Saturday, January 31, 2009

Sweeping The Clouds Away

With the weather back in the high 70s, hardly any swell, and perfect glassy conditions, when an invitation arose to try stand up paddling yesterday, it was an offer that couldn't be refused. With state of the art equipment courtesy of and expert instruction from my daughter, it was even more fun than anticipated. That's us, in the photo above, giving it a go. The mid 50 degree water is a huge incentive in keeping one's balance!

A local lobsterman was out pulling his traps, on the shore side of the kelp beds.

Curlews were checking random clumps of seaweed for things to eat.

That's my daughter riding a wave to the shore. The verdict on stand up paddling? Loved it! It combines exhilaration and challenge with the pure joy of being on (and sometimes in) the ocean. Am looking forward to Monday and heading back out.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Encinitas Boat Houses

Built during the 1920s by Miles Kellogg, the Encinitas Boat Houses are local landmarks. When the circa 1888 Moonlight Beach Dance Hall and Bath House was demolished in 1925, Mr. Kellogg salvaged the wood with the intention of building a house. The boards were too short for conventional building, so the resourceful Midwesterner called upon his shipbuilding experience and crafted the two Boat Houses. Complete with portholes, pilot houses, mariners' wheels and galleries, these two houses are permanently "docked" two blocks from the Pacific Ocean, on Third Street.

Recently, a developer, a local historical group and the powers that be at City Hall joined forces to purchase the properties for restoration and preservation.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Feather Light & Steel Strong

It's hard to imagine just how strong spider silk really is. Although a strand of silk long enough to circle the Earth would only weigh 12 ounces, with similar density, it would be five times stronger than steel. Spider silk, also called gossamer, is a fiber made of protein and spun by the spider in its own body with spinnerettes. Mostly the spiders use it to construct webs to catch prey, or to protect their offspring. The silk can stretch 40% of its length without breaking, which allows some small spiders go "ballooning" by spinning several threads into the air and letting themselves be carried along by the wind. Although they don't sail terribly far, some theorize this is how spiders made their way to islands, in addition to hitching rides on ships.

In past times, spider silk was used for the crosshairs in scientific instruments such as telescopes. Scientists have long been interested in duplicating the spinning process, as spiders use water as a solvent, operate at room temperature and use renewable resources, all very desireable. It hasn't been practical to keep masses of spiders for spinning (some have a tendency to eat each other) and so far attempts to mass produce spider silk have been unsuccessful.

The next time you knock down a web with a broom, consider what a remarkable construction it really is.

Thanks to Jon Sullivan at for sharing such a beautiful photograph.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

From Tennessee To A Life At Sea

Born the son of a Spanish merchant who came to America in 1776 and joined the American Revolution, David Glascow Farragut rose to become an admiral of the United States Navy. His devotion to duty and remarkable skills were such that his contribution to the Union victory in the War Between the States was profound.

In 1808, at the age of 7, David Farragut was adopted by the Porter family, whose patriarch was the officer in charge of naval operations in New Orleans. David enlisted as a midshipman in the United States Navy at the age of 9. At the age of 12, he was given command of a captured ship, which he guided safely to harbor. At the age of 13 he was captured and wounded in a naval battle in Valparaiso Bay, Chile, spent a year imprisoned, then was traded for another prisoner.

During the Civil War, the Confederacy's last open port on the Gulf of Mexico was Mobile Bay, Alabama. Mines, known then as torpedoes, were scattered across the bay, with the hope of keeping Union sailors offshore. As Farragut's ships charged the bay, one was blown up by a mine, and Farragut, lashed to the rigging of his ship, called (paraphrased) for his men to press onward: "Damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead!"

