Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Foolproof Flower Gardening ~ #3

If you like a dash of fiery color in your garden, the blanket flower, or gaillardia, may be just what you're looking for. Most varieties are perennials and bloom profusely year round in temperate climates. Where the winters are more extreme, they will bloom all summer. They are drought tolerant and grow even in poor soil.

This member of the sunflower family is native to North America. It grows 1-2 feet tall and has a tendency to spread in a rambling manner, which makes it a good bulb cover. Another major plus is that once the petals have fallen away from the flower, the seed heads are still attractive. Once they have completely dried, you can gather them from the plants and sprinkle them elsewhere for endless new plants, which are easily thinned and transplanted.

The variety pictured is "Goblin", both blooming and going to seed.

Monday, March 30, 2009

A Hermit With A Brush

Born in Boston in 1836, by the time he was 50, Winslow Homer had become a recluse in Maine, living just steps from the Atlantic Ocean. He was known as the "hermit with a brush". As a young man, he said, "I have had no master and never shall have any".

During the Civil War, he had been sent to the front by Harper's Weekly to document camp life and battle scenes. After the war, he traveled to England and France, and eventually to Canada and the Caribbean, honing his skills, painting what was described as "the integrity of nature". He was an accomplished wood engraver, printmaker and oil painter, as well as watercolorist.

The painting above, "Kissing The Moon", was made in 1904. "Crab Fishing", below, was painted in 1883. Homer was truly one of the giants of 19th century realism.

Although he never formally taught painting, he counseled his fellow artists: "Look at nature, work independently, and solve your own problems".

Sunday, March 29, 2009

A Friend In Deed

This is Susan. Even though we both grew up in the same small town, we met 3,000 miles from home when we were teenagers, when she rented me a room on Maui for $30 a month. We've been best friends ever since and she's godmother to my daughter.

She's never thought of herself as remarkable. Many would beg to differ. She had a house completely blown away by a hurricane and started over from scratch. She took up windsurfing in her 30s and learned to snow ski in her 40s. She was the cooking assistant to one of the top chefs in Hawaii and was making noodles from scratch before we even knew pasta machines existed.

We've ridden bikes together the length of Yosemite Valley, clambered through lava tubes on the Big Island, and gotten lost hiking in the back country of Kauai during a torrential downpour.

We've been friends for 40 years now. The best part is, we always find something to laugh about. Today's her birthday. Wishing her many happy returns of the day!

Saturday, March 28, 2009

He's Got A Lovely Bunch Of Coconuts

This photograph was made at the Cambridge Midsummer Fair in 2005, in England. The gentleman is Albert Harris, who comes from a long line of fair vendors and grew up in the carnival business. He is shown tending his Coconut Shy, started by his mother, Mrs. E. Harris in 1936.

The game goes back years and isn't so different from throwing games popular on American midways at county and state fairs. "Shy" is colloquial for "toss" and the object is to throw balls at coconuts perched on posts. It used to be that when you knocked three coconuts off, you won a coconut. Different prizes have since been substituted and the game remains popular for fair goers.

H.G. Wells made mention of a coconut shy in his novel "The Invisible Man" in 1897. The charming photograph is courtesy of Andrew Dunn.

Friday, March 27, 2009

One Drawback Of Gardening

One of the only drawbacks of gardening along the California coast is coming into sudden contact with a few of the less than benign creatures who occasionally make their homes amongst the flowers. Spiders don't usually faze me, as brown recluse and black widows are the only two poisonous types in North America. Grasshoppers can be startling, as they blend so well and have a tendency to jump out of nowhere. Lady bugs, stink bugs, potato bugs, assorted beetles - they're welcome. Seeing a lizard dart across the patio is no big deal, but coming upon one unawares is something else again. Case in point - the beautiful mosaic shown above is the back of an alligator lizard, which appeared in response to the hose being turned on.

