Laguna Canyon Foundation is blessed to work with kind and generous volunteers, board members and staff. During the Thomas Fire, two of our own spent days in Ojai and Ventura doing what they could to help.
The call came in …
Laguna Canyon Foundation volunteer and Laguna Beach resident John Monahan has served as a Red Cross DAT (Disaster Action Team) Lead for more than three years. The Red Cross and its army of volunteers are poised 24/7/365 to assist and comfort residents when disaster strikes: fires, mudslides, cars running into their homes, earthquakes.
Most of the year, John shares a weekly schedule to be on call for local (Orange County) emergencies. This means, says John, “When I get the call, I try to make sure Red Cross volunteers are with the clients within an hour of the call to help them through these difficult days. We are focused on the individuals in their time of need to provide a variety of possible resources and services: money for lodging, clothes, blankets, food, prescription and medical equipment replacements, spiritual care and/or mental health services. A Red Cross case worker will follow up to see how the recovery is going.” Calls usually come in from first responders such as firefighters and police.
When the Thomas Fire hit, the Red Cross’s DRO (Disaster Relief Operation) was elevated to a national operation. Red Cross chapters which are local to the Ventura/Ojai area were called first, but as John explained, “The fire was so massive and so much help was needed, I was soon working shoulder to shoulder with Red Cross volunteers from Long Island and Bainbridge.”
As with local operations, the Red Cross volunteers were focused on the immediate needs of displaced victims. “We managed the shelter at the Ventura Fairgrounds and provided food, clothing, personal items and support to more than 300 people,” said John.
For the first three days, the volunteers stayed in a church gymnasium. One hundred and fifty volunteers shared a space with just a few toilets and sinks and no showers. “That was a bit tough — a lot of snoring, sweating, and noisy shift changes,” said John, “but then we were moved to Port Hueneme Naval base apartments which, of course, had showers and actual beds.” The Naval base, which became John’s home away from home for the next ten days, was about a 20-minute drive from the Ventura Fairgrounds.
“The smoke was a constant problem. As the fires moved north, the smoke continued to waft down through the Ojai River,” said John. “We were all wearing masks.”
The volunteers reported daily for 12-hour shifts. John’s specific assignment was to manage unsolicited donations. This included traffic control (cars lined up to donate), triaging donations that were useable for the current situation and donations that needed to be stored for further sorting, and securing a warehouse for the donations that couldn’t be used at the Fairgrounds.
This was a huge task, and at one point, when John was directing the line of cars, a woman pulled up with 30 – 40 bags of miscellaneous donations and several cases of water. She parked her car and helped unload her bags into the Red Cross’ U-Haul truck in an effort to keep the queue of cars moving. The air was thick with smoke. As her last bag was unloaded and she got in her car, she realized she no longer had her keys. “All of the volunteers looked stricken as we surveyed the long line of cars and wondered how long it would take to unload the fully loaded U-Haul to find her keys. As it turned out,” said John, “we found her keys which had slipped between two water cases and she was quickly on her way.”
“People like to donate material goods because they feel a closer personal connection to the people in the shelter. But it’s often very difficult to match the shelter needs with the donations. We probably received 25 – 50 times the amount of baby care items, bottled water and used clothing than was needed. Ultimately, the donations will be used, but probably not during the actual disaster at hand.
“Overall, the best advice I have is to donate money for all the facilities, food, bedding, vehicles, volunteer transportation and housing or, to make it more personal, donate time. We really appreciated all the people who came out to the Fairgrounds to help,” said John.
Because Red Cross policy requires that the perishable food served in shelters be from a commercial or professional kitchen, each local Red Cross chapter has agreements in place with vendors to provide food in case of a disaster. Food was brought in daily to the Fairgrounds and included pizza, Mexican food, sometimes even hot food from a mobile kitchen.
The Ventura Fairgrounds also had stables, which made it convenient to house pets and animals.
“It’s amazing the kind of details that go into an operation like this and I’m proud to be a part of the Red Cross. Most of us have never experienced a disaster,” says John. “That’s why I volunteer with the Red Cross, because it’s very gratifying to have the resources and experience to help when people need it most.”