The lithograph above is from a U.S. Navy recruiting poster used in World War I and the photograph below is from the Matthew Brady Collection, taken in 1863. David Farragut's stature was such that he was chosen as a pallbearer at the funeral of Abraham Lincoln and he remains a giant in the history of the United States Navy.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Up Close In The Kitchen

Still messing around with the macro feature on the camera and learning to see ordinary things in a new way. The camera can capture details the naked eye misses, be it a jumble of jewel like raspberries, Thomas the cat's clean bowl drying on a kitchen cloth, or the undulating, velvety flare of a narcissus trumpet.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Kentucky's Moonlight Schools

If you're not from Kentucky, chances are you've never heard of Cora Wilson Stewart or the Moonlight Schools she founded in 1911. Adult illiteracy was widespread in the hills of Appalachia. With a clear vision of teaching adults to read, Cora gathered volunteers and set out to do just that, using a newspaper she founded as the text. Mindful that most adults worked long days to make ends meet, her classes were held at night, in the classrooms their children attended during the day. She hoped her crusade would attract perhaps 150 people the first night. Her first school was successful beyond her wildest imagination. 1,200 people, between the ages of 18 and 86 attended the initial session. Eventually, home schooling was provided for those too old or sick to get to school. Within 3 years, 40,000 adults had been taught to read. Cora eventually opened schools across half a dozen counties in rural Kentucky.

The top picture, taken in 1913, shows a mountain woman of Appalachia. The second is a formal portrait of Cora Wilson Stewart. The third shows a family of fifteen outside their home in Appalachia, circa 1913. All pictures courtesy of the Harris & Ewing Collection in the Library of Congress.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Another Day In The Garden

The flowers in the garden are beyond confused. By their reckoning, spring is already here. Dutch iris foliage is knee high, narcissus are in full bloom and the freesias are sending up stalks covered with buds. Another sunny day, combined with new knowledge of the camera's macro function, made it a perfect day to take a closer look at pink flowers. That's a snapdragon close-up above.

This is a hibiscus flower, blooming on a shrub we've trimmed up into a tree. It's going through an interesting change. The flowers used to be quite a bit larger and paler in color. Now they're smaller but the color is more concentrated and intense. Of all the pink flowers in our garden, the hibiscus is the hands-down favorite of the hummingbirds.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Often Heard But Rarely Seen

The picture is of a California gnatcatcher, taken by peeking from behind a curtain with the aid of a zoom lens. This elusive creature, a member of the wren family, lives hereabouts and stops by almost daily to feast on insects in the leaves of the arbor. Gnatcatchers are considered a threatened species and their loss of habitat and status as a cause celebre have complicated life for property owners and people in the building trades.

This one in particular doesn't seem to have a care in the world. He flits from perch to perch and makes himself known by his distinctive chirp, likened by some to the mew of a kitten. Oddly, every time he chirps, his tail elevates. He's wise to the ways of Thomas the cat and leaves the birdbath to the sparrows. Hopefully, come Spring, he'll bring his family around.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Migrating Whales

This is the peak season for Pacific gray whales to be making their way along our coastline. These gentle giants summer near the Arctic in the northern Bering Sea and then make their way south between December and March, to mate and nurse their calves in the warm bays of Baja California, Mexico. Their's is one of the longest migrations of any mammal.

The Pacific gray whales get up to 48 feet long and individual whales can be recognized by their markings. Heading south, they're most easily sighted by their 15 foot spouts or the flips of their flukes.

We rarely see them heading back north for the summer, as they swim further out to sea on their return trips, often beyond the sight of binoculars.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

A Storm Brewing

After nine straight days of sunshine in the high 70 and low 80 degrees, the warm spell has broken and a winter storm is moving down the coast. There have been high surf warnings the past few days, but the size of the waves never matched the hyperbole of the newscasters. Oddly, the waves are being generated by a storm near Hawaii, while our rain is moving in from the north.

We walked on the beach early, while the sky was still colored by the sunrise. It was all the more pleasurable, as my mom came along.

The photograph is looking north from Cardiff by the Sea.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Growing Violas ~ Pansy's Little Cousins

If you live where it's still warm enough for outdoor gardening, consider giving violas a place in your borders, containers or hanging baskets. These cheerful faces come in solid colors or some great combinations and with a little care (mainly water and sunshine), you can have masses of blossoms to enjoy throughout the winter and into the spring. Some people like to plant a variety of colors together, but a mass planting of a single color can be equally striking, especially in hanging baskets and containers.