This fellow popped out of the flowers and into the sun on the side of the house. Neither of us was all that happy to see the other. Mainly, alligator lizards eat bugs, but they'll tangle with cats and aren't shy about biting humans. Let me put it this way - they're called alligator lizards for a reason. This particular lizard was about 15 inches long, and would have been longer, but part of his tail was missing, probably from a previous encounter with a raptor. After something of a stand-off, he held his ground and my gardening efforts were redirected elsewhere.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Erstwhile Noonan's Point

This local landmark has been pivotal to my family going back generations. My great grandparents farmed and ran their boarding house just down the road, and both are buried under what is now an asphalt parking lot, across the street from the house where my dad grew up during the Great Depression. The neighborhood kids had the run of the beach then, clambering over the reefs, fishing, building forts in the cliffs, making their own fun. They liked to kick back and reflect while smoking string or spiderwebs in corn cob pipes.

Back then, it was called Noonan's Point, for the family who owned the land. In the late 1930s, the property was purchased for Paramahansa Yogananda, who built a spiritual retreat there which still stands today. Ever since then, the point has been known as Swamis.

Parts of the cliff have crumbled away and the reefs have changed over the years, but much has stayed the same. It still produces one of the best quality waves in California. Now it's my daughter who spends time there, either surfing or stand up paddling, enjoying the natural world.

Thanks to J.P. St. Pierre for the beautiful photograph.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

A Low Tide Afternoon On The Beach

Unbeknown to me, a new application on the camera was accidentally triggered and in effect when these photographs were taken yesterday afternoon on the beach. The effect is actually kind of pleasing - it seems to have saturated the photographs with green.

Above, a flock of curlews finds a patch of something to eat. They were too busy to be distracted by the camera.

Below, a tourist family, having fun on vacation. Spring Break isn't limited to any one week anymore, so our tourist season has officially started, and will continue until Labor Day.

The air temperature was in the low 70s, but the water is still in the mid 50s. Some people were braving the water without a wetsuit, but my daughter wasn't one of them. That's her, making her way to shore, stepping over the reefs that are exposed at low tide at Swamis.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Foolproof Flower Gardening ~ #2

Meet the red valerian, also know as Jupiter's beard. This useful, hardy flowering perennial has been called "rank, invasive and much maligned". Actually, it's a sturdy plant whose flowers make excellent, long lasting cut flowers for bouquets and its parachute-like seeds insure that you will have seedlings galore for transplanting. If you have a trouble spot in your garden, a hot spot where nothing much will grow, give valerian a try. It can grow quite unruly, but can be shaped by trimming and will tolerate a lot of neglect. Keeping spent flowers trimmed will promote more blooms. Poor soil? Irregular water? Despite both, red valerian will thrive.

As it's not a good choice for baskets or pots, maybe you can find a place in your flower bed for this hard working, long bloomer. Once valerian becomes established in your garden, it will self sow for years to come. And an added bonus - hummingbirds love it.

Monday, March 23, 2009

A Wild West Atlantic Crossing

When William Frederick Cody, aka Buffalo Bill, took his Wild West Show to London, Queen Victoria loved it so, she attended the four hour show three times. The above picture is of the entire cast, making the Atlantic crossing for their 1887 appearance in England. The show consisted of a mock stagecoach attack, Indian war dances, and trick ropers, riders and shooters. Sitting Bull, Annie Oakley and Calamity Jane all starred and the entourage included a contingent of western wild animals, as well.

By the time of their London show, Cody, a former Army and prairie scout and buffalo hunter, had become an internationally famous Western icon whose name was synonymous with the Wild West

He and his adventures were a recurring theme of dime novels into the 20th century. The picture below is of one such dime novel, published in 1906. Both images are courtesy of the Library of Congress archives.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Remembering Sonjia

The photograph was the occasion of my eighth birthday, held locally at Glen Park some many decades back, with by today's standards, a very politically incorrect hobo theme. That's Sonjia, second from the left in the front row. We were friends all the way through school together, from kindergarten to the twelfth grade. Our parents were best friends and our families took vacations together, so some of my fondest childhood memories include Sonjia. She was an accomplished pianist and singer who worked professionally as a child, but remembered most for the bubbling personality and unfailing good humor that show through so clearly in the photograph.

