Friday, July 27, 2012

Albert the Hero

When I first found Albert, and didn’t plan to keep Albert, but couldn't find anyone who wanted an Albert in their life, I farmed him out to a free-range board and care training facility. I was travelling all the time, every week. It was the only solution; the expensive solution.

The trainers gave me updates every week, “Albert is special!” they said. The trainers, I’m sure, tell every owner their dog is special. But with Albert, they probably meant it. "Do you want to see him on live-cam?" they asked.

Oh, lord, no.

So after all this intensive, expensive training, well, Albert never did learn to sit or come or shake or heel, or whatever else the ABC’s may be in doggy grammar school. But for some reason, he took to this one trick. And I’ll bet your dog can’t do it. It’s the World War II Commando Crawl.

Take 1

Take 3

Take 7

Whew, that was close. I don't think the Nazis saw us.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

A Room of One's Own

Ever wonder how they repair the powerlines -- those located far from the trails, up a steep hill or mountainside? I never wondered either, until I saw it while hiking the other day.

A helicopter lowers the technicians, one at a time, in a rescue basket. This process alone takes maybe an hour or so. Once the workers are safe on the ground, the basket lowers bundles of equipment and tools.

The helicopter returns a couple of hours later and lowers something else. Hmm, as it's noon, what do you think -- more tools, or pizza?

Then, in the evening, the morning's process repeats itself, but in reverse. And the next day they do it all over again.

It's pretty cool to watch, but I can't help but consider, what with the expense of every helicopter sortie, more economical alternatives.

How about setting up a base camp for the two or three days it takes to finish the job. And I'm not talking about roughing it, but providing deluxe accommodations like this, the Outwell Montana. Were I a technician, I'd leap at the chance to spend a few days on top of the world, even fib about problems with crimping the wires and whatnot just to stay a little longer.

I, myself, have been shopping for a new tent. And lately, I'm all about the Brit catalogs. Cotswold, for instance; I don't know, maybe it's the fabulous model selection.

Cotswold is rather top of the line, but I absolutely don't want to be caught in the middle of a mountain thunder storm, surrounded by coyote and bear, having second thoughts about some Big Lot bargain.

Though the party tent above is too grand for me, I am smitten by these two zippy, sporty models: the Power Lizard Ultralite or better still, the Hilleberg.

I backpack, sometimes in company, and sometimes alone. So a tent that's less than three pounds? I am so there. Hell, my Chardonnay trail mix alone weighs more than that.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The dead zone -- but the natives are friendly

I’ll do anything to avoid hearing or reading the W-word these days. The issue has pitted husband against wife, neighbor against neighbor, and caused members of our local gardening group to pummel each other with their heirloom tomatoes.

Brutal, it’s been brutal.

So how about a visit to a place famous for peace and quiet – where no one shouts, and those from different backgrounds, cultures, and beliefs co-exist. It’s a place of quiet harmony, even though most permanent residents have nothing more in common than the same heart rate.

Yes, I’m talking about Mountain View Cemetery. I don’t think you’d call the pervading philosophy “live and let live,” but then, perhaps that’s the secret.

At Mountain View, the famous share the same real estate with the infamous and the not famous at all. And it works, even though they’ve got some folks with notoriously big egos in the same gated community -- scientist Richard Feynman, inventor and dreamer Thaddeus Lowe, Black Panther leader Eldridge Cleaver, to name only three.

And since local business seems to be the topic du jour, consider this: The Mountain View client base is fiercely loyal; more than 120,000 have checked in over the past 120 years, and not one has voiced a single word of complaint.

That, my dears, is customer satisfaction.

Mountain View first broke ground in 1882. Prior to that, not many options awaited Pasadena’s dearly departed. Most were laid to eternal rest in their own backyard or the back acreage of the family property. Which made eternity a relative term indeed, as land traded hands frequently, and excavation took place on a massive scale, for stores, houses, streets, railroads.

It wasn’t until the late 1800s that the “garden cemetery” concept landed in Southern California. The garden cemetery didn’t imitate a park, rather, city parks, eventually and for the most part, imitated the garden cemetery – with acres of lush grass, landscaping, shaded paths, trees, statuary. Cemeteries were not only a final resting place for some, but a recreational area for others. Visitors strolled the grounds, had picnics.

Though the permanent residents represented a diverse population, in the beginning, a cemetery wasn’t exactly a model of equality. Maybe the dead couldn’t take it with them, but they could sure as heck let everyone know how much they had to leave behind... [more on patch]

Sunday, July 15, 2012

The big sleep and restless thoughts

At Mountain View Cemetery this morning, but not for personal reasons.

Fifty years after I'm dead, I'd be mighty chuffed if someone left fresh flowers on my grave.

We don't charge by the letter, so let's give this chap the whole lovely quote:

Break, break, break,
On thy cold gray stones, O sea!
And I would that my tongue could utter
The thoughts that arise in me.

O, well for the fisherman's boy,
That he shouts with his sister at play!
O, well for the sailor lad,
That he sings in his boat on the bay!

And the stately ships go on
To their haven under the hill;
But O for the touch of a vanished hand,
And the sound of a voice that is still!

