Sunday, May 31, 2009

The Tenacious Strawberry

Here is a beautiful old lithographed image of strawberries from New York City, circa 1868. Interestingly, the people who designed, engraved and printed the label sold the berries, as well.

The garden variety of strawberries so widely available to us today got their start in early 18th century Europe as an accidental cross between two varieties. Much about strawberries remains unchanged 300 years later. They are still picked by hand and usually graded and packed in the field.

The plants and fruit are more delicate than you might think. Over 200 pests, including beetles, moths, mites, aphids, slugs, weevils and fruit flies routinely attack the crops and the fruit is easily damaged.

Currently, the United States, Russia and Spain are the world's top three producers.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Meanwhile, Across The Pond

Yesterday we took a look at staid, practical American fashions for young women who wanted to ride when bicycles first became widely available in the late 1800s. Although innovative for their day, let's face it, they're pretty boring. At the same time, the French were being sold on the idea of biking in a much more freewheeling manner.

Artists of the day, commissioned for advertisements to promote sales of bicycles, created lithographed posters incorporating the contemporary art nouveau style. Beautiful, carefree women in flowing gowns were featured, reveling in the freedom afforded by their Clement bicycles.

These French posters are circa 1890.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Pedaling Back In Time

By the 1890s, bicycles were the rage amongst men and women alike. One drawback for women was the long flowing skirts that were the fashion of the day. Impractical for riding bikes, some tried riding side saddle or mounted glorified tricycles, neither of which solved the problem. Before bloomers became popular, the fashion industry stepped up with split skirts, shown above, in the June 1897 issue of Ladies Standard Magazine. A far cry from the skin tight lycra suits prevalent these days, these skirts were considered quite daring in their day, and their widespread use allowed women to enjoy the pastime of bicycling. One of biking's big appeals for younger women was the freedom to pedal away from hovering chaperones.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Friendly Faces At La Costa Farms

That's Lloyd on the right, proprietor of our favorite fruit stand. He scours the California southland for farm fresh produce every day, going from strawberry field, to pumpkin patch to raspberry bramble, seeking out the freshest, tastiest produce the local growers make available.

He's assembled a crew of loyal, hardworking, cheerful folks who hold down the fort when he's out in the fields. As noted in a previous post, he's the fellow with the little Pekingese dog that darts out and gobbles up any errant strawberries that drop on the ground.

He's a man who obviously likes what he does and makes our trips to his fruit stand like stopping by to visit friends.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Creature Comforts

My folks live just over the hill from here. The groundskeepers who manage the public areas there, rather than toss the trimmed tree branches into a chipper, cut them into fire ready lengths and stack them along side the road, free to whomever is willing to load and haul. It's been my good fortune to get three stacks lately - a nice mix of eucalyptus and pine that adds up to just over a cord. Stacked facing west into the prevailing onshore winds and summer sun, it will cure quickly and be ready to burn this fall. And there's a bonus - it's provided a home for someone new.

We have our share of skunks, opossums, and raccoons - they cut across or dig in the yard most nights. But the furry fellow pictured below in the shade of the royal palm is our first squirrel, and he's made his home in the stack.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Foolproof Flower Gardening ~ #11

Plumerias are easier to grow than you might think, especially if you keep them potted with a fast draining soil mix and place them facing either south or west. Along the coast, these tropical beauties call for full sun. They can be easily grown from cuttings and are available in pink, yellow, white, purple and red. Known in Hawaii as frangipani, this oh so fragrant blossom is used frequently in flower leis. This is the perfect flower to float in a bowl.

The flowers grow in clusters and the waxy green leaves are large and pointed. During the winter, the plant goes dormant, loses its leaves and must be protected from any freeze. During blooming season, it needs a high phosphorus fertilizer to insure maximum blooms.

We've had the best luck keeping this plant potted, gradually transplanting to larger and larger pots as it grows. We tuck the pot right into the flower beds and move it as the seasons change to keep the plumeria tree in the spot with the best sun exposure.

