A wild perspective on the government shutdown


My name is Randy, and I’m the raccoon resident of the dumpster enclosure at Yellowstone National Park’s Bridge Bay Campground. The park rangers refer to me as a “nuisance raccoon.” I’ve lost my fear of humans and ability to forage for natural food like fruits and nuts, the stuff that non-nuisance raccoons eat. Imagine trying to eat raw acorns after tasting the flavor-explosion of Jacked Ranch-Dipped Hot Wing Doritos — inconceivable.

As a trash-eating raccoon, the government shutdown has been the best three weeks of my life, and I urge the President to think long and hard about the effects of the shutdown on me, Randy Raccoon the Dumpster Terror of Yellowstone, and not worry about the rest of the American people.

Bridge Bay is Yellowstone’s largest campground with hundreds of campsites, so on the shutdown’s first day the filth of humanity started to pile up outsidethe animal-proof trash containers. It was a cornucopia of Carrot Cake Clif Bars, the constituent ingredients for s’mores, and a fully-loaded diaper, all marinating in stale PBR. After a couple ranger-free days, the pristine park turned into a Golden Corral buffet of trash for scavenging vermin like me. On day 7, I found half a Chicken Chalupa and a human shit pile (coincidence?) steps away from majestic Old Faithful!

I would have thought the government would close the parks if the rangers couldn’t be there, since they obviously are the only thing preventing total chaos. Tourists are dumb. They risk death trying to take selfies with 2,000 pound buffalo, which are basically sentient battering rams. But I’m just a raccoon who’s eaten a used condom and a wrapped Snickers bar, what do I know?

From a friend of a daughter, writing for The Belladonna. From personal experience, I must say raccoons are some gnarly beasts, and not to be messed with. Here’s the rest of the piece.

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Eating the Thomas Fire (sort of)

A little over a year ago the Thomas Fire, powered by the strongest Santa Ana winds in memory, roared through Upper Ojai on its way to surrounding all of Ojai, rampaging into Santa Barbara county, killing two people, destroying 1,000 structures, and burning over 200,000 acres of land. The fire visited our property on the first night, got into a three-trunked oak overlooking the street, and wouldn’t die in that tree until a crew from (believe it or don’t) the Governor’s special Office of Emergency Services came by and put it out personally.

Here’s what that looked like. You can’t see the fire burning in the tree, but you can see the smoke and steam.

A year later, against odds laid by a couple of local expert tree trimmers, that tree still stands, badly burned, splitting, hazardous to stand under, but undauntedly alive. And directly in the burn this week grew a massive mushroom, of the “lions mane” variety. Amazing and amazingly wild creature.

For folks living in wetter environments, wild mushrooms may not be so surprising. But for SoCal: Holy Cow! I only know about this variety from a mushroom forager named Omar Uribe, whom I interviewed working last year on a story about mushroom growing and foraging and products generally.

Omar told me that lions mane is unusual among mushrooms because not only is it mild and almost sweet, but unlike many other succulent and edible varieties it has no toxic look-alikes. In other words: it’s safe to eat! After he reassured me by identifying it from a picture, I went ahead and cooked a moderate harvested portion into a leek and mushroom shepherd’s pie, according to an excellent and mild NYTimes recipe. Mmmmwah! Served it to a number of friends and relations to much appreciation. Thank you, universe, for a wildness we can taste, that wildness that will not go away.


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Climate change hits ag in Ventura County

Proud to have published this story recently in a prominent Ventura County publication. With the help of Ben Hatchett of the Desert Research Institute, we showed I think that avocados, though now a substantial part of Ventura County agriculture, will in the not-too-distant future be a much more risky proposition…but that other crops, such as mangos, might possibly become much more practical. I included perspectives from growers, farmers, ranchers, scientists, advocates and government officials. A comprehensive look, dare I suggest:

Local growers and ag experts weigh in

Is climate change impacting agriculture in Ventura County?

“Yes, but …” say the farmers, ranchers, water agency representatives and scientists I talked to about climate change in Ventura County. Growers and ranchers proceeded to talk about the harrowing drought and the devastating Thomas Fire, though many of those interviewed pointed out that these could be examples of weather, not long-term climate changes. They also mentioned the extreme two-day July heat wave that damaged avocado groves throughout the county.

Yet after detailing the damages they suffered, farmers and ranchers without exception stressed to me that they remain committed to their work with the land, and expressed confidence about the future of agriculture in Ventura County. (more)

A couple of excerpts worth noting and possibly tweeting:

On Ranching:

“The [ranching] industry has been severely impacted by drought,” [agricultural adviser Matthew Shapero] says. “You can define ‘drought’ in different ways, but precipitation has been significantly below average for six of the past seven years, and even the last two years, which provided some drought relief statewide, have not really benefited Ventura County all that much.”

