few easy guidelines that make creating bouquets a fun, easy and satisfying endeavor.
First, choose a vase with the right shape for your flowers. Bear in mind that tall and narrow arrangements are dramatic, while full arrangements convey warmth, and the wider the mouth of the vase, the more flowers you'll need. Try to avoid a busy, overly patterned vessel that detracts from the flowers. Most bouquets are based on two shapes: triangular/fan and dome/circular. To achieve balance, keep the height of the flowers approximately 1.5 times the height of the vase ~ same for the width. With a large, heavy vase, you can go up to 3 times the height of the vase, but not much more. Stick to two or three types of flowers and one or two colors, to begin with. You can place your foliage first or use the foliage to fill holes - there is no "right" way. The largest flowers should be toward the center, not at the edges or at the top. Choose an odd number of blossoms and place them at different levels, facing different directions and rotate the vase so it looks good from all sides. A leaf or two overlapping the edge of the vase can give a finished look. Try to balance the contrast of flowers and greenery to keep the composition pleasing to the eye. Whether you get your flowers from the grocery store, a roadside stand or your own garden, a well-crafted bouquet is a thing of beauty and will bring pleasure to all who see it.
The 19th century painting is by Otto Scholder, titled "The Flower Arrangement".
Tuesday, June 24, 2008
This color photograph was taken in 1939. It shows the Los Angeles County coastline from Palos Verdes in the south to Santa Monica in the north. The lack of development and wide open spaces are almost unimaginable today, with the current reality of endless asphalt and wall-to-wall people. It looked almost pastoral.
Monday, June 23, 2008
It's amazing how many different tropical plants will grow in Southern California. Even the deliciously fragrant plumeria, a long prized Polynesian, will prosper if given a southern or westerly exposure. We've been having unseasonably hot weather these past few days, with the typical June Gloom overcast days nowhere to be seen. The extra heat has prompted the ginger to bloom early ~ the photograph is of the first buds of a shell ginger. The plant has beautiful varigated leaves and each stalk puts up one cluster of blossoms. This species of ginger sends shoots underground, so a single plant can double in size quickly. It's easy to divide and transplant, much like a canna. Although shell ginger prefers shade inland, it can tolerate some sun on the coast. It blooms all summer and has leaves all year.
Sunday, June 22, 2008
The bustling port of San Diego was in need of a lighthouse, and a site was chosen in 1851, one year after California had become a state. Building the Old Point Loma Lighthouse took three years, and it was another year before the special lens could be delivered from France. The lighthouse went into service in 1855 and on a clear night, its light could be seen for 25 miles. The fog and low clouds that are so common on the coast often obscured the beam of the lamp and in 1891, the lighthouse closed after only 36 years of service. A new lighthouse was built 100 yards to the south, down the cliff and closer to the water.
The color photograph of the Old Point Loma Lighthouse was taken in the 1940s. The lighthouse is preserved today and is part of the Cabrillo Monument, which honors Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, the first European to set foot on our west coast.
Saturday, June 21, 2008
Japan had long been isolated from the West, but after 1868, exports of prints, bronzes, textiles and ceramics began, all of which became wildly popular in America and Europe. Indeed, the art of Japan had a tremendous influence on the Impressionist painters of the day, particularly in France. Henri Toulouse-Lautrec, Manet, Degas, Mary Cassatt, Paul Gauguin, Renoir and Klimt were all especially taken with the wood-block prints, called ukiyo-e, which were collected and prized by the artists. The prints used color in ways that inspired not only the Impressionists but also eventually influenced both Art Nouveau and Cubism. Ukiyo-e and the Japanese style, known as Japonisme, impacted painting and lithography and was incorporated into furniture, jewelry and textile design, as well.
The paintings are by Vincent van Gogh, both made in 1887, with strong Japonisme elements. The first is called "The Blooming Plum Tree" and the second is "Portrait of Pere Tanguy".
