Monday, December 29, 2014

Hahamongna: Digging deep

I end every day of my life with some nagging question or other. According to recent studies, insomnia kills, so this nocturnal nagging-question thing is a bad habit, probably on par with smoking or drugs but without any short-term euphoria to recommend it.

Of the thousand questions I toss about -- just to peel a few off the top of my head -- the mystery of the stock market, the popularity of Garrison Keillor, and the City/County's desire to scrawl their bureaucratic graffiti all over Hahamongna Natural Watershed Park.

For those who don't know, Hahamongna Natural Watershed Park is a rough and tumble bit of wilderness that rubs shoulders with Altadena, La Canada, and Pasadena. Whatever rain falls on the Haha (3 inches last year, about 7 inches this year) sinks into the soil and recharges the Raymond Basin, or if need be, is held in check at the southern-most end by the Devil's Gate Dam.

Once part Flintstones-type rock quarry and part open space, the Haha is now a habitat for trees, owls, coyotes, wildcats, frogs, ducks, geese, hikers, camps, scouts, schools, horseback riders, photographers, mountain bikers. (Oh, and let's not forget the foragers. I took a hands-on class once, gathering edible greenery along the trails. For graduation, we made a salad. Let's just say, lots of bottled dressing -- that's the ticket.)

Anyway, what I've learned about local government, it's always open season on open space -- on nature of the natural kind if it exists within city limits. And the deck is stacked. Think Monopoly, except the game starts with your opponent owning all the real estate, hotels, banks, and utilities, while all you've got is the $2 house on Mediterranean Avenue and a tennis shoe.

Still, the tennis shoe triumphed a couple of years ago. The Pasadena bureaucrats took it hard, really hard, when public pressure lost them and their highly-paid consultants and committees a two-decades long battle to stuff the Haha full of parking lots, toilets, and soccer fields.

So, game-changer. Now a new set of hit-men and hit-women have come on board with a fresh group of hired guns. Last year and quite suddenly really, the county decided it's imperative to implement a drastic plan for silt removal to protect the dam's capacity. A five-year process that would denude acreage, drain lakes, destroy wildlife habitat, via 400 dump trucks scooping out the wilderness five days a week.

The public turned out in force, not just to protest, but to offer a viable and habitat-saving alternative. No go.

Our tennis shoe is in peril. Not to mix metaphors, I'm just incapable of doing otherwise, our tennis shoe is behind the eight-ball.

If you live in the area, and appreciate a bit of nature in your life, you might want to consider what 400 trucks a day over the next five years would mean to your quality of life. Here's a campaign, requesting contributions to save Hahamongna.

And if you don't live in the area, just keep an eye out for what might be threatened in your own backyard. Once these spaces are gone, they're lost and gone forever. If the five-year plan goes through, and Hahamongna is left a dusty, 850-acre hole, I guarantee one city or county council or another will get the soccer fields and hot dog stands it always wanted.

Monday, December 22, 2014

A Christmas Memory, in F Major

Music did not run in my family, it fled. Screaming, arms raised, seeking shelter, mercy, from a storm of sharps for flats, and flats for naturals.

We had no piano; no one sang, or if they did, there would be some listener's hell to pay.

Just to give you a vague idea, after try-outs for fifth grade chorus, my sister, my beautiful older sister, was one of only two kids in her class of 25 who didn't make the cut. So every week, while 23 of her classmates trotted off to join 46 others for choral practice, my sister and Steve Melman spent two hours in study period.

That my sister would be so singled out, infuriated my parents, and gave them the very reason they needed to boycott all elementary school recitals for the rest of our born days.

Including mine. Compared to the rest of my family, I was practically Leontyne Price. But they never knew that. And even if they had come to my recitals, they still wouldn't have known that. Not sporting those tin ears, they wouldn't.

Amazingly, though, my parents owned an excellent sound system -- high-end, better than all our neighbors, with a Dual single play/semi-automatic turntable, and a TEAC reel-to-reel player. A lot of bang when you consider they only laid out bucks for three record albums. The demo tape came with purchase, and my parents never considered buying another.

"Come fly with me, come fly, come fly away..." That was on the demo tape. My parents hated Frank Sinatra. "You think that's good?" Dad would scoff. "Oh, turn it off, or at least, turn it down," my mom would say.

When buying this sound system, they must have run into one hell of a salesman; the kind of guy who, if you go shopping for a magnifying glass, two hours later has you signing a contract for the Hubble telescope.

But back to Christmas.

Of our three albums, one third was Mitch Miller's Sing Along With Mitch Christmas Album. Since we listened to this record for one full month every year for maybe six years, I can tell you everything about it, from Mitch's Santa cap on the cover to all the liner notes.

So one year, I guess this would be about third grade for me, I spent my filthy lucre ($1 or so) on a new Christmas album from the Thrify's bin. Some compendium by the Norman Tabernacle Choir.

As we sat down to a dinner, I timed it to play when we tucked into our ribbe and such.

"What is that?" my sister screamed. "It sounds like the Salvation Army Band."

"She's right," my dad said, holding his head."My ears are exploding."

"Who can hit a note that high? Can Heidi [our second Heidi schnauzer] hear it?" said -- I don't know -- someone I still hate.

I suppose I got rather weepy at this point. And my mother patted my shoulder. "Well, it was nice of you to buy this for us. Maybe we should give it another listen, try it later. But you know what I think? I think now we'd all like to sing along with Mitch."

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Why I don't like rain

When two inches of water falls in the foothills, we get the vapors, and are liable to do any sort of crazy thing. Like lift a river rock and let it slide from the hands, directly on top of the left foot. Stuff like that.

And then you have two weeks where you've got nothing to do, but sit in a chair, moan, and watch the world go by.

But you know what the worst of it is? Depending upon where your chair is situated, you may realize things, things you've never noticed before -- for example, that painting of your grandmother, the grandmother you never met, but for some reason have the painting of, a painting that always creeped you out, because her eyes followed you around the room. Well, that painting has been looking over your right shoulder all these years.

And that's not the worst of it all.

The worst is -- after two weeks, you realize, the creepy grandma and you bear a striking resemblance.

Or maybe it's just the Excedrin PM talking.