9 Hours 53 Minutes 3 Seconds

Some say that L.A. doesn’t suit the Yule,
But UPS vans now like magi make
Their present-laden rounds, while fallen leaves
Are gaily resurrected in their wake.
—Timothy Steele


Photo by: Paula Nixon

Before this shortest day of the year is over I’ll share these lines from Timothy Steele’s poem Toward the  Winter Solstice and my shot of the L.A. sky, taken yesterday afternoon.

Here’s to a joyful and peaceful holiday season.  There will be lots of work to do in the new year.

The Hollywood Mountain Lion

Photo by Paula Nixon

Photo by Paula Nixon

On Monday last week I took a short walk on Hollywood Boulevard.  It was clear and hot and the only sign of wildlife was a pigeon pecking in a patch of scrubby dirt.   I glanced down at the stars lining the sidewalk, but was distracted by the hills visible to the north beyond Highway 101.  Somewhere up there, less than five miles from the Starbucks where I stopped for an iced coffee and a reprieve from the blazing sun, lives P-22.

His story is amazing, a mountain lion crossing two major freeways to travel from the Santa Monica Mountains into Griffith Park, a 4000-acre park in the heart of Los Angeles.  It’s a feat that’s hard to fathom especially if you have ever driven through the city—it doesn’t matter what time of day or night, the roads are filled with delivery trucks, semis, school buses, and cars, hundreds of thousands of them.

But somehow P-22 managed it and took up residence in the hills above the city where he found abundant deer and no competition from other mountain lions.

Miguel Ordeñana, a wildlife biologist, recounts the thrill of finally verifying the existence of the then-unidentified lion in 2012 after numerous ‘unconfirmed sightings.’   “An LA Story” is featured in the Summer 2016 issue of Earth Island Journal.  Once P-22 was captured, collared, and released back in the park he became even more of a celebrity, seldom seen, but living large in the imaginations of millions in LA and beyond, spurring talk of a wildlife bridge over Highway 101.

I have followed P-22’s tale for the past couple of years via National Geographic’s Instagram feed and was captivated by Steve Winter’s photo of him in front of the lighted Hollywood sign at night.  It wasn’t an easy shot to get—lots of time and patience—he shares the details here.

In the new book When Mountain Lions Are Neighbors:  People and wildlife working it out in California Beth Pratt-Bergstrom also relates P-22’s story along with her guess as to  how he got across all those lanes of traffic, “He probably did what most of us do when confronted with the Los Angeles freeways:  floor it and hope for the best.”

Pratt-Bergstrom compares P-22’s journey to that of astronaut Neil Armstrong.  Funny, but that’s the only plaque (a circle instead of the usual star) that caused me to pause on my walk.  It’s at Hollywood and Vine and honors the Apollo 11 crew, the first to walk on the moon.





Here’s to Spring

The first day of spring is one thing, and the first spring day is another.
The difference between them is sometimes as great as a month.
Fisherman’s Luck by Henry Van Dyke

Yellow tulips. Photo: Paula Nixon

Yellow tulips.
Photo: Paula Nixon

I just returned from a short trip to California and Nevada where spring is not holding back.  In Los Angeles hibiscus, azaleas, and birds of paradise were in full bloom; mounds of scarlet bougainvillea, visible from the freeway, decorated the hillsides.  On a morning walk in Boulder City, red roses spilling over onto the sidewalk tempted me to stop.

Back in Santa Fe, the arrival of spring is more cautious.  The willows are decked out in bright green and tiny purple crocus poke their heads up out of last fall’s leaf litter, but the robins, now visiting my birdbath daily, sometimes find a layer of ice if they show up too early.  After nearly twenty springs in northern New Mexico I would be more surprised than not if it didn’t snow another time or two.

But the countdown is on.  With each passing day there is a minute or two more of sunlight. Another tree unfurls its leaves and within weeks I’ll fill the glass feeder with sugar water to welcome back the hummingbirds.