Friday, June 20, 2008
We took up tile painting ten years ago ~ the picture shows our first effort, a collaboration with my daughter. There is a line of tile glazes from France that can be fired in an ordinary household oven, as opposed to a kiln. It's a good rainy-day or winter project, when it's too cold or wet to be gardening or on the beach. You can paint a single tile or make a mural. If you go the mural route, the finished tiles are glued to a piece of plywood and then grouted. Our mural has been hanging outside for ten years and has stood up to the weather nicely, but it is sheltered under an eave and we take care not to blast it with the garden hose. If you decide to try tile painting, do follow the glaze instructions closely - starting with clean tiles and sealing the tiles properly will make all the difference. If your store doesn't carry all the colors you'd like, we had success mixing some ourselves to make subtle shades that weren't available. Don't worry about messing up - any tiles you don't like can be broken up and used for mosaics.
Thursday, June 19, 2008
Thomas, our favorite furry friend, spends countless hours patiently staring into gopher holes and crouching motionless near the bird bath. He catches something almost every day, mostly field mice, but his favorite treat is catnip. There's a terra cotta planter of it growing for him on the patio and he helps himself regularly. He rolls on it, licks it, rubs it on his face and eventually eats the whole piece, stems and all. The other neighborhood cats have staked out some limited territory and graze on the catnip, as well, but amongst this loose posse of feline vigilantes, Thomas is top dog.
Wednesday, June 18, 2008
In days of yore, it was the custom to bury Viking warriors in their vessels, which were dragged ashore for the purpose. Built in 900 A.D. and unearthed in 1880, the Gokstad ship was found almost entirely intact. It was built in an overlapping timber style, called "clinker", and since metal was scarce, the planks were tied to the ribs with tree roots. Twine made from cows' hair was used for caulking, and if anyone doubts the seaworthiness of such a vessel, doubt no more. Built to carry 32 oarsmen, an exact replica of the original Gokstad ship was built for display at the Chicago World's Columbian Exposition in 1893. It was sailed across the Atlantc from Bergen, Norway, and from all reports, it handled beautifully and made good time.
The original Gokstad ship is on display at Oslo's Viking Ship Museum. The photograph is of the replica built for the 1893 Chicago Expo.
Tuesday, June 17, 2008
It already looks like summer in the garden. The sweet pinks and pale yellow blossoms of spring have given way to fiery reds and deep purples, and the outlandish color combinations of the coleus leaves are back. A few plants that should never have bloomed past last winter are still going strong, like the cyclamen in the first picture. The second picture shows gallardia, a perennial with seed globes as interesting as their flowers. This variety, called "Goblin" spreads easily and blooms all year. Next are the nasturtiums, also a year-round bloomer that self-propagates. The pink flowers are New Guinea impatiens, shade lovers that bloom profusely, and if you cut the plant back at the end of the season, chances are it will rebound the following year. The last picture is coleus, grown for its beautiful leaves. It does put up flower spikes, but if you pinch these back, the plant will continue to put out large, fabulously colored leaves right up to Christmas.
Monday, June 16, 2008
The Forth Rail bridge, that spans the Firth of Forth, is Scotland's one internationally recognized landmark. Built between 1883 and 1890, it is the first bridge built entirely of steel, and even today is considered an engineering marvel. Much of the work was unprecedented, including the calculations for the effects of temperature stresses, erection stress and wind pressures. Although the cantilevered design was already known and used previously, this bridge inspired copies worldwide. Built to carry old steam locomotives hauling coal, ,currently 200 trains a day cross the Firth of Forth via the Forth Rail Bridge.
Sunday, June 15, 2008
My dad was a child of the Depression. Back then kids had to make their own fun and were never at a loss for something to do. If they weren't surf fishing or building forts in the cliffs at the beach, they were towing make-shift trailers behind their bikes for camping and rabbit hunting in the backcountry, or smoking spider webs in corncob pipes in their clubhouse and assembling rubberband guns for impromptu battles with the kids who lived on the other side of Cottonwood Creek.
He enlisted in the Navy on his 17th birthday and spent 3 years in the Marshalls and Solomon Islands during World War II. We could never get enough of his stories of being one of "Commander Bate's Five Hundred Thieves". He made building landing strips in a bug-infested, sweltering jungle and slogging through mud in the heat seem like an adventure.
