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November 30, 2007


And so it comes, at last, rain. When I first heard the sound soon after midnight, I mistook it for wind. Stepped outside to gauge how dry, how fast, and instead got wet.

Still raining now, raising the scent of a doused campfire. Watch the news and you'll hear whining about why it's not quite right, this rain - too light, too late, too soon, too hard, whatever the storm, it's somehow going to be wrong.

But this is it, our weather. Rain on the roof and in the hills, and on the ashes of former roofs lying scorched in the smoky hills. Right now, it's what we have. Rain.

November 29, 2007

Windy weather = cranky birds

Hummingbirds are impatient in the best of times. When the Santanas kick up, though, they're lethal. They fight for position at the feeder, hurl insults in those odd, crackly voices, scream through the air side by side, one bird often forcing the other directly into the ground.

With the naked eye it looks like chaos. Catch them with a camera, though, and it's like a scene from "Gladiator." Is it just me, or does that on the right kind of look like Russell Crowe?

bird war

November 28, 2007

Warm morning

It's here again, the hot, dry sigh of desert air. At ground level right now, it nudges a leaf, sifts a swirl of ash. Not quite blowing, it's equal parts warmth and motion. No set direction yet, just a flicker of warmth on your face, a soft exhale at your back. No telling what comes next.
hummingbird at sunrise
hummingbird in the yucca

November 27, 2007

The other Malibu

At last - a news story that figures out Malibu isn't all millionaires, mansions and movie stars.

Sure, they're here, have been ever since May Knight Rindge leased small lots on the spit of sand north of Malibu Beach in the 1920s to, among others, Clara Bow, Barbara Stanwyck, Gary Cooper, Delores Del Rio. May had just lost a long and expensive fight to keep PCH off her ranch and needed money. The movie stars needed privacy to let their hair down. Thus the Malibu Colony was born, a match made in tabloid heaven.

But there's a working-class Malibu, too, residents who bought modest homes in the hills and on Point Dume in the '60s, '70s, '80s and even the early '90s. That was before prices went completely insane, way before a bunch of billionaires started buying and selling useful businesses like Malibu Lumber, an actual lumber yard, or the Pier View, a modest seaside diner with affordable food and drinks, or funky mom 'n' pop boutiques like Atlantis and 'Bu Heaven and even the slightly chichi gallery, Topps, and remaking them in the glitzy image of Rodeo Drive. But I digress.

Here's our mayor, in the LA Times today:

"There are two kinds of Malibu," said Mayor Jeff Jennings, recalling a description of his longtime home. "There is the beach Malibu. And there is the rocks and cactus and coyote-ate-the-cat kind of Malibu."

The 53 houses lost in the weekend's Corral fire fall in the latter category, Jennings said. Concentrated in rugged Corral, Latigo and Sycamore canyons, most of them are "relatively modest homes built on quarter-acre or half-acre lots," he said. "I know a bunch of these folks. Some are teachers, some are real estate guys and some are working in the movie business. They're not movie stars."

The piece also touches on one of the most contentious issues before the City Council right now - a proposal by Joe Edmiston and the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy to put campgrounds deep into the Malibu hills. Residents have been vocal about the loss of habitat this would cause, about the fire danger, about the woeful lack of law enforcement in existing wildlands in Malibu. Now, with proof that someone started the fire in the caves at the top of Corral Canyon, the camping proposal is bound to be at least as combustible as the fuel load that still shrouds our mountains.

Here's a shot of one of a pair of planes picking up water near the Cove yesterday, then dropping it on hot spots at the top of Latigo Canyon. They worked in tandem, turned the difficult and daring work into a ballet. People on the bluff cheered. And then they talked about reports that tomorrow, more Santana winds are due.
firefighting airplane

November 26, 2007

It takes a village

base campFor the second time in as many months, the empty lot that houses Malibu's annual Chili Cookoff played host to hundreds of firefighters and repair crews. With another day of cool, still air, and the good news the fire is close to fully contained, the mood in the makeshift village is relaxed.

Walk around and you'll see portable showers, sleeping tents, mess tents, makeshift offices and temporary communication centers. Fire trucks cluster together by venue - LA City, County of LA, Fresno, Carson City, Urban Search and Rescue, and many more I couldn't get close enough to see. Firefighters tend the rigs, the morning sun bouncing bright from the deep reds and screaming greens of their polished surfaces. The dark, stinging scent of the scorched landscape follows you everywhere.