The illustration is by Kerne Erickson.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Land Of The Free, Home Of The Brave

Today we observe Memorial Day. The following is quoted from the Medal of Honor citation of Randy Shugart, who made the ultimate sacrifice as a member of Delta Force, protecting his fellow soldiers in Mogadishu, Somalia, in 1993, in a battle widely known as Black Hawk Down.

"Sergeant First Class Shughart, United States Army, distinguished himself by actions above and beyond the call of duty on 3 October 1993, while serving as a Sniper Team Member, United States Army Special Operations Command with Task Force Ranger in Mogadishu, Somalia. Sergeant First Class Shughart provided precision sniper fires from the lead helicopter during an assault on a building and at two helicopter crash sites, while subjected to intense automatic weapons and rocket propelled grenade fires. While providing critical suppressive fires at the second crash site, Sergeant First Class Shughart and his team leader learned that ground forces were not immediately available to secure the site. Sergeant First Class Shughart and his team leader unhesitatingly volunteered to be inserted to protect the four critically wounded personnel, despite being well aware of the growing number of enemy personnel closing in on the site. After their third request to be inserted, Sergeant First Class Shughart and his team leader received permission to perform this volunteer mission. When debris and enemy ground fires at the site caused them to abort the first attempt, Sergeant First Class Shughart and his team leader were inserted one hundred meters south of the crash site. Equipped with only his sniper rifle and a pistol, Sergeant First Class Shughart and his team leader, while under intense small arms fire from the enemy, fought their way through a dense maze of shanties and shacks to reach the critically injured crew members. Sergeant First Class Shughart pulled the pilot and the other crew members from the aircraft, establishing a perimeter which placed him and his fellow sniper in the most vulnerable position. Sergeant First Class Shughart used his long range rifle and side arm to kill an undetermined number of attackers while traveling the perimeter, protecting the downed crew. Sergeant First Class Shughart continued his protective fire until he depleted his ammunition and was fatally wounded. His actions saved the pilot's life. Sergeant First Class Shughart's extraordinary heroism and devotion to duty were in keeping with the highest standards of military service and reflect great credit upon him, his unit and the United States Army."

The picture shows Sgt. Shugart on the left, with his team leader, Master Sergeant Gary Gordon, on the right. The men fought side by side to save the pilot of the helicopter and both received the Medal of Honor posthumously. They were the first recipients since the Vietnam War.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

In Living Color

Charles William Bartlett was born in England in 1860. Trained initially as a metallurgist, he eventually studied art for three years in England and soon after in Paris, where he was introduced to Japanese printmaking. He had a successful career as a painter and was highly regarded by his peers. In 1913, his interest in Japanese woodblock printing and a sponsorship by his wealthy in-laws took him, accompanied by his wife, to Pakistan, India, Ceylon, China, Indonesia and finally Japan, where he worked with some of the most well respected artists of the day.

In 1917, after four years on the road, he & Mrs. Bartlett left Japan for England, but a brief stop in Hawaii was all it took for them to make it their permanent home, and he never returned to England.

These stunning woodblock prints were made by Charles Bartlett around 1920. Although he was a painter as well as print maker, his talent shines the brightest in his outstanding woodblock prints. The colors in these are so fresh it's hard to imagine they were created almost 90 years ago.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Along The Coast Highway ~ 1929

These pictures were taken when my mom was two years old, in 1929. That's her dad's business, here in town at the corner of Highway 101 and H Street. Back then, the unpaved Coast Highway was lined with towering eucalyptus trees and was the main road between San Diego and Los Angeles. My great-grandparents (on my dad's side) owned a boarding house with adjoining farm just one block north and my dad grew up one block west.

Once the Great Depression struck, people couldn't afford cars as readily, or the gas to fuel them, so Grandpa closed this business and opened a hardware store up the street.