Let’s Talk Turkey

 Photo Credit: bschmove via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: bschmove via Compfight cc

It was a revelation to my family many years ago when we realized we could go out for dinner on Thanksgiving Day (not an option in the small town where I grew up).  From there it wasn’t much of a leap to discover that we were free to order anything off the menu.  It turns out some of us, Mom included, weren’t crazy about turkey.

Calvin Trillin proposes spaghetti carbonara (pasta with eggs, bacon, and parmesan) as an alternative in his funny, frequently-referenced (especially in food blogs around Thanksgiving) 1981 essay*. He says, ” . . . my spaghetti carbonara campaign . . .  had been inspired partly by my belief that turkey is basically something college dormitories use to punish students for hanging around on Sunday.”

My favorite stand in for the traditional turkey dinner: enchiladas, smothered in red and green (we call it “Christmas” in New Mexico) chile, pinto beans and posole on the side with a honey-drizzled sopapilla for dessert.

But I’m not sure what I’ll have today. My family and I will sit down at a table in a seafood restaurant in California to celebrate and give thanks.  A couple of us will likely order the traditional platter of white and dark meat with dressing, cranberries, mashed potatoes and gravy, all topped off with a slice of pumpkin pie, but  I’ll be looking for something different, maybe crab cakes.

How ever you choose to commemorate the holiday, may you and your family have a blessed and happy Thanksgiving!

*To read the entire essay look for Trillin’s book The Tummy Trilogy.








Weekly Roundup – Kids Rule!


Note:  If the links to Facebook do not open automatically below, click on the date and you will be directed to the post.

Earlier this year I was a judge for the third annual Mexican wolf pup naming contestThe drawings and essays submitted by kids from around the country amazed me with their knowledge and thoughtfulness.  Pictured above is one of the winning entries.  Eleanor’s name, Monty, was given to male pup (mp)1386 (his official identification) a member of the Prieto Pack, a family of wolves that runs and hunts in the mountains of New Mexico.

A former winner in the naming contest, Turner Burns, started a Facebook page, Kids for Wolves,  several years ago after meeting Atka, one of the ambassador wolves at the Wolf Conservation Center (WCC).  Today, he has over 4000 followers and uses his page to educate both kids and adults about wolves in the United States and Canada.  In a post earlier this week, he reminded me that I needed to make a call to my representative in Congress about a pending bill that would remove protections for  endangered wolves.

Atka is also an inspiration to Peyton, seen howling in this video with the Arctic wolf.

Run Like A Wolf

11 year-old Peyton is helping to save the wolves by running 13.1 miles this October to support the Wolf Conservation Center and raise awareness for the importance and plight of the wild predators. Please check out Peyton’s CrowdRise page and support his effort here: http://bit.ly/1FIrv2bWith kiddos like Peyton, the world is looking a little brighter, Thank you, Peyton!

Posted by Wolf Conservation Center on Sunday, June 28, 2015


But it’s not just wolves.  Every few days I see stories about kids finding creative ways to help wildlife, trees, homeless pets.

Best friends, Caroline and Claire, raised money with a bake sale and donated the money to Friends of the Urban Forest in San Francisco.

Caroline (a sixth-grader) and Claire (a fifth-grader) sent us a donation accompanied by this adorable note. Thank you!Inspired? We appreciate donations of any amount: http://fuf.net/donate

Posted by Friends of the Urban Forest on Tuesday, May 26, 2015

In New Mexico Dezirae saves her money from chores to give to the Santa Fe Animal Shelter.

We are so thankful for Dezirae! This 15-year-old amazing teen saves her money from chores and donates incredible treats,…

Posted by Santa Fe Animal Shelter & Humane Society on Friday, July 3, 2015

It starts with field trips and camp outs: kids learning about  bats and butterflies, sunflowers and saguaros. I wouldn’t be surprised to see this little guy doing something great in the next few years!

Here’s a cute video of a kid telling us all about what he learned about bats with us here during Pollinator Week!

Posted by Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge on Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Thanks to each one of these kids for being an inspiration to us all!