If you buy your plants in a six pack, try to resist buying the largest plants. These leggy ones will often fall over and fail to thrive. Go for the smaller ones that appear more squat, but are fuller, with dense growth. These will set many more buds and produce more of a mass. Don't be afraid to plant these closely together. One hanging basket can easily accommodate a six pack of plants and as they grow, they'll spill over the sides of your basket or pot to beautiful effect.

If you ever have trouble with violas or pansies that seem to rot off at the base, replace the soil. You can reuse that soil elsewhere in the garden, just not where you grow violas.

As you deadhead the old blossoms to keep the plants vigorous, toss the seeds into that same basket or pot or others and you'll have a fresh batch of seedlings to transplant.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Making Ends Meet

Lewis Hine worked as a photographer for the U.S. National Child Labor Committee, and he criss crossed the country documenting children's job situations. The photograph above was taken in Wilmington, Delaware on May 21, 1910. According to Hine's caption, the boy shown above is Joseph Severio, age 11, who had already worked willingly for two years, pushing a cart as a peanut vendor. He usually worked 6 hours a day and was frequently still on the streets past midnight. The caption notes that Joseph was a non-smoker and turned all of his earnings over to his father.

The photograph below, taken in May, 1915, shows two brothers, 9 and 7, known as "newsies", selling papers on the streets of Los Angeles. Hines described these two as "tough specimens".

Monday, January 19, 2009

Pretty In Pink

Peonies have long been prized for their large and often fragrant flowers. Native to Asia, southern Europe and western North America, the peony was named after Paeon, young Greek student. Legend goes that when his teacher, Asciepius, the god of medicine and healing, became jealous of him, Zeus saved Paeon by turning him into a peony flower.

One of the predominant floral symbols of China, stretching back to the earliest dynasties, the peony is currently the state flower of Indiana. It has also found favor as a tattoo motif, often depicted with a koi fish.

Thanks to Simon Koopman for sharing his striking photograph.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Back On The Beach

We've had a week of 70 and 80 degrees days, and with much of the nation in a record deep freeze, it's been our duty to get outside to enjoy the winter warmth. A walk on the beach is even more fun with a camera along. These stairs are part of the Self Realization Fellowship at the top of the bluff.

The ocean water is a bracing 56 degrees right now, but still tolerable for walking barefoot.

The waves leave ever changing patterns behind in the sand.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Meet Queen Louise

Queen Louise of Prussia was born in 1776, the daughter of a German duke and princess. At 17 she was introduced to the crown prince of Prussia, and he, dazzled by her beauty and charm, married her on Christmas Eve that same year. When he became King Frederick William III, she became Louise, Queen of Prussia. The marriage was, by all accounts, a happy one and Louise bore 10 children, only seven of whom survived childhood.

According to a contemporary account, "As Queen of Prussia she commanded universal respect and affection, and nothing in Prussian history is more admired than the dignity and unflinching courage with which she bore the sufferings inflicted on her and her family during the war between Prussia and France". Napoleon Bonaparte, when referring to the sovereigns allied against him, said, "She is the only man amongst them". He set about to destroy her reputation, but that only served to make her more beloved by her people.

In 1810, at the age of 34, Queen Louise died in her husband's arms. To honor her memory, the king established the Order of Louise, awarded to German women whose service was deemed worthy of the highest recognition.

Her face may look familiar to you. During the 1800s, her image was used on all manner of merchandise. The top picture is a tin lithographed plate from 1908, made by Vienna Art Plates. The chromolithographed print in a deep-dish walnut frame below is circa 1875, and has Queen Louise's face on a milkmaid's body. Her image shows up on porcelain dresser boxes, lockets and porcelain plates.