“Ojai is where I’m from ….”
Laguna Canyon Foundation’s Outreach and Restoration Coordinator, Cameron Davis, grew up in Laguna Beach. But having lived her high school years at Ojai Valley School, hiking, camping and learning in the hills of Ojai Valley, it’s hard for her not to think of herself as an Ojaian. She also met the love of her life, James, at Ojai Valley School, and although the two now live in Laguna Beach, they still have many family members and friends in Ojai.
On a hot, dry Tuesday in December, as she prepared to lead 60 third graders on a hike to Barbara’s Lake, Cameron got a text from James. She needed to leave immediately to go up to Ojai. James had already left his La Mirada office and was on the 101 heading north. James’ father’s property was threatened by a fast-moving fire. He was packing his two cars and needed help. Also threatened was “The Ranch,” a citrus and avocado grove home to several horses, goats and animals, as well as many of Cameron and James’ family and friends.
Ojai Valley is rural, with a history of ranching. The Valley has a population of about 30,000 and has only three ways out. It is a small town, much like Laguna Beach.
Cameron ran home to grab clothes for James. She also grabbed whatever else seemed appropriate: water and cans of beans. She dropped their dogs off at her mother’s in North Laguna. Thankfully, since Cameron was preparing to hike that day, she was wearing appropriate clothing for the days ahead, because she didn’t end up getting clothes for herself.
James and Cameron met in Ventura to drop off James’ car “… at the safest place we could think of,” said Cameron, “the Patagonia store’s parking lot right under the security camera.” They picked up more water and headed east on the 33 toward Ojai. “There were no cars going into Ojai, just ours, and there was a line of cars leaving.”
James’ father, John, had already left his property on Ojai’s west side and headed east to what was a safer spot for the moment, the Ranch. James and Cameron’s first order of business was to pick up John’s second car and move it to the Ranch. “The neighborhood was eerily empty; there was smoke everywhere. John’s house wasn’t locked,” said Cameron.
The Ranch fast became a central place for family and friends — as many as 12 people at a time — to huddle together for the next few days, determined to protect the property and animals. “One of my high school teachers lives on the Ranch and she was not going to leave the animals and we were not going to leave her.
“For most of the time, we had electricity, giving us access to the news on the radio and the TV,” said Cameron, “but the coverage quickly moved to the Ventura fires, so we had little knowledge of how near the fires were to us.”
Enter #OjaiFire, @OjaiFire, and @CALFire. “I would have never guessed it, but aside from our ham radio, Twitter ended up being our best source of information. From tweets, we could better assess where the fires were.”
“Citrus doesn’t burn.” Old adage? Fact? Whatever the case, the Ranch was surrounded by citrus and it was a truth the group wanted to believe. “We hiked up from the Ranch to the highest point where we saw so many hot spots. The hills where we had camped over the years were covered in ash. Many streets and homes familiar to us were burned down; the air was thick with smoke.”
The days and dangers blurred together for Cameron as she retold her story. At one point, she recalled, the fire quickly turned, and now it appeared the Ranch’s east end was in danger and John’s house on the west side seemed safer.
James told the group it was time to leave, but many wouldn’t. “Citrus doesn’t burn” and they weren’t leaving the horses. James took Cameron, three dogs and three cats and drove the ten miles to his father’s home, only to return to the Ranch a few hours later as the fires took yet another turn. At this point, John’s house was still standing, although other houses on the street had burned down.
Throughout the days James and Cameron were in Ojai, the fires continued their erratic behavior. “We just lived and survived and monitored the news on Twitter and through our ham radio. We helped friends move belongings. We moved pets to safer places. We ate the beans I brought and made do with what food we could find; the Ranch work still needed to be done, so we fed the animals, worked on the irrigation in the groves, and cleared brush away from the structures,” said Cameron.
In many ways, Cameron’s Laguna Canyon Foundation restoration experience of planting, weeding and watering in our local wilderness assisted her. “If it wasn’t for all the smoke, it almost felt like at times, I was at ‘work.’ It was comforting to be productive.”
Cameron also made it a point to fill big tubs of water on the Ranch edges to potentially help the wildlife — and it worked. “We saw deer, bear and coyote tracks leading to the tubs.”