Weekly Roundup – All Things California

Some of us who live in arid parts of the world think about water with a reverence others might find excessive. The water I will draw tomorrow from my tap in Malibu is today crossing the Mojave Desert from the Colorado River, and I like to think about exactly where that water is. —Joan Didion in “Holy Water”

 Photo Credit: dougfelt via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: dougfelt via Compfight cc

I was in California last week where much of the news was focused on the drought.  This article in Grist, one of the most informative I’ve read, clarifies the facts and debunks some of the myths surrounding the water crisis.

Diana Marcum, who recently won a Pulitzer Prize for her reporting on Californians impacted by the drought, puts a face on the crisis in this Los AngelesTimes story about a farmer trying to make a living on a small farm, growing pistachios.  We feel his frustration and pain when he and his wife have to make tough decisions after their water allotment is cut to zero.

But California is not alone.  This article in Business Insider makes clear that many of us, across the country and around the world, will likely face similar water issues in the coming years.

Enough bad news.

 Photo Credit: ms4jah via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: ms4jah via Compfight cc

Imagine seeing one of these birds with its nine-foot wingspan come in for a landing in your backyard. The endangered California condor lives in Arizona and California and is rarely, if ever, seen in New Mexico, but one made its way to Los Alamos (about 30 miles northwest of Santa Fe) last week.  My favorite part of this story in the Santa Fe New Mexican is that the yard belonged to a birding enthusiast who had traveled to the Grand Canyon hoping to see recently released condors with no success. What are the odds one would show up in his yard?

Enjoy your weekend and spend some time outside!






The Whiskey Tree

Always carry a flagon of whiskey in case of snakebite, and furthermore, always carry a small snake.” —W.C. Fields

Victorian Box Tree Photo Credit: Paula Nixon

I admit it. I watched way too many episodes of Cheers in the eighties.  When I called the Southside Spirit House I was certain that Coach or some 2015 version of him would answer the phone.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.  Let me back up.  A few months ago I wrote about trying to identify this tree in San Francisco. I was stumped until Ben at Friends of the Urban Forest (FUF) saw my post and had their arborists look at the photo.  They thought it was a Victorian box tree.  What did I think?

I compared the field guide with my photo and it looked like the same tree, but I wanted to see it again before confirming and completing the online profile for the urban forest map.

It was late in January before I returned, a Tuesday; happy hour was just getting started.  Four twenty-something guys were sharing a pitcher of beer at Southside’s window table.  Trying not to attract their attention, I took a tape measure out of my pocket and eyeballed a spot four feet up from the ground and measured the trunk’s circumference.  Studying the tree, it did appear to be a Victorian box: smooth, gray trunk with narrow, wavy-edged, dark-green leaves. It was covered with buds, all tightly closed.

I wanted to see the creamy white petals and inhale the orange blossom scent, just to be sure it really was a Victorian box, but by the time the blossoms opened I would be back in New Mexico. That’s when I had what I thought was a great idea.

I waited about a week to give the tree time to go into full flower.

The telephone rang and I could picture Coach wiping his hands on a bar towel and  answering, Cliff and Norm looking on over the tops of their beers.  He grumbles a little, but listens and then sets the receiver down on the bar.

He shrugs and says to Sam, “Some nut wants to know what the flowers smell like,” and shuffles across the bar out the door and disappears up the stairs.

But it didn’t happen that way.  The telephone at Southside rang a few times until voice mail picked up with a message advising that they rarely answer the phone or check the messages, best to send an email.

So, I did.  And within a couple of days I received a reply from the manager; she hadn’t noticed any flowers on the tree.

More weeks passed. Back in San Francisco I was impatient to see the tree,   It was blooming, but not showy—lots of small white blossoms nestled in the glossy leaves, smelling faintly of oranges, easy to miss unless you stopped to look and take a deep breath.

Tree #150163, a thirty-foot tall Victorian box, on Howard Street in front of a busy bar quietly does its job intercepting more than 400 gallons of storm water per year (if it rains, that is) and reducing carbon monoxide by 77 pounds.