Here's a wide view of the base camp:
base camp

Fire trucks behind the nativity stage, which church members had rolled into place the day before the fire began:
nativity stage and fire trucks

The moonscape of Latigo Canyon:
latigo canyon

Unwinding with a game of Frisbee:
playing frisbee at base camp

Monday morning

Ground crews take a breakThe Trancas shopping center, where our indie-ish market, HOWS, and one of our three decidedly non-indie Starbucks reside, was like a high school reunion yesterday. Parking lot jammed with cars, a surging crowd of people comparing notes, telling war stories, socializing.

A common theme came from Charter cable customers, who vowed (often in lively language I blush to repeat) to switch to dish TV and any other phone and internet carriers available. As in the fire last month, Charter's TV, phone and internet service went down almost immediately after the fire began and has yet to be restored.

This (crappy cell phone) photo is from the Trancas Starbucks on Sunday morning, where a long line of fire crews, weary-looking, their clothes and faces smudged with smoke, waited in line for coffee. Several Malibu residents approached the baristas to try to cover the firefighters' bill, and were refused. On the house, that's the Starbucks policy for firefighters. So the would-be benefactors dropped generous tips into the baristas' tip jar instead.


From the city web site:

As of 8 p.m. last night, canyon residents were allowed back into their neighborhoods. Latigo and Corral canyons in particular were littered with downed power poles and power lines, some of them still live. Crews worked all day to clear the roads.

PCH is now open in both directions, though travel in the Civic Center area my be somewhat limited. Malibu Canyon and Kanan Roads are both open, though lane closures are possible. Be sure to have proof of residency, just in case.

Current tally of damage, according to the Fire Department:

* 51 structures destroyed (49 single family dwellings, 2 outbuildings)
* 27 structures damaged (24 single family dwellings, 3 outbuildings)
* 1 mobile home destroyed
* 8 vehicles destroyed

As for the cause of the fire, the only scenarios in play right now are arson or human accident. Investigators are at work on determining which.

November 25, 2007

Fire update: Sunday 10:30 a.m.

I'm hearing from residents that the official list of structures lost and damaged in the fire (as the caveat on the site suggests) is incomplete. The total number of homes burned could be as high as 58. Malibu Bowl resident, Charles Fu, mapped out the burned and damaged homes. (Thank you, Charles.)

The fire at this time is 40 percent contained, and has burned close to 5,000 acres. Wisps of smoke still rise from the affected canyons this morning, where helicopters continue water drops. But the air is utterly still and, as a marine layer rolls in, humidity is rising and temperatures have dropped.

PCH remains closed between Kanan and Malibu Canyon Roads. If you plan to go out, be sure to bring proof of residency, or you may have trouble getting back home again.

For a recap of the fire, check out a great (and vivid) bit of deadline reporting by Hans Laetz of the Malibu Surfside News. The Malibu Times' home page has stories, pix and updates. The LA Times also has some really good fire coverage, including a typically terrific Bob Pool piece about, well, just check it out.

I couldn't find a word about the Malibu fire in today's NYT. (If I missed it, please let me know where it was hiding.)

Here's the view from the Cove this morning.
Sunday morning

A moment of Maisie

Here's the little dog, on the beach this morning.

Maisie. She's fast.

November 24, 2007

5 p.m. update

From the press conference:

The fire (now officially called the Corral Fire) is 35 percent contained. The eastern flank considered most active at this time.

Air assault on fire grounded until sunrise; hand crews will work through the night.

At least 51 structures (49 homes, a mobile home, and a business) destroyed. Almost 5,000 acres burned.

Six firefighters injured, one with "moderate burns." He is being treated at the Sherman Oaks Burn Center.

Full list of addresses of destroyed and damaged homes will be posted at 6 p.m. on the Malibu city web site.

3 p.m.

This is the view from the Cove this afternoon. Non-stop bombardment of the fire by more than 20 aircraft, including the Super Scooper Kevin posted a photo of on the LAO home page.

Stats thus far:

4,500 acres burned
Six firefighters have minor injuries
Dozens of LAFD and Urban Search and Rescue rigs fanned out along Ramirez Canyon, West Winding Way and many other small, country roads on the land side of PCH.

Press conference sked for 5 p.m.

3 p.m., burning east of Corral Canyon

New fire near Pepperdine?

That's what The Malibu Times is reporting. They're doing a good job on updating their news feed, so you can check with them for developments.

The LA Times, which is also keeping its story fresh, has some very good maps of the fire area.

I've got to take care of some things, so that's all from me for a while. (Thank you to everyone who has sent an e-mail today - I truly appreciate your good wishes.)

egret in the smoke
Egret flies through the smoke

Very quiet now

11:45 a.m.