He built us kites from scratch and attached them to fishing poles. They flew so far, we had to track them with binoculars. He took us on his childhood trails down the cliff to the beach and taught us to spot doodle bugs, trapdoor spider holes and sand crabs. When we sisters were still in elementary school, he came home from work with a surfboard for us, so heavy it took two of us to carry it. He can still predict rain more accurately than any weatherman or computer model, by how the seagulls fly.
He made my childhood magic, and when he became a grandfather, he made childhood magic for my kids, too.
The photographs are of my dad with my daughter and my son.
Saturday, June 14, 2008
In 1831, preparing for one of his many voyages* aboard the brigantine "Charles Doggett", friends presented the Salem shipmaster, Captain William Driver, with a beautiful American flag with 24 stars. Upon seeing it unfurl in the brisk Atlantic breeze, he exclaimed "Old Glory!" He retired later to Nashville (along with his flag), where word spread of "Old Glory". When the War Between The States broke out, the Confederates were keen to find and destroy the famous flag, but their many searches where to no avail. Union forces eventually secured the Tennessee State Capitol, but the troops had only a small and tattered flag to hoist. To the delight of all, Captain Driver cut through the stitches of his bed quilt to reveal the hiding place of Old Glory and he himself raised it over the Capitol. Flag etiquette dictates that unless illuminated at night, the flag is to be flown only between sunrise and sunset. Captain Driver's grave is one of only three places designated by Congress where the flag is allowed to fly 24 hours a day.
Today is Flag Day, and although various towns and villages across the nation chose to celebrate the flag, it didn't become official until a proclamtion from President Woodrow Wilson in 1916. The flag we salute was originally adopted at the second Continental Congress in 1777, and as every school child should know, Betsy Ross is credited with sewing the very first one, which she gave to General George Washington.
*It was on this voyage that Captain Driver rescued the mutineers of the "Bounty".
Friday, June 13, 2008
Western cultures have long held superstitious beliefs involving a wide range of objects. Ladders, black cats, the number 13, salt, umbrellas, wishbones, mirrors and horseshoes all hold special significance to the superstitiously minded. Some say superstitions multiplied during the plagues that gripped Europe, giving people something to blame when they were overwhelmed by circumstances beyond their understanding.
The Baroness Margaret Thatcher, Steve Buscemi, Fidel Castro*, Samuel Beckett and the Olsen Twins all prospered, despite being "born under a bad sign" on Friday the 13th.
*Although Fidel Castro thrived, the people of Cuba have not been so lucky.
Thursday, June 12, 2008
Water lilies set their roots in soil in bodies of water and their leaves and flowers float on the water's surface. Their ethereal beauty has long inspired artists and they were a favorite subject of the Impressionist painter, Claude Monet. Soon after, artists in the Art & Crafts Movement would apply their form to embroidered textiles, rugs and wallpapers. Today, they lend themselves to Photoshop.
Wednesday, June 11, 2008
Although long known to Willamette Valley, Oregon Indian tribes and already incorporated into their religious ceremonies, when Ellis Hughes discovered a gigantic meteorite in 1902 on someone else's land, his first impulse was to steal it. He spent 90 days surreptitiously moving the Willamette Meteorite three-fourths of a mile onto his own property in an illegal attempt to claim it as his own. A lawsuit put things right, and the true owner donated it in 1905, after display at the Lewis & Clark Centennial Exposition, to the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, where it remains today.
The Willamette Meteorite is the largest meteor to strike the United States and the sixth largest in the world. Made of 91% iron and 8% nickel, scientists explain its deeply corroded surface as a result of entering Earth's atmosphere and the creation of sulphuric acid when rainwater mixed with a trace mineral in its composition. It weighs 15.5 tons and is approximately 10 feet tall, by 6.5 feet wide and 4.25 feet thick. An impact crater was never found.