She moved to Oregon years ago and it's been a long time since we've seen each other. March 22 is her birthday and not a year goes by that she isn't remembered warmly and with the greatest affection.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

In A Fog

When the inland deserts start to heat up, we get fog and gray skies along the coast. This week was no exception. In the early mornings, it's been downright cold on the beach and so foggy you can barely see the outside waves.

There was an odd phenomena along part of our walk. There must have been an algae bloom of some kind out on the reefs, as the sand was tinted pale green in some parts. You can see the green faintly in the photograph above. The feather caught my eye - it must have just landed on the sand, as the waves hadn't yet pulled it out to sea.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Gliding Into Spring At San Elijo Lagoon

The shallow water estuary that forms our town's southern border is called San Elijo Lagoon. A coastal ecological reserve protected by the California Department of Fish and Game, it covers 1,000 acres and includes 700 species of plants and animals.

The area was named San Elijo in 1769 by Spanish explorer Gaspar de Portola. He was credited with having founded San Diego and was later the first governor of both Alta & Baja California.

These days, the reserve is crossed by 8 lanes of interstate freeway, four lanes of Highway 101 and train trestles. The thousands of birds who make their home in the lagoon don't seem to mind a bit. Many stop off by to rest on their migrations north and south as the seasons change, but others find the food supply so to their liking that they set up permanent residence.

Thanks to wildlife photographer Chris Mayne for sharing the picture he took at San Elijo.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

The Widow At 239 Arch Street

Born in 1752, the eighth of 17 children, Elizabeth Griscom was raised in the Society of Friends. Once she graduated from public Quaker school, she worked in an upholstery shop, where she soon fell in love with a young man named John Ross, a fellow apprentice. With him being of another faith, their marriage was forbidden, but when she turned 21, they eloped and were married in a tavern in New Jersey. When word got around, she was expelled from the church and turned away by her family. Regardless, the marriage was a happy one and they worked as upholsterers and had two children.

Three years later, in January of 1776, as a member of the Pennsylvania militia, John was killed when the ammunition storehouse he was guarding exploded. A widow at 24, Betsy continued working and raising the children as best she could. Five months after John's death, at the behest of General Washington, Betsy created a flag for the Continental Army to rally behind. She soon joined the "Fighting Quakers" and married a sea captain. In 1783, informed by an old friend who had been his cell mate, she learned her husband had died in an English prison. She and the cell mate married and had five daughters. Betsy continued to work as a flag maker and upholsterer until 1827, when her daughter took over the business. Betsy Ross lived to be 84.

The picture is of the house in Philadelphia where she lived as a young bride and where she sewed the first American flag.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

In Hot Pursuit

When Thomas, the neigbors' cat, comes to visit, it's usually for a meal, some affection, a little catnip and an occasional nap. But now and again he turns his ears just so, and that means he's ready to play.

We pull a thin length for him, with beads on the end. He loves the challenge and chases it all over the yard. Running and jumping, he literally bounds across the grass and launches himself into the air.

He shows great form in the last photo - Mikhail Baryshnikat! We tired him out and he headed to the shade by the bird bath, to rest and recharge.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

St. Patrick's Day

Darby O'Gill wasn't just a figment of Walt Disney's imagination. Leprechauns are a staple of Irish folklore and mythology, going back centuries. Believed to live in fields of shamrocks, they are solitary creatures, male fairies who often take the form of tiny, old men, bent on mischief and trickery, and not to be trusted. Believed to control great buried treasure, legend has it one can find their riches at the end of a rainbow. It is also believed that to capture a leprechaun, you must hold one in your sight. The moment you look away, they escape.

The Victorian postcard below is by the famous printer Raphael Tuck. It reads "A simple little shamrock that grows on Erin's Isle".

Monday, March 16, 2009

Foolproof Flower Gardening ~ #1

With Spring just around the corner, you may be ready for some color in your flower beds. Not everyone has the time, nor the inclination to put hours every week into the garden. So for the next few weeks, periodically there will be some easily grown, readily available, low maintanence flowering perennials and annuals put forward for your consideration.