No wind, fewer sirens, steady stream of aircraft dumping water.

Evacuation estimates (they range from 10,000 to 14,000) are wildly exaggerated. Our entire population is 13,000 residents, many of whom own second homes and don't live here fulltime. Large portions of the city are unaffected by this fire, which is located well west of Las Virgenes Road.

Here's the view from Paradise Cove just a minute ago, in the parking lot and up in the hills:

fire fighters arrive
more firefighters arrive.

11:45 a.m.
smoke but no visible fire.

Fire update*

Sheriff's press conference:

More than 2,400 acres burned, 35 houses lost. Burned homes are on Seabreeze Road, in the Malibu Bowl neighborhood, and in Latigo Canyon.

Fire started on a dirt road near the Castro Peak Motor Way, where residents reported hearing a loud and boisterous party.

* Alternate reports cite a downed power pole.

Battle lines have been drawn to keep the fire south of the southern-most tunnel on Kanan Road, and east of Kanan Road itself.

About 1,700 firefighters from throughout the county - a crew from Montebello just rolled by - are fighting the blaze.

Evacuation centers: Agoura High School (28545 West Driver Avenue in Agoura Hills) and Channel Islands High School (1400 Raiders Way in Oxnard.)

the view from here: 9:30 a.m.

Getting better *

If you're listening to fire reports on local AM radio, take their geography with a (big) grain of salt. They've got the fire all over the Malibu map and some of the info is wrong.

Fire began in Malibu Bowl area. More than 2,300 acres burned thus far. Estimated 35 homes destroyed (*including home belonging to Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers) with about 200 more in direct fire danger.

PCH is closed to all traffic - except evacuees - between Malibu Canyon and Trancas. You can get out but you can't get back in.

Kanan, Malibu Canyon and Corral Canyon roads are closed.

Wind has kicked up a bit again. Smoke everywhere. Water-gathering helicopters buzz the Cove every few minutes.

No visible flames from Paradise Cove.
firefighters arrive in the Cove
firefighters arrive in the Cove.

Mandatory evacuation

We've been ordered out, part of the mandatory evacuations from Corral to Point Dume.

Winds have died down, air is completely still, light is completely orange. Scanner talk not alarming right now.

More pix on my flickr page.
second fire 030

Wind shifts, we stay put

Just as the car was packed and the dogs were loaded, the wind shifted, died down a bit. Watched from the bluff as walls of flames literally doubled back on themselves at Latigo Canyon. That's where the fire is now, Latigo.

Can count at least five aircraft dropping water, can see scores of fire trucks as they snake up and down the hills. Cable is out, of course, so we rely on the scanner. Scanner talk is calm and concentrated, enacting a plan clearly laid out in advance. It gives you chills to hear these voices, makes you think words like courage and valor and honor.

For now, we're staying put. Here's the fire as it looked at dawn. And here's the sunrise.
fire before dawn

Fire is here *

We are evacuating.

*Not quite yet.

fire before dawn

4 a.m. - fire again

Fretful winds all night, kicked up hard just before dawn. Woke to the scent of smoke. Already six people at the bluff, watching the winking lights of fire trucks in Corral Canyon. A few acres burning way at the top of the road. No flames visible yet, not from the Cove, anyway.

The firefighters were ready for it, had been camped out in the hills ever since the first wind warnings on Wednesday. And now we wait. See what the weather does, where the fire moves, how long this round of wind lasts.

November 22, 2007

Attack of the killer jellyfish!

If it were up to me, this story about a freak attack by a giant swarm of jellyfish in Ireland would have been stripped across page one. Banner headline, 36 point type. Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed and it found a modest slot inside the A section.

Still, it provided plenty of thrilling and, once you've worked through all of the jokes about 1950s mutant monster flicks, rather frightening Thanksgiving dinner conversation. (Does anyone else remember "The Crawling Eye?" My brothers used to torment me with that one.)

The only salmon farm in Northern Ireland has been thrown into crisis following a devastating jellyfish attack that destroyed more than 100,000 fish.

John Russell, the managing director of Northern Salmon Co. Ltd., said last night: "In 30 years, I've never seen anything like it. It was unprecedented, absolutely amazing. The sea was red with these jelly fish and there was nothing we could do about, it, absolutely nothing."

Last week's attack lasted nearly seven hours, with the small jellyfish stinging and shocking salmon held in an area covering 10 square miles and 35 feet deep.

Workers in three boats tried to reach the cages to rescue the salmon, but the extreme density of jellyfish slowed their progress through the water, and by the time they reached the cages it was too late.