I’ll lift a glass to that!









Weekly Roundup–Earth Day 2015

by Lola Ridge

The earth is motionless
And poised in space . . .
A great bird resting in its flight
Between the alley of the stars.
It is the wind’s hour off . . .
The wind has nestled down among the corn . . .
The two speak privately together,
Awaiting the whirr of wings.


Napa County. Photo By: Paula Nixon

Napa County.
Photo By: Paula Nixon

I didn’t spend Earth Day planting a tree or picking up trash, but traveling—from Sacramento to Stockton to San Francisco.  At a stop in Napa County, not in a picturesque vineyard, but in an industrial park where two huge yellow earth movers were silent, finished with their work for the day. A breeze riffled a small field of wild flowers just off the road and a pair of red-winged blackbirds flitted from cattail to fencepost and back again.  I am always amazed at how the natural world carries on, constantly adapting , until it no longer can, to  our improvements and developments.

Back in the car, Earth Day stories filled the airways and newspapers.  A few of my favorites:

This NPR story tells how the day got its name from Julian Koenig, the same adman who came up with  “it takes a licking and keeps on ticking” for Timex watches.  His simple “earth day” was a big improvement over the original “environmental teach-in” or “ecology day”.

On Talk of the Nation, host Neal Conan interviewed Lester Brown, the president of the Earth Policy Institute, about how the politics and focus of Earth Day have shifted over the years.

In the Santa Fe Reporter, this week’s cover story was “Oh, Beehave!” It was encouraging to read about those in New Mexico working to save honeybees after the dire warnings about the collapse of their populations.

Tickle bees are not endangered like honeybees, but this is a fun story with a video out of Portland about ground-nesting bees and an elementary school that has adopted them.

Happy Earth Day!






Weekly Roundup – April 6th – 12th

Bats in the bedroom? Flickers in the gutter?

7 Gentle Ways to Use a Broom in Spring in the current issue of Orion Magazine tells how to deal with both, plus a few other unwanted visitors.

Female Ladder-Backed Woodpecker Photo Credit: Dave Betzler

Female Ladder-Backed Woodpecker
Photo Credit: Dave Betzler

At my house this week we have woodpeckers at the back patio and eagles in the kitchen via a live feed from Decorah, Iowa.  The third egg hatched last week and the adults are allowing the eaglets, especially the oldest one, a little more time out in the sunshine, but it will still be weeks before they are ready to try their wings.

Today I spotted my first hummingbird of the season at my nectar feeder. According to  Anne Schmauss, in this article in the New Mexican, they arrived right on schedule.  She provides all of the information you need to attract hummers to your backyard.

On a  more serious note there has been lots of news coming out of California the last few days about the ongoing drought and  new restrictions on water use. Drought Tests History of Endless Growth in The New York Times is an in-depth look at the challenges the state faces.

And finally, in celebration of spring and National Poetry Month, a recitation by Tom O’Bedlam of Daffodils by William Wordsworth.

Enjoy your week and let me know if you have seen any hummingbirds in your neighborhood!

The California Drought and the Ridiculously Resilient Ridge

Photo Credit: P. Nixon

I spent the last week traveling in California.

On the drive from San Diego to Sacramento through the San Joaquin Valley no sign of blossoms on the fruit and nut trees, but the fields and hills were green.   Near Wasco flocks of sheep grazed, knobby-kneed lambs staying close to their mothers.   Dave made a u-turn so I could get a picture of this wary ewe and her baby.

Heavy autumn rains had started to ease the drought in some parts of the state until the spigot shut off in December.  Why did the rain stop?   This story on Friday’s edition of The California Report says it could be due to the return of the Ridiculously Resilient Ridge or Triple R, a high pressure system trapped over California that keeps conditions dry.  This atmospheric phenomenon was identified and named by Stanford PhD candidate, Daniel Swain, in 2013.  He says in a recent post on his blog that this year’s condition is not quite the same . . . yet.

Whatever the reason it looks like California could be headed into a fourth year of drought.