Friday, January 16, 2009

The Color Yellow

Yesterday was another bright and sunny day, with the color yellow at every turn. In the garden, a yellow bee darted from flower to yellow flower, dazzled by the warm nectar and pollen.

Over the hill to the east, alongside the Batiquitos Lagoon, our neighborhood fruit stand had a bin full of locally grown yellow bell peppers.

The evening sun cast a brilliant outline on Thomas the cat as he sat serenely in the open window, monitoring the bird bath, taking in the golden air.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Point Loma's Lomaland

High on the wide swept meadows of Point Loma in 1897, Katherine Tingley laid the cornerstone for the School for the Revival of the Lost Mysteries of Antiquity, part of a commune called Lomaland that grew to include a theater, hotel, textile factory, bakery, publishing house and joinery. Also included was The Raja Yoga Academy, with 300 boarders who lived in group homes called Lotus Houses. The school required each student to learn an instrument and they formed the country's first school orchestra. They also built the country's first Greek amphitheater.

After the difficulties of the Great Depression, Lomaland was sold in 1942 to a private developer. It eventually became Balboa University, then Case Western University. Some of the original buildings still survive and are now part of the campus of Point Loma Nazarene University.

The photograph above was taken in 1910 and is part of the George Grantham Bain collection in the Library of Congress.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Yesterday On The Beach

We're told this warm spell may last through the weekend. Combined with extreme tides, the clear, warm skies made for a beautiful day on the beach. There were more birds than people.

The water was inky smooth, but it was the texture of the bubbles in the water and the patterns in the sand that really caught my eye.

The sunlight turned the water into liquid silver.

This is the view looking south. It's the stretch of beach from Swamis to Cardiff, Solana Beach, Del Mar, Torrey Pines, and the furtherest point you can see, La Jolla.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Stand Up Paddling On A Laid Back Day

Stand up paddling isn't nearly as easy as my daughter makes it look. The boards are large and pretty unwieldy. When the surf is small and the ocean is glassy, it's a great way to have some fun. Yesterday was another sunny day in the high 70s but when the ocean is only in the mid 50s, wetsuits are mandatory.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Reaping What You Sow

We're in the midst of a warm spell, our first Santa Ana condition of the new year. Yesterday got into the high 70s and happily, it should hold for the next few days. The warm weather woke the garden up and there were enough blossoms for a good sized bouquet. The hot colors of African daisies and alstroemeria mixed well with some random bougainvillea, calla and canna leaves as filler.

Alstroemeria are beautiful and useful. These azalealike flowers are invasive in a good way - they are easily divided, transplant well and self sow. Their colorful streaked clusters are some of the best, longest lasting cut flowers ever. When transplanting, dig up a clump and simply cut it with a serrated knife into sections, as you would a day lily. They bloom almost continuously in mild climates and are a reliable flower around which to build a bouquet. In cold climates, they're hardy if kept mulched. They grow 2-5 feet tall and work best at the back of a border. If you like fresh cut flowers, try to find a spot in your garden for these beauties - you won't be disappointed.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Recommending The Power Of Art

Gian Bernini carved this marble statue of Apollo and Daphne when he was 24. It took three years. He captures Daphne as her hands turn to leaves, as she is turning into a laurel tree. The story goes that Apollo offended Cupid, who, in revenge, shot both Apollo and Daphne with arrows. Apollo fell hopelessly in love with Daphne and the arrow caused her to despise him. As she flees from him, she becomes a laurel tree. Thus, the bay laurel became a sacred tree in ancient Greece, and the laurel wreath a symbol of Apollo. "Resting on one's laurels" is a common phrase still in use. Simon Schama has created an exceptional 3 disc DVD series for the BBC called "The Power Of Art", an in depth, compelling look at 8 individual artists, of whom Bernini is one. If you like art, history and a good story, the series is well worth your time.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Going For A Sail In Brooklyn

Taken circa 1910, and part of the George Grantham Bain photography collection in the Library of Congress, this photo shows a pair of young Brooklyners take to the street in their sail wagon. Some claim that land sailing goes back to the ancient Egyptians and others say the modern equivalents came from Belgium. However practical, it looks like a lot of fun!