That's right. Ten square miles of jellyfish, 35 feet deep. The sea was so thick with jellyfish, the boats couldn't get through.

These jellies usually stick to southern waters but, with ocean temps rising, are finding their way north. Far north.

Scientists say the Irish attack is the result of climate change, which the guy in the White House calls science fiction.

By all means, let's do another study.
mauve stinger jellyfish
photo: UK Telegraph

Thanksgiving sunrise

Thanksgiving sunrise

November 21, 2007

Is this whining?

My friend, Melissa, moved from Malibu to Portland this fall. She'd been there before, of course, on visits and vacations during which she was wooed by great public transportation, friendly locals, and several pitchers of really good beer. Now a local herself, she often starts her (very funny) blog posts with photos of the thermometer on her porch, which, these days hovers in the low 40s.

Which is all a rather roundabout way to say I know, really, I do know that 62 degrees isn't all that cold. It's late November, after all. But this is the beach here this morning. What's your first thought - swimsuit or sweater?
cloudy morning

November 20, 2007

Monarch and sunflower

Another dark morning here in Malibu. Not fog, which sweeps off the sea in thick, misty coils, rolls in and unfolds like it's alive, but clouds. Flat and heavy, they drop flat and heavy light that presses down, an almost physical weight.

So here's an antidote, a monarch on the sunflowers in a garden near the barn. It was warm that day, on its way to hot, so many drowsy bees the air was humming. And this butterfly, drifting, alighting, then drifting again, like summer could last forever.

November 19, 2007

Dogged Monday

Maisie and Jake on a cold and gloomy morning.

November 16, 2007

What passes for weather

foggy morning
Foggy morning in the Malibu Hills.

November 15, 2007

Free range lobster

On any given day, Paradise Cove looks like a seafood supper gone mad. Dozens of empty crab shells, disjointed crab claws, hollowed out lobster tails litter the beach. It's the work of our neighborhood pinipeds, hunting and munching just offshore.

Things looked a little different today. The California spiny lobster at the edge of the surf line was intact, for one thing. And it was waving its antennae. Alive.

These guys are nocturnal and, this being autumn, are beginning their migration to deeper water. So, ignoring the Prime Directive (sorry, Mr. Spock), I nudged him into the surf and he crawled off.

For more about our local lobsters, click here. And for a look at a lobster covered with silky fur, let the BBC lead the way.

live lobster, eaten crab
Dead crab, live lobster

November 14, 2007

Getting hosed

What's this pool of fresh water doing on the beach here in Malibu?

Oh. That hose comes from the house above and dumps runoff down the face of the bluff, onto the beach below.

November 11, 2007

Look! Up in the sky!

flyboyThe skies above Bluffs Park here in Malibu are always busy. Hawks hunt, gulls soar, pelicans glide by. Itís a wild, open place where you can give your birding guidebook a good workout.

Lately, a new avian species has multiplied. They've been here for a while, but since the fire last winter burned the chaparral, turned it to ash, laid bare vast swathes of land just right for takeoff, their numbers have swelled. They come bearing parachutes, vivid arcs of fabric that snap in the wind, float in the slightest breeze. They strap gas-powered contraptions to their backs, rev loud engines shaped like giant fans, sprint a few ungainly steps down a steep, rock-strewn hill and suddenly, they're airborne. In flight.

I rather not know how high they go, though I long to see what they see. A birds-eye view of Malibu. Imagine that. Here's a pair of paragliders this weekend - the guy who owns the rig, with a paying customer in front. Her friends watch as they circle, as a covey of quail scatters, as they hover, then glide, slide into the gentlest of landings.

November 10, 2007

Pelicans at sunrise

Someone left this raft in the Cove a few months ago and the local pelicans soon collected. Watch for any length of time and you'll see there's a pecking order of sorts.

The center of the raft is prime territory, reserved for the alpha birds. Wannabes hunker down around the edges, happy just to be dry. Younger birds float nearby, hopeful, watching their elders, waiting their turn.

For today's sunrise, click here.

November 9, 2007

Movin' on up

new houseWhen we bought the house here in Paradise Cove, we learned a whole new language. Like the fact this isn't really a house at all, or even a trailer. It's a coach, a Meteor, to be precise, circa 1973. Snazzy at the time, eclipsed now by the new construction here in the Cove. I like to think of it as a classic.

Because it rolled in here and, in theory, can roll back out someday, I pay an annual registration fee. Up until recently, I even had to display that registration sticker on the outside of my house - I mean coach - like on a license plate.