On Bringing State Water to the Ojai Valley and W. Ventura Area:

John Krist, CEO of the Farm Bureau in Ventura County, doubts that any plan will bring much state water to Ojai agriculture.

“I’m pretty pessimistic about the chances of additional state water making much of a difference in the relatively dire situation in the west county,” he says. He explains that although Casitas has for years paid for the right to an allocation of 5,000 acre-feet a year of water from the state, on average the state fulfills less than 60% of the allocation for water districts, meaning that the amount of water available to Casitas would probably be less than 3,000 acre-feet a year. That number could fall to zero in a statewide drought, as happened during the drought in 2014.

Lakes Casitas in 2018

And on the rising temperatures:

In the future, those high temperatures [in Ventura County] will become more common and more extreme, according to projections calculated for us by Benjamin Hatchett, PhD., a climate scientist at the widely respected Desert Research Institute, working on a grant for the Watersheds Coalition of Ventura County.

Consulting with an expert at the California Avocado Commission, Hatchett learned that temperatures higher than 95° stress and can damage or kill avocado trees. Historically, Hatchett says, farmers in the Ojai and the Fillmore areas could expect to see temperatures in excess of that mark about 30 and 15 days a year on average, respectively.

Estimates using downscaled global climate models predict [Ojai] could have up to a seven-fold increase in the number of these very hot days for the late 21st century. “To be fair,” says Hatchett, “these are very preliminary results from this ongoing Ventura County study and show a worst-case scenario, but the increase is certainly concerning.


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How Yoko turned on John’s imagination

A charming piece via the BBC, drawn from a new book, reveals how Yoko’s idealism turned on John’s imagination and — pretty directly it seems — inspired the creation of his most iconic song: Imagine. Specifically, Yoko’s book Grapefruit. Lennon said:

“There’s a lot of pieces in it saying like ‘imagine this’ or ‘imagine that’,” he said about Grapefruit. “Imagine could never have been written without her. And I know she helped on a lot of the lyrics but I wasn’t man enough to let her have credit for it. So that song was actually written by John and Yoko, but I was still selfish enough and unaware enough to take her contribution without acknowledging it. The song itself expresses what I’d learned through being with Yoko and my own feelings on it. It should really have said ‘Lennon/Ono’ on that song, because she contributed to a lot of that song.”

Neither of the two expected the global reaction:

Ono describes how they felt about Imagine at the time: “We both liked the song a lot but we honestly didn’t realise it would turn into the powerful song it has, all over the world… We just did it because we believed in the words and it just reflected how we were feeling.”

Usually on my birthday and Lennon’s death date, December 8, I post some sort of tribute to Lennon, one of the greatest artists (and thinkers, sez me) of my generation. But I always conclude with the same message: miss you John.

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California Weather Outlook: Dry or Wet 2019?

In recent years, the mighty California Department of Water Resources has committed to researching the possibility of extending weather forecasting beyond the 3-14 days that is currently “skillful” according to statistical measures. In the fall they have been hosting a discussion of these questions at the National Academy of Sciences outpost at UC Irvine. This year’s presentation was called Water Year 2019: Feast or Famine?

Without getting into a long and wonky discussion, suffice to say that researchers seem to have turned away from the past emphasis on the influence of El Nino on precipitation in the Southwest, and instead are pioneering new methods, working with the support of NOAA, focused on the identification of specific “weather objects” such as Atmospheric Rivers nearer the West Coast. (see forecasts here)

State climatologist Michael Anderson warned the audience of scientists to take this “outlook” with “a whole shaker of salt,” and included this slide, discussing conditions and factors forecasters must consider.

Anderson admitted a little later that the amount of information in that slide might have been “abusive.”

Nonetheless, he went on to summarize the outlook for rain and snow as follows. These are some of CA’s best forecasters making observations about what they’ve seen so far from this water year. Notes in [brackets] are my off-the-cuff translations of the science

Slow start to water year: no significant precipitation until Thanksgiving. [factor in wildfires]
Eastern Tropical Pacific warmer than usual [meaning more clouds closer to West Coast — potential moisture]
Jet stream zonal [systems moving directly across Pacific, east to west, and rapidly]
“pattern suggests faster moving storms regularly impacting California with precipitation totals dependent on AR [Atmospheric river] characteristics — watch your weather forecasts”
Dynamical seasonal forecast suggests above average winter [but these forecasts have not been shown to have skill]
NOAA forecast calls for wetter than average winter

Sounds to me like these folks are expecting a wet winter, even if they don’t want to be quoted saying so.