Break, break, break,
At the foot of thy crags, O sea!
But the tender grace of a day that is dead
Will never come back to me. (AL Tennyson)

And here rests a mystery. Here Rests Margherita. Born in Palermo 1880. And the last line: "Rapita Allo Sposo 1906." She Kidnapped the Groom.

Thursday, July 12, 2012


I’ve written before about a cheese, a particular cheese, its addictive properties, and the angry Italian dwarf who guards this cheese and will only sell it at his leisure.

The angry Italian grocer has very specific targets for his wrath -- just me and a couple of other innocents. For example, recently he waved his knife and yelled at a mortified young woman when she didn't ring in with the right answer on, "I aska you, Provolone, you wanna strong, medium, or mild!"

"For god's sake," I hissed at her. "Tell him strong, quick, before it's too late."

He hated me from the very first; that would be about 5,000 days ago. He took such an instant dislike to me, it was almost primal. In fact, in retrospect, I guess, kind of flattering.

But back to the cheese, this one cheese he sells. It’s crack cheese. He can keep all the other stuff in his store -- the wilted lettuce, curdling olive oil, and highly suspect Napoli Pickle Surprise. But the cheese, for the cheese, I'll endure almost any humiliation.

“I gotta fifteen sandwiches to make, so you gotta wait,” for example.

I used to stalk out of the store, here, at this point in the script. But I knew I'd be back; he knew I'd be back; I knew that he knew, etc. So why be coy?

But now there’s a new wrinkle.

Lately it appears, I’ve developed an allergy to this cheese. Hours after eating it, my face breaks out and my eyes get red and puffy, and I sneeze uncontrollably. At first I placed the blame on a long hike or too much sun. But after some clinical trials, I determined these were, undeniably, cheese-related symptoms.

Which makes my cheese orgy, practiced in the privacy of my own home, a little disturbing. But what are you gonna do?

I can stop any time, of course, but at this stage I classify the symptoms as uncomfortable, mild to medium, but not dangerous. Of course, if I start gasping for air or passing out, then we'll have to see about cutting back a little. Probably. Let's hope it doesn't come to that.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012


Sure, take my picture. Step over me, around me, on me --what do I care. It's 100 degrees in the shade.

What's left to write in one of my Altadena Patch columns could fit into a free-sample Trader Joes cup.

I've written about every local wild bird, reptile, chicken, dog, duck, cat, goat, horse, and rat. The effect of rats on the garden. The urban gardener, the gardening group, trees, tomatoes, bananas, herbs, flowers. Native flowers, and when to plant them, how they grow.

Growing native gardens in parking lots. Parking lots and stores. Stores, no stores, which stores, local stores, chain stores. The nice streets, blighted streets. The history of streets. Fireworks on the street. Street parades. Children in parades. Children in art class, children posing in trashcans.

Rules regarding our trashcans, rules and water usage. Water, and rain, too little rain, too much rain, rain at the wrong time, rain at unexpected times. Natural watersheds, watersheds in open space, food growing in open space. Open space and education.

Education, schools -- duo language, private, boarding, public, home. Homes, maintaining homes, and roofers, plumbers, electricians, contractors, written estimates, reading the fine print.

Reading and local writers, painters, potters, sculptors, musicians.

So I came up empty this week. Given we're now in the triple-digits, you'd think I could half-bake one little idea. But you'd think wrong.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

The 4th

Had to go around getting stories for this job and that. Which also means photos. This was my favorite.

Although I'm rather partial to this one.

And these appealed to me, for various reasons.

On the last one, I know it looks like she has a flag growing out of her head, but if you ignore that part, she has a sulky, sullen, stubborn expression. We have much in common.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Walking Lincoln Avenue (and what once was)

“Carl and Ruth Curtis…raised oranges and Russian Wolfhounds on North Lincoln from 1906. West Altadena developed as a haven of small idyllic ranges…” Michele Zack, Altadena, Between Wilderness and City

Lincoln Avenue was born and christened Fair Oaks Avenue sometime at the tail end of the 1800's. A dirt road leading to a middle- and upper-class pastoral paradise in Altadena, an extension of Pasadena’s main drag.

Aside from the craftsman house and groves belonging to the Curtis family, the adjacent areas included other small farms and dairies. You could ride your horse or buggy up there. Alternately, you could take the urban railroad which tracked the road about a half a mile to the west. The train brought the rich to their villas, the hikers to their trails, and the middle-income workers in Pasadena and Los Angeles to their own little piece of heaven.

At some point, a street to the east joined with the Fair Oaks of Pasadena, and this became the New Fair Oaks. They eventually rechristened the original Fair Oaks, “Lincoln Avenue.”

From the early part of the last century and up until about the 40s, West Altadena remained primarily agricultural. Though not entirely. In 1919, the dawn of prohibition, Altadena followed its own path:

"Altadena had a strong historical connection with grape growing, wine production, and resisting temperance movements." Altadena, Between Wilderness and City

Where the Community Garden stands today at Lincoln and Palm, locals and others from far flung towns, including Hollywood types, ritzed it up at the Marcell Inn -- a high-end restaurant that served fine food and hooch. Wow, we had a place for dining and dancing. Who’d have thought?

Times change.

If you amble south on Lincoln, from Altadena Drive to the sign that says West Altadena Business District, little of paradise remains. [More on Patch]