One day, Cameron and James ventured out to town to see what businesses might be open. Most were closed, but a coffee shop — and the location of James’ and Cameron’s first date — “Full of Beans” was open. They picked up coffee and muffins to take back to the Ranch. On the way back, they ran into an exhausted firefighter. He had come from Oakland and had been up for 24 hours. “Want some coffee?” James offered. At the word, two more firefighters came out of the smoke, and soon, James and Cameron were giving the firefighters all they could offer them: coffee and muffins.
Back at the Ranch, the group soon got word that Ojai Valley School had suffered much damage. The new tech center and many offices were burned and data was lost. The girls’ dorm where Cameron had spent three years of her life was burned to the ground, with only a brick chimney standing.
Staying until they knew their family was safe and grateful to know that John’s house, the Ranch, and the animals were all saved, James and Cameron made the tough decision to leave on the sixth day. “There was so much still to be done, but we had our jobs and dogs and life back in Laguna Beach.”
“Oak doesn’t burn.” Adage? Fact? When asked about a specific memory of her experience, Cameron recalls, “I was looking out into the wilderness surrounding the valley … nothing but white ash, a place that I cherish, where I grew up and developed my love for the wilderness, a place full of chaparral, now a total moonscape, except for one massive oak tree. Not one leaf was burned, just a little scorching on the trunk.”
When asked for advice to share with others about their experience, both John and Cameron said to get your to-go bag together now. Put important photos and documents on a thumb drive and/or the cloud. Create a plan with your family and for your pets. Imagine going through a disaster without your phone and car. Be prepared. When you’re told to evacuate, leave.
On a recent education hike at James Dilley Preserve, Marco, a 5th grade student, impressed one of our Field Educators by arriving with his Field Journal from the prior year’s hike. In it, he had continued his observations and drawings about nature and the open space. This was something we encourage: be inquisitive; be creative; enjoy nature – wherever you are – and write down your thoughts, sketch what you see, and make notes on what you want to research.
Since 2006, Laguna Canyon Foundation has been partnering with several Santa Ana schools to bring second through fifth graders to the South Coast Wilderness. In the open space, a living classroom, students learn from a different angle, in the fresh air and among native flora and fauna.
Our partnerships have grown. In 2017, we expanded to 12 partner Title 1 elementary schools. Using NGSS (Next Generation Science Standards) to ensure an informative and enjoyable outing for both students and teachers alike, Laguna Canyon Foundation tailors the hikes for each grade level:
Second Grade: Art in Nature
Third Grade: Adapting and Surviving
Fourth Grade: Let’s Create a Habitat
Fifth Grade The Power of Observation
There are several unique aspects of our education program.
- Free of charge to the schools. Laguna Canyon Foundation hosts, at no cost to the schools, up to 85 school trips per year, serving more than 4,500 students. Through the generous donations of our supporters and grantors we are able to cover costs of busing, supplies and staff.
- Students return each year. We are grateful for the commitment of the principals, teachers and parents who ensure the success of our program, which is designed so that each student – throughout their elementary school journey – may return from their second grade year through their fifth grade year. We build on the life sciences, growing and developing future environmentalists, conservationists and scientists.
- Our education staff are trained field educators. Prior to leading a group of students, our field educators, already experienced naturalists in our canyon, repeatedly walk the specific trails we will be using for our hikes with the students. They know to point out certain plants on the trails…where a woodrat nest is…where a fossil is. While they can answer many, many of the students’ questions, they also know that they are scientists too, learning together alongside the students on each and every hike.
- Each year, we “adapt.” With each outing as a new experience, we see ways to improve. We take input from our grantors, teachers, parents, students, field educators and volunteers to make each year better than the next.
As one teacher said, “Laguna Canyon Foundation’s education hike is often the only time my students get out in nature and, after experiencing it myself, I am grateful to see how seriously the field instructors take their responsibility. They make it really special for my kids.”
Learn more about our programs at lagunacanyon.org/education.