Tuesday, June 10, 2008
The oldest buildings still standing on Earth are made of adobe. For 4,000 years, from the American Southwest to the Peruvian Andes, handmade, sun-dried adobe bricks, made of clay, sand, water, sticks and straw have been a practical, inexpensive and long lasting building material. Local conditions dictated the exact mixture, as did materials on hand, and if necessary, dung was added. The bricks were formed in large molds and slow dried in the sun to reduce cracking. The same mixture, minus the straw, was used for mortar. The largest remaining adobe structure in the Western Hemisphere is the Huaca del Sol in Peru, a pre-Columbian adobe temple constructed of 100 million signed bricks.
The photograph is of Mission San Juan Capistrano, known as "The Jewel Of The Missions", built of adobe.
Monday, June 9, 2008
Natives of Eastern Asia, large, colorful carp have been bred in Japan, China and Korea since the 17th century. Most widely known as koi, their popularity has spread worldwide, as they can be shipped quickly and safely by air in plastic bags.
A cold water fish, they are a Japanese symbol of love and friendship. When their pond water drops below 50 degrees in the winter, they lose their appetite and stop eating almost entirely, except for some minor algae nibbling. Once the water warms again, they especially enjoy feasting on peas and watermelon , and come to recognize the person who feeds them. Although preyed upon by herons, cats, raccoons, and foxes, they generally live 30-40 years and have been known to live as long as 200 years.
These photographs were taken yesterday at the fountain pond in the central courtyard of Mission San Juan Capistrano. A cluster of seven story tall palm trees is reflected in the water.
Sunday, June 8, 2008
One of the best things about the beach is how it changes every day. The sand moves in and out, exposing or covering reefs and waves tumble cobblestones randomly into piles or spread across vast expanses. Depending on how strong the tides have been and the size of the waves, there can be clusters of shells or piles of sea weed, or sand that stretches off into the distance, as far as you can see. The color of the ocean changes every day, as well. Sometimes the deepest indigo blue, other times a crystal blue that is so achingly beautiful, even poets haven't found the words to describe it. Rogue winds can blow white caps that thrash and churn and other times offshore winds feather every wave.
The photograph was taken over the Memorial Day weekend, during extremely low tide on a blustery morning with the clouds reflected in the tidepools.
Saturday, June 7, 2008
Friday, June 6, 2008
It's been 64 years since the Normandy Landings and the magnitude of the undertaking has been largely forgotten. D-Day was the largest single day invasion of all time. 130,000 Allied American, British, and Canadian men stormed the beaches and parachuted into Axis held territory. The Nazis were dug in and armed to the teeth. The window of opportunity for the Allies was extremely limited, as they required a full moon for light and spring tide. Even the weather was against them, and high seas and wind forced the invasion back a day.
The battles were fierce beyond description and the casualties were staggering. The Allies lost 46,000 men. The beachheads were secured by Herculean effort, steadfast courage and selfless sacrifice.
Two months later, our soldiers had fought all the way to Paris, which they liberated in late August, 1944.
The photograph shows ships putting cargo ashore at Normandy at low tide, just after the beaches were secured. The blimps are actually barrage balloons, used to foil attacks by low flying planes. The trucks on the beach are forming convoys to move food and supplies to the front. Eventually 3 million Allied troops crossed the English Channel to join the war to liberate Europe,
Thursday, June 5, 2008
Built between 1887 and 1889, the Eiffel Tower in Paris is one of the most recognizable stuctures in the world. Originally designed for a Universal Exposition in Barcelona, it was rejected by the Spaniards as too strange and not in keeping with the architecture of their city. Instead, it was built as the entrance to the 1889 Exposition Universelle in Paris, marking the 100th anniversary of the French Revolution. When completed, it was the tallest structure in the world and held that title until the Chrysler Building in New York City was completed in 1930.
Designed and engineered by Gustave Eiffel, a renowned bridge builder, it is built of iron, an open tower, eighty-one stories tall with only two platforms. The original permit allowed it to stand for twenty years, and then be removed. It was designed with this stipulation in mind. Once its benefits as a communications tower were realized, it was allowed to remain.
Fifty tons of paint are applied every seven years to stop rust and the paint is applied in three different colors, dark at the bottom and light at the top, to maintain a uniform appearance from the ground.