Eighty years later, in one form or another, all the old buildings still stand. These days, the old service station is a consignment shop, the farm is a car wash, the boarding house is an Italian restaurant and the hardware store is a bicycle shop.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Seeing Something New Every Day

Walking on our local beaches, you see plenty of seaweed, sunbathers, surfers and sand. Mangoes, not so much.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

The Beet Goes On

Another photograph by Lewis Hine, documenting child labor across 32 states, this time in 1915, outside Ft. Collins, Colorado. Mr. Hine's own caption reads thus: "The prarie-wagon home of a family of itinerant beet farmers now camped near Ft. Collins, Colorado. The children 7-8-10 and 12 work steadily and I saw the tiny girl pulling beets after sunset on the following Sunday and they had not yet finished. The father told me "We got squeezed out of the mountains." One of the neighbors said they had been chased out because they wouldn't send their children to school. They are living on the edge of Ft.Collins and they boldly work the children in violation of the school law. They came from Log Cabin,Colorado. Oct. 30, 1915."

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Mollie And Her Sisters

The year is 1915 and 9 year old Mollie Keller and her 10 and 13 years old sisters are pulling beets in late October in Colorado. In the words of Lewis Hine, the photographer, "The overalls are used by many girls and women. They said they began sometimes at 5am, usually about 6 or 7 and work until 6pm with an hour off at noon. An eight year old works some. These four children with mother and father work a large plot of beets on contract near Sterling, Colorado. This family will make from $800-900 this season, with 2-3 hundred dollars in for expenses."

Work camps would spring up across Colorado for the beet harvesting season. One was called St. Petersburg for the high number of Russian families. Another was called the Pansie Bed for the bright colors the residents painted their temporary housing.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Foolproof Flower Gardening ~ #10

If you have need of a rapid growing, sprawling vine that tolerates wind, fog and/or salt spray, consider the Solandra maxima, often known as Cup of Gold. You'll need a sturdy wall or pergola, a bank in need of covering, or you can train it along a roof line or a sturdy fence.

Cup of Gold has large glossy leaves that can grow to 6" and the flowers themselves are quite spectacular. From a huge bud, (bigger than your hand) blooms a giant flower, bright gold with tracings of dark purple veins. The vine is evergreen and will bloom in temperate areas for at least half the year.

This plant is easily grown and only requires that you give it deep watering. It is widely available at home improvement centers in one or three gallon containers.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Down Along Sunset Cliffs

Business took us south earlier in the week, and with some time before our appointment, we hiked a bit around Sunset Cliffs. This area is at the very tip of Point Loma, which is along the north side of San Diego Bay. The cliff is tall and steep, crumbling in a lot of places, with fingers that jut out into the sea and hidden coves with sandy beaches. This stretch of coastline has a lot of ridable waves and the view from so high above the water is sweeping and spectacular.

Sandy trails follow the cliff top and curve inland when the edge is too treacherous. The terrain is typical coastal California chaparral - lots of low lying, drought tolerant shrubs, native grasses and an occasional eucalyptus grove.

The wind whips up the cliffs off the water, but the ocean stays calm, as thick kelp beds grow just outside the surf line.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

26 Miles Across The Sea

On a clear day, we can see the outline of Santa Catalina Island from the hill behind our house. It sits 26 miles off shore, a rocky island of only 4,000 permanent residents. The first European to set foot there was Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo in 1542, four months after he'd first landed in San Diego. Almost 50 years later, Sebastian Vizcaino "rediscovered" the island and named it for the feast day of Saint Catherine of Alexandria. For 300 years after, Santa Catalina island was home to fishermen, smugglers and otter hunters.

The main town is still Avalon, pictured above in a tinted photograph made by the Detroit Publishing Company in 1903. It was eventually developed as a tourist destination after being purchased by the Wrigley family, of chewing gum fame. With its proximity to the burgeoning population of Southern California, tourists were never in short supply. The photograph below shows a horse drawn carriage above Avalon in 1909.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

In The Conservatory With Mrs. Lincoln

There are surprisingly few photographs of Mary Todd Lincoln, the wife of our greatest president. This is one of the most interesting, taken by the famous Civil War photographer, Matthew Brady. While the Civil War raged, with the outcome far from certain, an Indian Delegation was welcomed to the White House and photographed in the Conservatory with Mrs. Lincoln.