For the past 13 years, my husband and I have walked our dogs daily on the fire road between Moulton Meadows Park in Arch Beach Heights and Sommet du Monde, a private enclave with half a dozen houses. Time and weather permitting, we often go further, along Alta Laguna to Top of the World.
The southwest view from these walks is Laguna Beach, with all its beautiful homes, protected coastline, nestled canyons – Oro, Nyes and Bluebird – and the expansive Pacific Ocean reaching out to Catalina and beyond.
The east view is Aliso and Wood Canyons Wilderness Park, home to native flora and fauna and miles of trails including Mentally Sensitive, Dripping Cave, and Five Oaks. From our fire road perch, eyes lifted may gaze across the canyons to the ridgeline of Laguna Niguel’s Aliso Summit Trail and further still to Cleveland National Forest. Aliso Viejo landmarks such as the Ziggurat Building and Soka University can be easily spotted and, if timed right, one can even experience the fireworks going off at Disneyland.
Aliso Creek runs her 19-mile course from the Santa Ana Mountains to the Pacific Ocean through Aliso and Wood Canyons. Hills covered in mule fat, coast live oak, toyon, and coyote gourd rise up from the creek. Take a sniff: the sages are earthy and the coyote gourd will surely wake you up! If “earbudless” (not often the case in today’s world), one could perhaps hear a coyote howl, a warbler sing, a western fence lizard scurry, or a covey of quail coo-cooing, their call often described as “Chi-CAA-go; Chi-CAA-go.”
While the southwest view is what drew most of us – my husband and me included – to Laguna Beach, it is the east view, and the rich native habitat surrounding us, that has won my heart.
Laguna Beach is a cornucopia of individual neighborhoods, each minutes away from an amazing trailhead. The North Laguna “tree street” neighborhood has Dartmoor which winds up to Bommer Ridge, Emerald Canyon and many other trails in Laguna Coast Wilderness Park. Canyon Acres has, well, Canyon Acres Trail climbing to Westridge and beautiful Catalina views. Mystic Hills has Park Avenue Trail and its lush and rocky terrain, and South Laguna has Valido Trail with a quick 900-foot elevation gain, well worth the effort to see a spectacular view of Aliso Creek meeting the Pacific.
Our neighboring communities also have wilderness trails nearby: Laguna Woods has Woods End; Aliso Viejo has Cholla, and Laguna Niguel has Wood Creek, to name just a few.
And whether you’re reading this thinking, “Yeah, been there; I ride/hike it every weekend,” or “What strange names and places; I must learn more,” or something in between, these 22,000 acres of biodiverse habitat surely enrich our lives. As Laguna Beach residents, it is clear how much we love our city, our beaches, our culture and our neighbors. We take pride in our community. Inspired by The Saloon, our motto may say it best: “Be nice. You’re in Laguna!”
Let’s also love — and be nice to — our open space, that “east view,” the treasure that many Lagunans – more than 25 years ago – fought to protect against development. It is our backyard. Take a look. We must protect it.
Interested in learning more? Laguna Canyon Foundation has been protecting and preserving our wilderness since 1990. Call us; email us. We’d love to chat.
Laguna Canyon Foundation is hiring Field Instructors to support our outdoor education program!
The Field Instructors support the goals and objectives of Laguna Canyon Foundation by bringing awareness of and engagement with the open space. Throughout the school year, Laguna Canyon Foundation will host approximately 85 field trips, during which each field instructor will lead a grade-specific, educational hike for approximately 15 students and their teachers/chaperones.
During each grade-specific trip, students will enjoy an outdoor adventure that encourages a scientific mindset while connecting with nature through fun activities and exploration. Students will “think like a scientist,” and will leave with ideas and tools to explore and wonder about nature wherever and whenever they see a patch of green in their world.
Duties and Responsibilities
- Lead several educational hikes in the canyon each week during the school year.
- Adhere to written program guidelines (Next Generation Science Standards based) to teach children grade-specific curricula.
- Encourage engagement, observations and wonder with each student.
- Understand and carry out both oral and written instructions
- Performs other duties as assigned or requested.
Required Skills and Experience
- Commitment to the vision and mission of Laguna Canyon Foundation.
- Demonstrated experience working with children of a variety of ages in an outdoor environment showing patience and kindness.