First up, we have the mighty cranesbill. Don't let the delicate look of this sweet perennial fool you - it is a hardy, tough plant that blooms profusely in full sun or semi shade, in your flower beds, containers or baskets. With regular water, it will bloom almost year round. It works well as a ground cover, as well. If it gets too scraggly, you can give it a "haircut". Don't be shy about it - gather the long stalks together and trim away. You'll have new growth within days. Those of you in colder climates may need to check for its hardiness in your zone.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Our Local Post Office

Our post office has been here since the early 1950s. It wasn't an existing building that was converted, but was originally built to be a post office. It's small enough that it only has one clerk.

Clerks tend to stay for years. Mr. Dawson was there throughout my childhood. He watched us grow up and we saw him grow old. Then Richard and Karen took turns for many years. Currently, Randy is the clerk. He knows everyone's names and calls out a greeting even if you're just checking your mailbox and don't need anything at the counter.

There's a huge post office in town, the main branch, with at least 6 clerks, always jammed with people and cars all over the parking lot. People come from miles out of their way just to use the friendly little post office where Randy remembers your name.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

A Random Scene From The Civil War

A random moment in time, captured 148 years ago in 1861. The location is not known, nor are the names of the five Union soldiers nor the boy. They gathered away from the battle, on the dirt porch of a tiny wooden house in the countryside. Someone's sons, brothers, and husbands. The photograph is courtesy of the Library of Congress' Civil War Collection.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Local Feathered Friends

Seagulls are found near almost any waterfront and range over thousands of miles. Our locals are herring gulls (orange feet) and California gulls (yellow feet). They can drink both salt and fresh water, thanks to a pair of glands just above their eyes that enable them to flush salt from their systems through an opening in their bills. They build their nests at ground level and lay 2-3 eggs at a time, but it is unusual to see baby gulls, as their protective parents keep them nest bound 6 months after hatching and they look more like young adults once they take to the sky. Although some consider gulls to be pests, these web-footed friends are content to scavenge shorelines and tidal waters and do more than their share of keeping our beaches clean.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Along The Coast Highway

The main thoroughfare through town is still Old Highway 101. Until the late 1960s, it was the main road between San Diego and Los Angeles. Now there's an eight lane freeway that most people use to get where they're going. But if you have enough time to set a leisurely pace, the Coast Highway is definitely the scenic route. It runs right next to the beach at times, crosses over the lagoons, and through the small beach towns that sprang to life when the railroad was built in the 1880s.

The beach towns each have a flavor of their own. The picture below shows one of our more colorful neighborhood stores. It's been a market for as long as any one can remember, and the building itself dates back to the 1930s.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Along The Silk Road In 1905

This is another in a series of photographs taken by one of the pioneers of color photography, Sergei Prokudin Gorsky. who was sponsored by the Tsar to document life in the Russian Empire.

His lengthy travels took him to Samarkand, the second largest city in Uzbekistan, an historic city that occupied an important position on the Silk Road, between China and the West. In 1220 it was sacked by Mongols under the leadership of the legendary Genghis Khan and didn't come under Russia control until 1868. Today, Samarkand is one of the oldest inhabited cities in the world.

This 1905 picture was originally taken through three different color filters that were later projected together and combined to create the final print. It shows a group of Jewish students and their teacher.

The image is courtesy of the Prokudin-Gorsky collection in the Library of Congress.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

What The Bees See

Here is a bee's eye view of some common garden flowers. The first is an extreme closeup of a perennial nemesia.

The second picture is a viola.

The last picture is an African daisy.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Winging It

It took a camera with a shutter speed of 1/3,000th a second to capture these hummingbirds in flight. Medium sized hummingbirds beat their wings 25 times a second, while the smallest of the species beat theirs an incredible 70 per second. To support this high level of activity, their hearts beat 1.260 times per minute.

When they sleep, they enter a state called "torpor" that reduces their need for food as their heart rate slows down to 50-180 beats per minute. If they survive their first year, they may live for 3-4 years. One tagged hummingbird lived twelve years.

To prepare for long distance migrations, they store up fat for fuel and increase their weight by up to 100%. Thus, they are able to fly nonstop 500 miles across the Gulf of Mexico as they head south to more tropical climes.

