Friday, December 28, 2007

Happenings: Winter Gold and Counting Winter Birds

In Southern California, winter is more of a suggestion than an event. Yes, it has been windy and yes, it has dropped below freezing, but the plants and beasts around us manage to do just fine. In this post, I discuss some native trees that are just now showing their best seasonal color. Apparently, they're completely unaware that it's basically January and that all decent trees should be naked by now. Likewise, birds continue about their business despite the chill. To some birds, SCV is the "south" referred to in "flying south for the winter", and below you'll find a few pictures of and an opportunity to get to know your flighty neighbors.

Leaves of the Fremont’s Cottonwood (top) tremble in the slightest breeze. Their shimmering creates a pleasant, dry rustle. The leaves of Arroyo Willow (bottom) form perfect, golden tapers that align parallel to the wind.

Gold definitely dominates the foliage scene. While it is brightest in the cottonwoods (left), the hue works with red to give warmth to the foliage of Narrowleaf Willows, and gold veins help the russet leaves of sycamores glow(right).

White-crowned sparrows (above) winter in the SCV. On a walk through the Santa Clara River, they seemed to be everywhere. I watched one flock scratch through fallen willow leaves for insects and seed. Though sparrows may appear completely engrossed in their search for food, they always keep an eye out for trouble. This vigilance pays off. Shortly after I’d found them, several members of the flock gave high, thin whistles of alarm and the birds hurled themselves into a nearby tangle of willow. Seconds later, the culprit—a small falcon called an American Kestrel—passed just overhead, slicing the wind with its scimitar wings.

A male Merlin, another small falcon and dispatcher of sparrows, also had his eye on the flock from his perch in a nearby backyard. According to Brian Wheeler[1], the Merlin “kills prey by breaking the neck with its notched bill. All prey are decapitated […] legs and leg bones may be swallowed whole.” With neighbors like these, SCV’s sparrows are never left wanting for terrifying ways to die.

Where To Go For a Nature Fix Right Now:

*Christmas Bird Count (tomorrow, Saturday the 29th, 7am) through Castaic, Bouquet Canyon, Placerita, etc…
The Christmas Bird Count in SCV is one of thousands nationwide. Typically, Claritans get up very early and find tens of thousands of birds of around 130 species. The birds are identified and counted so that ornithologists can spot trends like range expansions or population declines. And not all the birds are crows and pigeons—Golden Eagles, Costa’s Hummingbirds, Horned Larks, and other cool creatures should also be seen. I’ve been on a “CBC” before, and they’re actually kind of fun in a completely bizarre sort of way. Even if you know little to nothing about birds, you can help keep a tally of the thousands of fowl that get identified and counted. I say that everybody should go on a Christmas Bird Count once—you’ll enjoy nature, have a wonderfully strange story to tell, and the bird people are generally quite agreeable.

To attend, meet at Western Bagel (in the K-Mart Shopping Center on the corner of San Fernando/Soledad) at 7am sharp on Saturday, December 29th. Bird counting will continue until 1pm, but you're free to leave whenever. Bring heavy jacket, water, snacks, binoculars. Leave sanity at home.

*South Fork Trail
This is an ideal place for a brisk walk and exactly where I went to glimpse the winter color in this post. Simply travel east on Magic Mountain Parkway past the Barnes & Noble Shopping center and turn right into the gravel lot that comes just before you cross a bridge over the river. If you can hear the crackle of power lines overhead, you’re in the right spot. Walk south on the path for the best color. The trail can also be biked, but if you or your spawn use scooters, those hand-cranked bikes, or other obnoxious forms of transportation, I will openly mock you should I also be present on the path. Light is the best in the hours just before sunset; the golds and yellows all around you really start to pop.

[1]This is the Brian Wheeler who authored Raptors of Western North America, Princeton University Press, 2003

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Only in SCV: Christmas Challenges, Light Displays

Certain Santa Claritans have been making it very challenging for me to be merry this Christmas. Don’t get me wrong—I still heart you all. But when I’m in a drive-thru line and forced to sit behind a Mercedes Benz crossover with a license plate holder reading “Two princesses, One stressed out queen” and two DVD screens playing Dora the freakin’ Explorer for the two little princesses while the driver (A.K.A. “stressed out queen”) is trying to talk on her cell phone and order at the same time, well, I have to try harder than normal to keep the spirit of the season in my heart.

In any case, we were in the drive-thru line to get sustenance for a tour of Christmas light displays, a family tradition that has changed little in two decades. As I ate some fries and the nightmarish Mercedes began to fade from my mind, I came to another unfortunate realization. Every year, it gets just a little bit harder to see lights as ever more valley homes fall behind the fortress-like walls of gated communities.

Here, for example, a gate prevents me from appreciating the festive show of lights in Bridgeport’s “The Island” community. Homeowners must appreciate these gates. God only knows how many unsavory characters are lurking around and trying to steal a glimpse of their pretend, 7-foot deep lake.