- Ability to interact successfully with supervisors, teachers, and parents.
- Punctuality, flexibility and dependability.
- Strong oral and written communication skills.
- Knowledgeable of local plant and animal life and ability to memorize and recall facts, figures and information.
- Ability to hike on trails, in a variety of weather; ability to lift up to 50 pounds
- CPR/First Aid certified or ability to become certified (LCF will pay for training course); ability to respond to immediate needs of students, participants and hikers. Fingerprinting for a background check will be required.
Desired Skills and Experience
- Bachelor’s degree from a four-year college or university with coursework in environmental studies, sustainability, science or related field preferred.
- Ability to speak Spanish preferred.
Schedule, Salary and Benefits
- Education programs run from September 2017 through June 2018. Although programs could be scheduled any weekday, programs will be mostly on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays from approximately 8:00am – 12:30pm.
- This is a part-time position and pays $14 per hour.
- Each Instructor will work (on average) two days per week during the school year. Instructors are able to choose their own workdays within the overall program schedule.
Physical Demands/Work Environment
The physical demands and work environment described here are representative of those that must be met by an employee to successfully perform the essential functions of this job. Reasonable accommodations may be made to enable individuals with disabilities to perform the essential functions.
About Laguna Canyon Foundation
Laguna Canyon Foundation is a nonprofit established in 1989 that is dedicated to preserving, protecting, and enhancing the South Coast Wilderness, a 22,000-acre network of Open Space surrounding Laguna Beach in Orange County, California.
Originally founded to facilitate the transfer of land from private to public ownership so that its open space values could be protected in perpetuity, Laguna Canyon Foundation had evolved from a land acquisition organization to also engaging in education, public programming, assisting the Parks with trail maintenance, and conducting habitat restoration projects in and around the South Coast Wilderness.
To apply, send resume and cover letter to email@example.com. Applications will be processed on a rolling basis.
Where were you on the night of June 22, 2017?
Don’t worry; we’re not asking for your alibi, but if you weren’t at the Nix Nature Center at Laguna Coast Wilderness Park, you missed something special. With stellar support from Laguna Canyon Foundation volunteers, OC Parks Resource Specialist Laura Cohen treated more than 50 visitors to a beautiful and educational night in the park.
The visitors – of every age – could engage in several activities, including participating in a constellation scavenger hunt, learning about the sizes of planets and why each might be a difficult environment for living things, and understanding the difference between astrology and astronomy.
OC Astronomers set up six powerful telescopes. Science Heads brought their mobile observatory in which aspiring astronomers could tour a “virtual solar system.” While the actual night of June 22 had a bit of a marine layer limiting celestial observations, visitors learned that this was the best time to see Saturn and Jupiter.
So, where will you be on August 21, 2017?
You might want to consider planting yourself in one of a few selected states: Oregon, Idaho, Wyoming, Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri…and continuing across the middle of the USA down to North and South Carolina. Why? Because it is in these states where the total solar eclipse can be seen on August 21, 2017.
A total solar eclipse occurs when a new moon comes between the sun and the earth, aligning just perfectly. It is a rare occurrence. The last time a total solar eclipse could be seen from the United States was in 1979 and only from a few Pacific Northwest States. If you’re a planner, check out the Washington Post’s interactive webpage, illustrating when your next shot would be.
What will we see? The better question might be: what will we experience? Imagine, during a bright sunny day in August, the moon covers – eclipses – the sun…dim, dim, dimming the sun’s light as it moves across the sky, until the day’s sky reveals stars and planets. Venus and Jupiter, for example, should be visible. Remarkable, right? The moon almost taking over the day from the sun, creating a dark circle in the sky, with the sun’s corona fanning around it like a muted, silvery sunflower.
Our universe is, of course, amazing. We at Laguna Canyon Foundation – staff, volunteers, board and partners – love learning about our earth and our surroundings. It helps us better understand how we can protect and preserve this canyon that we love.
OC Parks Resource Specialist Laura is already planning the next Astronomy night at the Nix, on October 28, 2017. On this night, International Observe the Moon Night, we will share lots of fun activities. So please join us for a wonderful – full of wonder – evening.