The photograh shows the Tower being stuck by lightning in 1902. The top 330 feet had to be repaired and exterior lighting replaced.
Wednesday, June 4, 2008
If you were to ask what musical sound has been heard by the greatest number of people, the answer would most certainly be the sound of a bell. Bells have called men to work and to war, children to school, and have rung out joyful news and tolled in sorrow.
At Campania, Italy, in 400 A.D. Bishop Paulinus had a large copper bell hung in his church and rang it to summon his parish to worship. It was the first church bell. Before that, men where hired to ring hand bells in the streets, similar to our colonial town criers.
From Italy, bell making was introduced to England. Many noblemen had private chapels and they were eager to hang fine bells in the towers. It became a tradition for the nobility to present bells to the abbeys and cathedrals. Big Ben, England's most treasured landmark, is actually the name of the bell inside the tower, not the clock tower itself.
Pictured is the bell in the Cologne Cathedral, in Germany. Known affectionately as "Fat Peter", it was cast in 1922, weighs 24 tons and is the largest free swinging bell in the world.
Tuesday, June 3, 2008
This is what the El Tovar Hotel at the Grand Canyon looked like when my grandparents met there in the early 1900s. Anna had left her native Buda, in Hungary, not too many years before, so she was no stranger to adventure. Still in her teens, she answered an ad that read "Young women, 18-30 years of age, of good character, attractive and intelligent". Anna bid her family in Indiana adieu, rode a train to the Grand Canyon, and took a position with a one year committment as a Harvey Girl at the El Tovar Hotel. She earned the princely sum of $17.50 per month, with room and board and a strict 10 p.m. curfew.
Fred Harvey had started the world's first chain of restaurants, in partnership with the Santa Fe Railroad, and served food, in grand and not so grand buildings where the train stopped, always on fine china, with Irish linen. The El Tovar is one of the few still in operation.
Harvey Girls were said to have "helped civilize the American Southwest". Anna certainly had that effect on my grandpa. He was working at the same hotel as a chauffeur, driving dignitaries and wealthy tourists in a huge touring car. Once Anna's yearlong commitment to Fred Harvey was fulfilled, Grandpa brought his fiance back to his hometown on the coast in southern California, where they were wed, created their life together and raised their four children ~ my dad and aunts and uncle.
Monday, June 2, 2008
Born in 1847, Ellen Terry was one of eleven children born into a theatrical family. She first took to the stage at the age of eight and when she posed for this painting in 1864, she was already Great Britain's leading Shakespearean actress, and just sixteen years old. The painting is called "The Choosing" and depicts the young woman torn between two worlds. The camellias, beautiful but scentless, represent worldly pleasures and pursuits, while simpler values and virtues are represented by the humble, but far sweeter violets held in her hand. The artist, George Frederic Watts, 30 years her senior, was captivated by her and proposed marriage. To please her parents, Ellen accepted and left acting. The reality of being a child bride was more than she could bear and the marriage lasted but 10 months. After several years, she returned to the stage and is considered, to this day, the greatest Shakespearean actress of all time.
Sunday, June 1, 2008
For its diminutive size, the raspberry packs a mighty nutritional punch. As a rich source of antioxidants and the plant food higher than any other in fiber, it is often included in the top 5 most nutritious foods. It is chock full of copper, iron, vitamin C, manganese, magnesium, folic acid and vitamins B 1-3. Promising health benefits are currently being researched and are likely to prove the positive effects of eating raspberries on pain, cancer, diabetes, allergies and cardiovascular disease.
Each berry is made up of around a hundred drupelets, each a separate fruit pulp with an individual seed. It pulls away from the plant easily when ripe and is the only hollow fruit. The leaves can be used fresh or dried in herbal tea and honey bees are especially drawn to the flowers as a major source of nectar.
Over the years, cultivators have crossed red and black raspberries to produce what we know as boysenberries and loganberrries. More recent breeding has produced plants with no thorns and others strong enough to stand upright without stakes. They're currently grown worldwide in temperate climates and improvements in transportation have made them available all year.