Other communities proved more conducive to light viewing. After admiring the efforts of hundreds of Claritans, I finally decided on my three favorite homes. Enjoy, and Merry Christmas Eve!

1st Place

2nd Place

3rd Place

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Happenings: 'Tis(dale) the Season for Nose Jobs...and Babies

WARNING: You are about to read about stars Jamie Lynn Spears and Ashley Tisdale. Both of their stories relate to SCV (Valencia in particular), but proceed with due caution.

Jamie Lynn Spears, Baby, and Valencia: It's All Connected

First, I need to report on Jamie Lynn Spears (Britney Spears’ younger sister and star of Zoey 101) who is 16 and pregnant. According to newspapers and blogs, she was apartment shopping with the baby-daddy (19-year-old Casey Aldridge) in Valencia this summer[1].

That’s not the only Valencia connection. Mike Fleeman of People reports that “Aldridge drove her [J.L. Spears] to the Valencia set, near Los Angeles, every day and stayed there while she worked, impressing Lynne and Jamie Lynn's father, Jamie.[2]"

This is the clearest proof yet that you can't make it very long in Valencia without a baby. They just happen here...even to Jamie Lynn Spears.

'Tis(dale) the Season for Nose Jobs

Folks, I’ve painted myself into a corner. By covering Ashley Tisdale in the past, I must (for consistency’s sake) report on the now famous former Claritan as she makes the news once again. The entertainment-savvy crowd will know that she recently had a nose job to correct a “severely deviated septum.” It wasn’t until last Friday, however, that she made her first big appearance at the Z100 Jingle Ball. This means I can now present to you the nose, before and after.

Before (left) and after (right), in case you couldn't tell. Says Tisdale “I like that it still looks like me” and “I really think natural is more beautiful.” [3]

This plastic surgery ordeal reminded me of an ad in G.G. Reynolds’ Santa Clarita: Valley of the Golden Dream [4]. I can't seem to find my copy right now, but I know for certain that there’s a plastic surgeon in there who, at the time of publication, was apparently the only Board Certified Plastic Surgeon in SCV. Times have changed—try googling “plastic surgeon Santa Clarita.” I guess we just have more deviated septums (and breasts, forehead wrinkles, and tummies) than we used to.

[1] The Valencia connection here
[2] The article is available
[3] Quotations from People
[4] Published in 1992 by World of Communications.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Only in SCV: Gifts That Deserve Giving

Rampant Christmas consumerism isn’t the sort of thing that keeps Claritans up at night. We’re not so worried about materialism getting the best of us during the holiday season. And I can sympathize. Why not reward those who make nice crap by buying it?

Still, it’s good to act charitably this time of year. Better yet, you can turn your charitable acts into gifts for others. Thus, I present three non-profits that present great gift-giving potential. With six full days of shopping left, consider these three ways to stuff the stockings in your life.

Charity: Santa Clarita Disaster Coalition
Give for your Neighbors in SCV

An email release from Gail Ortiz introduced me to the Santa Clarita Disaster Coalition. Mother Nature is always raging against somebody in this valley, whether with mudslides, floods, or fire, and the SCDC is there to help people recover. “The Coalition is comprised of a caring group of community leaders, including representatives from local government, businesses, faith-based organizations, schools, and nonprofits who seek to help those in need from our area rebuild their lives. The Coalition also works to address the need for increased awareness of local disaster preparedness and response plans.”

100% of donations to the SCDC help victims (that’s no overhead!), and in the wake of October’s fires they’ve prioritized helping families first. Basically, they’re doing disaster relief in the best way possible. A donation would be timely, appropriate, and rewarding to all parties involved. Donate on behalf of one of your friends or family members. Tell them they’ve helped make life a little warmer and a little better for neighbors in need.


Culture & Community: Martial Arts Museum
Give a Membership

I know that I’m usually being ironic when I talk about Newhall being the seat of the arts, but the Martial Arts Museum is the real deal. They’re working hard to be a vital part of the community by hosting screenings, demonstrations (everything from Kung Fu to sushi rolling), and other events. Though the martial arts might seem like a fringe interest, they’ve become an important part of American culture, and this is the first museum dedicated to them.

I went to the museum for the first time about a month ago. I particularly liked a section on Hawaiian martial arts. The construction of weapons from wood and shark teeth point to the challenges of life on an island with no steel. Wooden spears and clubs offered insight into Hawaii’s culture and natural history. The museum is full of such wonderful discoveries-in-the-waiting—classic Bruce Lee clips, samurai swords, historic garb…

The founder and president, Art Comacho, is an exceedingly nice guy who is building the museum’s collection with grants, determination, and connections. I won’t lie—the space doesn’t look “finished” in the way most of LA’s small museums do, but it’s growing and improving all the time. A membership is a great way to both support this growth and benefit from it. Members are entitled to visit the collection, attend cultural classes, and receive discounts.