While most of Laguna Canyon Foundation’s education programs are held amidst the beautiful coastal sage scrub landscape in the canyon, we do host a few field trips at Crystal Cove State Park‘s Reef Point tide pools.
Meeting the bus full of sixty fourth graders in the parking lot overlooking the beach, our trained Laguna Canyon Foundation educators debriefed both the adults and students about safety and caring for the delicate ecosystem before we headed to the shore. We learned not to remove anything and not to disturb the animals. We learned to walk slowly and carefully, keeping in mind that we are guests in these animals’ habitat. The eager children, their parents, and the teachers were excited to spend the morning on the beach.
Who wouldn’t love that?
So, imagine our surprise as we descended the dozens of stairs toward the sand to see a stranded sea lion on the very rocks and tide pools we were ready to explore. She bobbed and twisted her head slowly before lying still, her eyes closed. She didn’t look well, and the students, having just heard the rules of the tide pools, showed great respect for the animal. They kept their distance. The parents helped the educators guide the students around the sea lion’s area, going to tide pools further down the beach. One helpful parent took charge of 15 children while an educator texted Pacific Marine Mammal Center with a photo of the sea lion.
We continued our tide pool exploration, enjoying the sea air and observing hermit crabs, sea anemones, sea hares and many other amazing creatures, but most children focused their questions on the sea lion. “What’s wrong with her?” “What’s going to happen to her?” “Why is she so dry?” “Do we know if it’s a girl or boy?”
At that point, the educators didn’t have answers. What they could share, though, was that a great organization in the very canyon where we often hike, the Pacific Marine Mammal Center, was on their way to come rescue her and take care of her.
And that is what happened. Less than an hour later, the PMMC truck came driving down the sand and the fourth graders of Pio Pico Elementary got to witness, firsthand, a sea lion rescue.
That was April 18, 2017. The staff at Laguna Canyon Foundation visited Pacific Marine Mammal Center several times to see how the sea lion was doing. PMMC named her Betty Boop. She had domoic acid poisoning, which is caused by eating fish that have, themselves, fed on toxic algae blooms. These toxic algae blooms were caused by fertilizers and runoff from the rains earlier this year.
When we think of land and sea – greenbelt and bluebelt – it is easy to see how intertwined they are. What we do on land affects our oceans and vice versa. Particularly here, in Laguna Beach and Laguna Canyon, we can each make a big difference if we are responsible for how we dispose of chemicals, if we pick up trash on streets and on trails that would otherwise go into the ocean, and if we keep our distance and respect plant and animal life.
So, what happened to Betty Boop? We were nervous. The Orange County Register had reported that eight of 12 sea lions picked up during the early weeks of April had died, most showing signs of domoic acid poisoning.
It was with great relief that we heard from the PMMC technicians during one of our visits that Betty Boop was “a pistol.” She was eating on her own, acting very bossy and “ready to leave.”
After a few more days with PMMC, the staff was confident that she had a good chance to be back out on her own. With the staff eager not to keep her in captivity any longer than necessary, and with Betty Boop making it clear she wanted out, Betty Boop was released, healthy, on May 1, 2017.
Fill in the blank: American __________
Not many guesses would be American…Badger and do you know why? Cuz they’re not here anymore.
At Laguna Canyon Foundation, our staff, volunteers, board and community strive to protect and preserve the South Coast Wilderness. This land, which literally encircles Laguna Beach, makes Laguna Beach unique and far more than just another beach town.
Native populations of wildlife struggle against a combination of predator control, rodent poisoning, habitat loss, and habitat fragmentation – meaning we, as humans, might plow through their space with anything from unauthorized (social) trails to domestic dog walking to roads and urban development.
The American Badger hasn’t been sighted in the South Coast Wilderness in decades. The last local verified sighting was in 2014, near Santiago Oaks Regional Park. Little research exists on the Southern California badger population, but experts agree that its population decline is likely due to urban development of housing, highways and overall habitat encroachment.