Friday, January 9, 2009

The Flying Trapeze

Acrobats have been performance artists for thousands of years. They were depicted in Egyptian art, circa 2000 B.C., standing on the backs of charging bulls. Acrobats have been a part of Chinese culture for 2,500 years, when they first performed in villages across the countryside as part of harvest celebrations.

The word acrobat comes from the Greek: akros, meaning high and bat, which means walking. By the Middle Ages, in Europe, acrobats included singing and juggling and they were a popular diversion at court. Originally, acrobatics in circuses referred to tightrope walking, but has evolved to include aerial tumbling, trapeze work, human pyramids and a host of other variations, sometimes even including motorcycles.

The above hand colored lithograph was produced by the Calvert Lithograph Company in Detroit, Michigan in 1890.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Quail Botanical Gardens

Down the road, about a mile inland from the Pacific Ocean, our town has a 32 acre botanical garden with meandering trails that wind through a significant collection of flora. We walked there earlier this week and took our cameras along for fun.

The gardens are organized into desert, Mediterranean and tropical/sub-tropical areas and cover 15 distinct geographical regions. Quail Gardens is said to have one of the world's most extensive collections of bamboo species. The wind off the ocean blows up the hill and rustles through the tallest groves. Given the size of these stalks, it's hard to imagine that bamboo is actually a type of grass.

My daughter, standing amongst the stalks, gives perspective to their size.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

The Lily Vendor

When you hear "Chinatown", if your first thought isn't of Jack Nicholson, chances are you think of San Francisco. You might be surprised to know that there are Chinatowns all over the world, from Manila and Nagasaki to London and Paris, and from Liverpool to Ho Chi Minh City. Just in North America, there are sizable Chinatowns in Houston, Detroit, Boston, Chicago, Vancouver, Toronto, and three in New York City.

But the largest and most famous Chinatown is in San Francisco. It was first established in 1850 as a gateway for Chinese immigrants seeking their fortunes in the gold fields of the West or work on the transcontinental railroads.

The photograph was made by Arnold Genthe between 1896 and 1906, showing a lily vendor in San Francisco's Chinatown. Mr. Genthe chronicled life there and published a book. His entire collection of photographs is available online at the Library of Congress.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

The Rarest Pine

The Torrey Pine is the rarest pine tree in the United States, growing naturally in only two places - off the coast of Santa Barbara on Santa Rosa Island, and just south of here, along a short stretch of coastal bluff, where a 2,000 acre preserve has been set aside for them. They grow high atop the sandstone cliffs with coastal chaparral and seasonal wildflowers, their trunks twisted into fantastic shapes by the prevailing onshore winds. The trees have broad, open canopies and solid, heavy pine cones with edible pine nuts. Just north of the preserve is a salt marsh where birds on the Pacific Flyway migratory path make their stopovers. The preserve is one of the wildest stretches of coastline left undisturbed in southern California

Monday, January 5, 2009

What Yesterday Looked Like

Thomas, the cat who visits, stopped by as the last of the Christmas lights were coming off the front of the house. He had a bowl of ham and some cream and then curled up by the fire with a pinch of catnip for a three hour snooze. Lately, he spends less time patrolling the birdbath and more time fixated on gopher holes.

The field next door, where most of the gopher holes are. To the delight of the resident skunks, possums and occasional raccoon, our rainy December brought a lush layer of soft grass, with wildflowers to follow soon.

The angel's trumpet tree in the backyard is bursting with blooms. It's really supposed to be a shrub, but we've been trimming it into a tree for years now, so ferns and shade loving flowers bloom in the dappled sunlight beneath it.

The much-loved ginkgo tree has lost all but a hand full of leaves, finally. It's late this year - surely that means something, weather-wise. If you look closely, you can see the buds are already forming and it could start to turn green again any day now.