The summary by the Library of Congress reads thus: Photograph of the Southern Plains delegation, taken in the White House Conservatory on March 27, 1863. The interpreter William Simpson Smith and the agent Samuel G. Colley are standing at the left of the group; the white woman standing at the far right is often identified as Mary Todd Lincoln. The Indians in the front row are, left to right: War Bonnet, Standing in the Water, and Lean Bear of the Cheyennes, and Yellow Wolf of the Kiowas. Yellow Wolf is wearing the Thomas Jefferson peace medal that aroused such interest. The identities of the Indians of the second row are unknown. Within eighteen months from the date of this sitting, all four men in the front row were dead. Yellow Wolf died of pneumonia a few days after the picture was taken; War Bonnet and Standing in the Water died in the Sand Creek Massacre; and Lean Bear was killed by troops from Colorado Territory who mistook him for a hostile. (Source: Diplomats in buckskin, by Herman J. Viola, p. 101)

Friday, May 15, 2009

One Summer Story

This is my neighbor, Kevin. He's made an appearance on this blog before - riding the bicycle he built a motor for, repairing my fence in the autumn rain when it blew flat in a storm, and surfing on some of the various state of the art boards he designs and builds from scratch...

This short video of him was shot by my daughter last summer. Kevin built this little paipo board and was riding it for the first time. The difficulty of actually surfing on a board this small cannot be overstated. The surf was junky, blown out and crumbling, but amazingly, he made that little board sing.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Along The San Dieguito River

There were still plenty of native flowering plants blooming along the San Dieguito River this past weekend. The coastal daisy, above, thrives all over the southland and reseeds profusely.

The tangle of orange, called Witch's Hair, is an airborne parasite that survives by attaching itself to other plants. It is common along the low coastal hills and easy to spot by its bright orange color.

This yellow flower grows abundantly on a large woody shrub. Drought tolerant, the plants thrived despite our sparse rain this year.

This native is new to me. It is a ground cover with clusters of small, starlike flowers, with grayish green leaves.

And lastly, the mighty dandelion, whose parachute-like seeds are easily carried on the breeze and insure it thrives around the world. The bane of many gardeners, the dandelion is actually a very versatile plant that can be eaten in salads, made into wine or brewed for tea.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Where The River Meets The Sea

We walked along the San Dieguito River last weekend. Just a couple miles down the coast from here, it flows through Del Mar, under the railroad trestle and highway bridge and empties into the Pacific Ocean. There's a winding path along the south side that affords a beautiful view.

The tide was low, so there were lots of sandbars exposed and we were able to cross under the highway bridge without getting wet.

A lone snail had tired of trying to make his way across the hot gravel on the path. He caught a lift on a cool, downy leaf to the other side.

A bee busied itself collecting nectar from a statice flower.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Foolproof Flower Gardening ~ #9

Alstromerias have been a topic here before, and if you want an easily grown, high impact flower for your garden, it bears another look. The alstromeria is a long blooming perennial and one of the best cut flowers around. It grows between 2-5 feet tall, so is best planted at the middle or back of a border. It blooms in clusters of streaked and speckled jewel toned flowers that some say resemble azaleas or orchids.

These plants are often overlooked at the garden center because of their price. They run between $7 and $12 for a one gallon plant, which seems exorbitant, until you consider that one plant can be divided at least three ways after the first year in ground. Once the plant has stopped blooming in autumn, simply dig down at the edges of the clump and lift out a section to transplant.

If you like gathering bouquets for inside, don't use scissors on this plant. Grasp the stem just above the ground and twist and pull it away from the clump. Cutting with scissors will slow its growth, whereas pulling the stem away cleanly promotes new growth and more blossoms. As with any flower for a bouquet, clean the stems of leaves below the water line and cut at an angle for maximum surface for water absorption.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Haiku Festival 2009

Elizabeth of the blog About New York and Tracy of Pink Purl have invited their readers to participate in their Haiku Festival today, by writing a poem and perhaps posting a picture to go with it. Thanks to them both for organizing the event and inviting me to participate.

Haiku poems typically have three lines with five, seven and five syllables.