Let’s add to the list of the gone or going…
Cougars, also known as mountain lions, used to roam the South Coast Wilderness. It is estimated that a single cougar needs, at a minimum, 10 square miles of hunting habitat, though given the chance their range can extend over hundreds of miles. Our South Coast Wilderness, checkered with habitat fragmentation, is about 22,000 acres (or approximately 34 square miles). Add to that the biggest social trails of the 5 and 405 freeways bifurcating the coast and its neighboring mountain ranges (San Jacinto, San Bernardino and San Gabriel), and any cat would have a tough go of getting here, let alone surviving. The last confirmed sighting of a mountain lion here was 2001.
Gray Fox. It is true, through OC Parks partnering with nonprofit organizations to track wildlife through motion-detecting cameras, that one gray fox has been seen recently in the South Coast Wilderness – one. Are there more? Based on tracking, scat, and other evidence, most experts say it is highly unlikely. While gray foxes are solitary most of each year, both male and female will share in the raising their kits. Does this gray fox have a mate? Does it have a chance of finding a mate? We don’t know.
Big-Leaved Crownbeard (Verbesina dissita). Sounds a bit like some old-man plant, but it is a rare, beautiful semi-woody shrub with bright yellow flowers. It is a California threatened plant species protected by the California Endangered Species Act (CESA) and is found in and around Laguna Beach. Our ecosystem counts on biodiversity and, as we lose native habitat, so we lose our diverse wildlife.
Other species that once called the South Coast Wilderness home but are now no longer here include the spotted skunk and the black bear. And there are a multitude of native plants on the brink as well, including the Laguna Beach Dudleya (Dudleya stoloniferea).
It takes time, commitment, patience and research to undo a population decline. Take the California condor. In the 20th century, due to habitat loss, poisoning (in this case, lead from the shot remaining in the carcasses of hunted animals), and pesticides (in this case DDT), the California condor population dropped to just 22 individuals in the 1980s, all in captivity. Through a shared effort among scientists, legislators, and concerned citizens, through breeding programs and regulations to eliminate use of harmful pesticides, the population was brought up to its current numbers. There are about 140 now flying free in California.
While hiking in Laurel Canyon recently, I was stunned when a geologist, who, let’s remember, thinks in terms of millennia, mused that even with climate change, pollution, and warming seas, Mother Earth will be “…just fine. She will survive,” he said. Then he added, “…maybe not the way we would want, with the beauty and life we see now, but she’ll be here.”
Hmm. Brings new meaning to Newton’s law: every action has an equal and opposite reaction.
If we build roads and housing developments, lo, even if we just create a “new” trail, we fragment wildlife habitat. If we kill predators, say, coyote, we get an overpopulation of rodents, say gophers, who mess up our yards, so we use pesticides, which get in our food webs and into our oceans, creating disease and death for animal and plant life.
We are part of Mother Earth; we belong here, too. As such, we have a responsibility to protect and preserve for generations to come.
Every one of our actions – every one – has an equal and opposite reaction.
“Look around, look around at how lucky we are…!” – Hamilton
Today, April 6, is California Poppy Day. Those of us who grew up in California know that when we see poppies starting to bloom, spring is here. Driving up the coast or hiking in the hills, orange is everywhere. Having learned in my SoCal elementary school (way back in the day) that it is our state flower, the sight of poppies always gives me a great sense of pride for “my” beautiful state, California.
The California poppy, with its bright orange and gold colors, generally opens only in bright sun and represents California well: California’s beautiful orange sunsets; California’s gold rush; our very own Orange County. The color orange is composed of equal parts of red (energy) and yellow (happiness). And while many outside of California might think of us as a little laid-back, I’d like to think, living in this wonderful place, we simply have a great balance of energy and happiness.
Even its many names give homage to the California poppy’s brightness and light: golden poppy, California sunlight, and copa de oro (cup of gold).
So it wasn’t a surprise that back in 1890 when the California State Floral Society held an election to determine California’s state flower, the California poppy was a home run winner over the other two beautiful flowers in the running: the matilija poppy and the mariposa lily. In 1903, the California legislature officially named the California poppy our state flower.
And, even before that “official” proceeding, local Native Americans, keenly sensitive to their land, knew the value of the poppies. They used the plant parts in various ways to alleviate aches and pains and as an anti-anxiety remedy.