Thanks to local wildlife photographer Chris Mayne for the pictures.

This is the 99th plate illustration from the 1904 book "Kunstformen der Natur" by Ernst Haeckel, showing 12 varieties of hummingbirds.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Let Me Hear Your Balalaika Ringing Out

This photograph takes us back to the Russian countryside in 1875. staged to capture the lighter side of peasant life. The family gathers around an outdoor table and while young Sergei pours refreshments, Uncle Vlad tunes his balalaika.

Elsewhere, the world was less than bucolic. That same year, students at Tufts and Harvard played the first game of college football, Wimbledon replaced their croquet field with a grass tennis court, and the Tong wars began in San Francisco. Ethiopia repelled an invasion by Egypt - twice, and the United States Congress passed the Civil Rights Act, which outlawed discrimination on juries and in accommodations. Brigham Young University was founded in Provo, Utah and notorious Democrat politician Boss Tweed escaped from prison and fled to Cuba.

And a family in Russia donned their finest clothes and chapeaux, brought their treasured samovar outside and posed in front of their home for photographer B. Avanzo. This charming photograph is part of the collection of the Library of Congress.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

The Art Of The Poster

The lithograph poster above, printed in Paris, was created by Francisque Poulbot in 1920 to encourage the French to invest in the recovery effort from the destruction caused by World War I. The little girl wears a torn dress, the colors of the French flag, and a Phrygian cap, the symbol of the French Revolution, as she stands amid the rubble of war.

The lithograph poster below was printed in 1917, while the war still raged and victory was far from assured. The artist, George Belin Scott, shows Marianne, the symbol of French values, holding a sword and a French flag, leading marching soldiers. It translates: "For the Flag! For Victory! Subscribe to the National Loan".

Both images are courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Bygone Culinary Treats ~ Bon Appetit!

Back before the advent of supermarkets, refrigeration and overnight transoceanic delivery, cooks were more limited to preparing what was readily available. In New York City in 1916, that included fresh possum.

If you're an adventurous eater, thanks to the wonders of the internet, recipes for stuffed possum, possum stew and even possum pancakes are just a mouse click away. Here's a recipe from recipeland.com for Stuffed Possum.

Remove the tail and head from your skinned and dressed possum. Soak in a salt brine for an hour. Rinse and stuff with 1 chopped onion, 1 tbsp bacon drippings, 1 cup bread crumbs, 1 tsp red pepper flakes and 1 egg, mixed. Roast at 350 degrees in a black iron pot with a little water for 1.5 hours.

Although possums amble through our yard on a nightly basis, it's unlikely we'll make a meal of them any time soon. But thanks to the George Grantham Bain Collection in the Library of Congress for giving us a look back in time.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Fresh Color In The Garden

If you tucked some spring blooming bulbs into your flower beds last autumn, it should be paying off big time right about now. One of the most reliable bulbs is the Dutch iris, pictured above. With long strappy foliage that adds nicely to cut flowers, Dutch irises will return faithfully year after year as long as you can keep them out of the path of hungry gophers. It's also a good idea to keep an eye out for snails, who like to feast on tender, unfurling buds. Irises make great cut flowers, with a long vase life if you keep the water fresh. They look beautiful on their own or mixed with less formal flowers.

Fressias are another consistent bloomer, whose numbers will increase year after year. These corms grow closer to the surface than iris bulbs, so if you accidentally pull one up while weeding or transplanting around one, just push it back under the soil, making sure the root end is down. If you're ever at a loss to know which end is up on a corm, plant it on its side and the shoot will find the surface on its own.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

The Wayward Warbler

This is a mangrove warbler, the first ever sighted in San Diego. These little fellows usually live in in the coastal swamps of Central America, northern South America and the Galapagos Islands. No telling how it got this far north, but he seems none the worse for wear after a long journey. Mangrove warblers live on a diet of spiders and insects, so he shouldn't be missing any meals.

The photograph is courtesy of Chris Mayne, a Southern California wildlife photographer, whose wife, Carole kindly shares his latest work via group emails. Thanks, Chris and Carole!