Phone: 661.255.3322

Nature & Conservation: Placerita Canyon Natural Area & Nature Center
Give a Rattlesnake (really!—sort of)

The Placerita Canyon Nature Center of my childhood—the one with dark wood beams, charming stuffed specimens, and a musky, mildew aroma—is no more. The operation has been moved to a trailer parked just outside the nature center of yore. At first, I thought this was a way to make visitors from Canyon Country feel more comfortable (not all of them are used to entering buildings without wheels[2]), but Placerita is actually in the midst of a face-lift. Despite the challenges of construction, PNC remains a central part of Santa Clarita life. Its land preserves wildflowers and wild creatures, it's the epicenter of the Community Hiking Club, the staff teach thousands of school kids about nature every year, and the center hosts wonderful events like night hikes, animal presentations, and natural history classes.

One way you can help support these efforts is by adopting one of the nature center’s animals. This is a most efficient gift: it will help PNC pay an animal’s food and vet bills and it has the potential of knocking an entire family off of your shopping list. Indeed, giving an adoption certificate and photo of an adorable opossum (or of a semi-adorable rattlesnake) is perfect for a family with young kids or nature lovers. You can call them for more details.

Phone: 661.259.7721

[1]The press release available here.
[2]Oh get over it.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Happenings: Happy 20th!

December is full of important dates, but none of them are more important than today. It was twenty years ago today that a glowing beacon first shone in the gloom of north Los Angeles County. It was twenty years ago today that fate brought together the finest land, buildings, and people into one, cohesive unit. It was twenty years ago today that civilization entered its Golden Age because, twenty years ago today, the City of Santa Clarita was born.

We should feel immensely privileged to be a part of the greatest realization of American cityhood in history. Wait, what's this...this...feeling? I...I'm suddenly overtaken by an urge to take a metered tone in an ode to the City of Santa Claria...

Great Rome and Persia rose and fell;
Babylon’s wealth and power swelled
But its vast glory too would fade.
Santa Clarita, so fair she
Alone shall live through history
Demise shall she ever evade.

Clarita, rich in SUVs
Over-priced homes, stunted trees
Pampered children, indulg’ed pets
Coffee from Starbucks, moms in sweats
Yuppies, lawyers, plastic surgeons
Stores that with tacky crap do burgeon
Thugs in Newhall, Magic Mountain
Ugly mosaic water fountains
Paseo paths and bike trails long
Master plans that are never wrong
Third mortgages, golf courses green,
Saugus Cafe and emo-teens
Daily fundraisers for charity
CalArts, Master’s, and C.O.C.
Fire-scarred hillsides, earth-quaked land
CEMEX (they want to mine our sand)
The gnarled oak of the Golden Dream
Five-thousand eleven soccer teams

Santa Clarita, my sweet dear
Your twentieth birthday now draws near
Behind you, greatness manifest
Ahead of you, greatness greater yet
One birthday wish I offer thee:
Live on; for I Heart S.C.V.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Only in SCV: Intercepted Christmas Letters, Set 1

Though I might not hang out with Bob Kellar on the weekends or appear in the crème de la crème section of elite magazine, I like to think of myself as well-connected in SCV. You want proof? Well, I recently used my connections at the post office to obtain Christmas letters that certain influential Claritans were trying to send to Santa Claus. I know, mail tampering is a felony, but it’s the kind I’m willing to commit--is there any better way to get a glimpse of the inner-workings of the minds of some of our most fascinating citizens? (Don't worry, the letters were faxed to the North Pole so Santa will have copies of their gift lists).

Unfortunately, my post office connection blacked-out all the signatures in the name of privacy. Maybe y’all can help me figure out who wrote each of these letters to Santa. The connection has promised to get me some more next week, so keep your fingers crossed that more Claritans write Christmas letters.

[NOTE: you may have to click on the letters to make them of readable size.]

Exhibit A

Exhibit B

Exhibit C

Happenings: December Upon Us

I find that I just can't bring myself to go to today's tree lighting at Henry Mayo[1]. As readers of this blog well know, the community holiday tree is slated to meet its demise in several years given the approval of Henry Mayo/G&L Realty's expansion project. Lighting up the tree and having kids sing around it is akin to massaging cows and giving them sake-soaked grain before they're turned into Wagyu beef. It just seems...wrong. Today, the lovely conifer hears angelic voices carolling, but tomorrow (figuratively), it hears the buzz of the chainsaw. I will not willingly participate in any efforts to lull the tree into a false sense of security.

In any case, it's December and we all need something to get us into the holiday spirit, even if it's not a tree lighting. Thus, I offer this article from inside SCV magazine[2]. It's about Santa, snow, destruction, and loss--my favorites!--and how it may be time to say goodbye Santa Claus, hello Santa Clarita.

[1]If you want to go, the lighting is at 5pm this evening. Details here.
[2]SCV seen from the inside...