That's all changed. The mobile home industry has become gentrified. These new places come with cathedral ceilings and hardwood floors, travertine showers and Jacuzzi tubs, marble countertops and stainless appliances, islands and skylights and clerestories. They've got all the bells and whistles of a prime time HGTV shelter porn series, so much so, they're not even called coaches any more. Pay enough and you can call it a house.

Here's the newest addition to Paradise Cove, rolling slowly up the hill. According to unspoken (but vigorously observed) local custom, the instant the two halves of this place are joined together, we'll find an unlocked door and take a look. Kick the tires. Peek under the hood. Work up a nice little case of coach envy.

new house

November 8, 2007

Dogs on deadline

The trickle-down effect of the fire last month is finally winding down here in my little home office. Books to read, books to review, a book I just wrote, all are thisclose to finally being finished. Which is very good news for two black dogs who are very peeved, out of patience, utterly exhausted by boredom.

It's a rough life being a dog here in Paradise Cove. Jump on the bed at dawn and gently pant, rocking the mattress until She finally stirs. Open wide the moist dark eyes, which say "I woke you? Moi? Oh dear." Then there's the morning walk, where trails of scent and piles of scat await the magnificent miracle that is the canine nose, but no, She needs to shoot the sunrise. Again.

So here they lie, this tormented twosome, silently suffering. They're barely able to move a muscle, a nostril, even an eyelash. They are bogged down by ennui. (And by the ten pounds of expensive cat food they just ripped from the bag, scattered over the floor and promptly devoured.)
deadline blues
Jake and Maisie on the deck.

November 7, 2007

Swell times

The guys get jittery around here at the start of a big swell. You'll see them at the bluff at dawn, binoculars trained on the half-dozen breaks between here at Point Dume, hear the scritchy sound of boards being waxed, smell the briney sweetness as the sea starts to move.

Thereís no keeping surf secrets any more, and within hours, strangers with surfboards will start to show up. Our little break here in the Cove is just that, a little break. Small takeoff spot, not much room for big egos, though thatís yet to stop anyone. The regulars get there early, do that quick-trot down the beach, swiftly paddle out. The new guys wander by in pairs and trios, try to blend in. And then it's all about the rhythm of the ride. And staying warm.

Hereís the sea today, sleek and steely and cold, spitting out sets like a Tommy gun.
Cove surf

November 6, 2007

My Malibu problem

I was getting my hair cut at the Malibu Barber Shop and thinking about that Steve Lopez column, the one about how our little city got a lot of hate mail after the fires. With early TV coverage tending toward a breathless tally of the pricey chandeliers and precious couture handbags lost when a castle (!) burned, then switching to news that James Cameron and Olivia Newton-John had to evacuate their homes, but Jennifer Aniston, Nick Nolte and David Geffen were OK, the fact that people were peeved came as no surprise.

And while I was thinking about how it's not really all that strange here, how Malibu's 13,000 residents include people who clean houses and mow lawns, fix cars and unplug your toilet, cut your hair and run the registers at Ralphs and Ralph Lauren, rent apartments and share houses, live in their childhood homes homes, which their parents or grandparents paid maybe $40,000 for way back when Malibu was a rural backwater, while I was thinking about all that, Kelsey Grammer walked by.

Which reminded me that Pam Anderson had been in line in front of me in Starbucks and that Jerry Seinfeld's Porsche had been parked at the cafe next door. Headed for the barn, I passed Don Henley's vegetable garden and, back on PCH, paparazzi lurked in wait for poor, sad Britney Spears.

On the way home I saw Minnie Driver and just as I turned into the Cove, there was one of People Magazine's Sexiest Man Alive guys (think naked bongo drums) jogging.

And that's as far as I got with my little column about how Malibu, really, it's not that different from anywhere else.

malibu beach

November 1, 2007

Short-term memory

Remember this little path, which winds through the chaparral above Malibu?

country road

Here's one of the lovely spots along the way, where California quail nest in the underbrush, deer browse for food, and coyotes gather to howl at the moon.
Remember this?

The land went up for sale with this image as a come-on.
Future shock

And now, the end of this bit of wilderness is just a matter of time.
another development permit

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10:24 PM Sun | The LAT also loses sports reporter Lindsey Thiry to ESPN and previously lost White House correspondent Brian Bennett to Time.
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2:07 PM Sat | The funeral for Mark Lacter will be held Sunday, Nov. 24 at 12 noon at Hillside Memorial Park, 6001 W. Centinela Avenue, Los Angeles 90045. Reception to follow.

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