Summer beckoning
Longer days, growing warmer
Spring shimmers away

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Hummingbirds At Rest

The hummingbird above is an Anna's, the most common type here on the coast. Although many migrate down south during the winter, a great number make their home here year round. The photograph below is of a leucistic hummingbird. This type is extremely rare most everywhere. Both photographs were taken by Chris Mayne, a local wildlife photographer. His new website is up and you can click on his name to check it out. He travels up and down the coast and across the West with his camera and has built an impressive portfolio.

Friday, May 8, 2009

As Time Goes By

Every Christmas my daughter paints a picture for me, from a photograph of my choosing. This is one of my favorites.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Voytek The Soldier Bear

Found as a stray cub in Persia in 1942, Voytek the Syrian brown bear cub was adopted by Polish troops stationed nearby, who fed him condensed milk from an empty vodka bottle. As he grew, he became the mascot of the units and was officially drafted into the 22nd Artillery Supply Company of the Polish II Corps.

He traveled to Iraq, Syria, Egypt and Italy, pulling his weight by moving artillery shells and equipment. Living on a diet of fruit, honey and syrup,and with a special fondness for beer, Voytek slept in tents with the rest of the troops. He was recognized for his outstanding contribution at the Battle of Monte Cassino, Italy, where he transported ammunition.

At war's end, he retired to Scotland and entered the Edinburg Zoo in 1947. Former comrades would often visit, whom Voytek recognized and encouraged to toss him cigarettes to eat, like the old days.

Voytek the Soldier Bear passed away at the age of 22 in 1963.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Foolproof Flower Gardening ~ #8

The trumpet vine is so vigorous a grower, if you plant it, realize you will need to devote some time to keeping it in check. It has a tendency to climb right over fences, walls and other fixed objects. Be sure the structure that supports it is a strong one, as the weight of the vine becomes considerable as the plant matures. Fortunately, its vigor is matched by its beauty and except for regular trimming, its needs are few.

Hummingbirds are attracted to the flowers, which fall away cleanly once they've finished blooming. It requires regular water, but not an abundance and it is hardy in many climates. The flowers come in pale purple and an orangish red. Word is that a yellow variety is available, but not that we've seen.

The vine stays green all year and depending on your climate, will bloom up to 9 months straight.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

On The Beach Again

The beach changes every day and you never know what you'll see down there... A temporary house of twigs can sprout overnight and last until the next high tide.

The shorebirds take it all in stride. High tide pushes the clumps of seaweed closer together and makes it that much easier for them to gather tasty bugs. The outgoing tide reveals the patches of sand crabs scrambling for cover, trying to avoid becoming the shorebirds' next meal.

Monday, May 4, 2009

"...Struck Me Dumb With Admiration"

"...Struck me dumb with admiration", wrote Vincent Van Gogh in a letter to his brother, describing his reaction to the artwork of his contemporary, Howard Pyle, American illustrator, author and teacher. Some say that "Those who can, do and those who can't, teach", but surely such was not the case with Howard Pyle.

Born in Philadelphia in 1853, Howard Pyle is still highly regarded. He taught at the Drexel Institute of Art, Science and Industry and founded his own school in 1900. N.C. Wyeth and Jessie Wilcox Smith were but two of his students who went on to widely respected and highly successful careers.

Howard Pyle was an author, as well, and his 1883 classic "The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood" is still in print more than 125 years later. These pirate paintings by Howard Pyle illustrated the "Book of Pirates". He traveled to Florence, Italy in 1911 to study mural painting and died there from a sudden illness.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Picking Peas In California ~ 1936

The photographs that Dorothea Lange made from 1935-1939 for the Farm Services Administration were distributed free to newspapers during the Great Depression and brought national awareness to widespread rural poverty and the difficulties faced by migrant workers.

Lange made this picture in 1936, when millions of people were displaced from the Midwest by the Dust Bowl and migrated west, seeking employment in farming communities up and down the state of California. A note in the margin of the photograph reads: "Ma'am, I've picked peas from Calipatria to Ukiah. This life is simplicity boiled down". This couple, with their makeshift home on wheels, actually had it better than most.