It should be noted that although the California poppy is a distant cousin to the opium poppy, the California Poppy contains no opiates. WebMD states the California poppy contains chemicals that may cause relaxation.
Where do we see them?
California poppies grow in southern California, of course, as well as desert areas such as the Mojave Desert. They are seen as far north as southern Washington and as far south as Baja, Mexico.
When do we see them?
While usually the biggest bloom is in the spring, California poppies can flower from February through September, sometimes longer, depending on the weather and rain.
What are those things?
The California poppy plant has green-grey leaves. The flower buds under calyx cap. The calyx cap lifts off as the flower blossoms, exposing a furled flower ready to open. The California poppy closes, as a defense mechanism, if it becomes cloudy, opening again to the sun. How California cool is that!?! And, if you’re wondering what that longer “bud” (not really a bud) is, it is the poppy’s seed pod.
The California poppy lives up to its sunshine hype. “Look Around, Look Around…” Find a field of them and it will surely give you happiness and energy.
After all this glorious rain, the canyon is alive with earthy scents that linger in the cool, moist air of the trails. One of the many experiences that Laguna Canyon Foundation’s educators share with the young students as they hike through the canyon is what to smell: white sage (pictured), California sagebrush, everlasting, and bladderpod, just to name a few.
The educators teach the children how the local Native Americans, the Acjachemen, used white sage as a purifying incense at ceremonies and gatherings (and still do today). “Tar,” “cannabis,” and “lemon” are some of the words used to describe the scent of white sage. Quite a variety, right? And that is the beauty of the whole olfactory experience. We all sense scents differently.
The Acjachemen used California sagebrush as insect repellent and as bedding to drive away fleas. Folklore has it that it was also used by cowboys to mask their sweaty body odor after a long day herding cattle, thus its nickname “cowboy cologne.” For the most part, California sagebrush gets the children’s top vote for the best smelling. “Kinda minty,” says one student. “Smells like something my mom uses in the kitchen,” says another.
Everlasting, also known as cudweed, has a very interesting name as well as an interesting scent. Most people think of maple syrup when they smell it; a few think of vanilla. Recently, a fifth grade student, Angel, said it smelled like a pencil, to which the educator gave him a high five. “I get that connection,” she said. “A pencil is made from wood, or bark; maple syrup comes from wood and bark.”
Then there are the less celebrated creatures and plants of the canyon that may rival in pungency but don’t get as much love, because frankly, they stink.
When hiking by a bladderpod, the students chuckle at the name and the “bladders” dangling from its stems. Most don’t like the smell, which has been likened to “burnt hair” and “burnt popcorn,” but, the educators explain, the bladderpod is a source of pollen for bees, nectar for hummingbirds, and shade for many animals, providing vital resources for the ecosystem.
If you’ve ever hiked in Laguna Coast Wilderness Park, you’ve likely seen the stink beetle – a long-legged black bug about an inch in length – usually wandering around a little aimlessly. Most of the children will scream when they see it or try to poke it, which, of course, the educators forbid. With all the commotion, the stink beetle will do what stink beetles do: stick up its hind end into the air, as if doing a headstand, ready to squirt its chemical-smelling liquid to ward off predators. The scene turns into yet another teaching moment. The students learn that stink beetles, with their rather humble moniker, provide a great service in the open space. They are decomposers, breaking down organic matter, including animal waste.
Who wouldn’t take the dare to grab a big whiff of a plant called stinking gourd? Most of us would shun the idea, and with good reason. You don’t have to be anywhere close to that plant to smell what some describe as “dirty socks,” “body odor,” and “sulfur.” But, as with all native plants in our open space, stinking gourd has its role. The Acjachemen used its seeds for meal and its roots as soap. Sometimes called the “coyote gourd,” its fruit is a source of food for the coyote.
Stinks? Smells? Potato? Potahto?
With all our social media use, we can share much, including many of the beautiful sights and sounds of the open space. We cannot share smells digitally. That experience needs to be in person. So, go smell for yourself! What stinks to some is beautiful perfume to others. As the saying goes, “That’s why God made chocolate and vanilla.”