This morning the LA Times reports that the storm system that hit SoCal this week was wetter than expected, and veteran observer (and friend) Bill Patzert puts that in context:

There are a couple of reasons why it’s hard to say whether the rest of the season will be rainy.

Not only is there a “wannabe” El Niño in the Pacific Ocean along the equator, a weather phenomenon that can cause a series of subtropical storms to hit California, Patzert said, but there’s also a “blob” of warm water in the northeastern Pacific Ocean, which in years past has reinforced a drought-worsening ridge of high pressure that diverts storms away from the West Coast and into the central United States.

“It’s a rematch of the blob versus El Niño,” Patzert said. “Most forecasters are being cautious about January, February and March, which are usually our wettest months.”

As the story notes, one reason it may feel wetter than normal is that it’s been much drier than normal in recent years, especially early in the season. (Last year at this time SoCal had recorded only a trace of moisture.) This year so far we’ve had about 4 inches here in the Ojai area. So it seems wetter.


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Thomas Fire (one year ago tonight)

The Thomas Fire began about five miles from our home near Thomas Aquinas College near Santa Paula on the night of December 4, 2017, a date Upper Ojai will never forget.

In a bad twist of fate documented in my story in the Santa Barbara Independent a couple of weeks later, an electric transformer at the top of my street blew up about half an hour after the fire began near Santa Paula, setting off a shower of sparks that fell to the ground and immediately started a fire. The Koenigstein Road branch of the fire rapidly burned down my street and overwhelmed Upper Ojai, going on to destroy over 100 structures, including my office and a barn/studio. You can’t see the trees swaying and the winds rushing in that picture, nor feel the heat of that strangely dark night, lit solely by the light of a wildfire.

But this is what it more or less looked like that fateful night, a photo hastily snapped at the fire about a quarter mile or so behind the house, as I took one last look around before evacuating. Can you feel the menace?

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Black Friday climate assessment: Katherine Hayhoe vs. Donald Trump on The World

The extraordinary Fourth National Climate Assessment, released by thirteen federal agencies coordinated by the US Global Change Research Program, established by Congress decades ago, came out last Friday. On the day after Thanksgiving, the notorious Black Friday. For some reason.

Ironically, if this excellent interview and breaking news segment on the assessment on The World can be trusted, this apparent attempt by the Trump administration to bury a huge bad news climate story seems to have backfired in fairly spectacular fashion, inspiring several more news cycles of coverage and mockery.

Certainly, the contrast between the bluster of the President, and the level-headed factuality of Katherine Hayhoe on contrasting statements and an interview on the World makes ridiculous in juxtaposition the President’s bluster.

Hayhoe, who leads a Climate Science Center at Texas Tech, and who is a Christian and a scholar in both political science and atmospheric chemistry, makes the President look, as Trevor Noah said, as if he has been genetically engineered for superhuman powers of stupidity.

Here’s what Hayhoe said:

“This report brings the issue of climate change home to the places where we live. So often it seems like [global warming] only really matters to the polar bears and maybe future generations,” she said. “But this report talks about what is changing and how that affects real people today. And how we have responded; which is, you know, we are responding, but not enough. And what are the bigger changes we need to make to make sure that we are all going to be okay in the future.”

Highly recommended. This segment on The World, for Monday, November 26, 2018. Fascinating and inspiring. Yes — we can prepare ourselves! And we must.

Here’s a painting, called Crown Ridge, that makes specific this general subject by my efriend Barbara Medaille, She beautifies it too.

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Could SoCal become unliveable due to climate change?

From the Fourth National Climate Assessment, released (for some reason) on the day after Thanksgiving by the Trump administration. Folks, I’ve just started reading the Southwest section, but I must say, for SoCal and other hot places in California, in particular, this looks like very bad news.

Under the higher scenario (RCP8.5), climate models project an 8.6°F (4.8°C) increase in Southwest regional annual average temperature by 2100.23 Southern parts of the region could get up to 45 more days each year with maximum temperatures of 90°F (32°C) or higher.23 Projected hotter temperatures increase probabilities of decadal to multi-decadal megadroughts,61 ,62 ,69 ,70 which are persistent droughts lasting longer than a decade,69 even when precipitation increases. Under the higher scenario (RCP8.5), much of the mountain area in California with winters currently dominated by snow would begin to receive more precipitation as rain and then only rain by 2050.71 Colder and higher areas in the intermountain West would also receive more rain in the fall and spring but continue to receive snow in the winter at the highest elevations.71


Tragically, the RCP8.5 [emissions] scenario is the pathway we are on at the present moment. Here is a mapping of the warming to date, with a caption below. Note that Ventura County, despite its coastal location, has already warmed as much as all but a very few locations in the entire Southwest. 


Figure 25.1: Temperatures increased across almost all of the Southwest region from 1901 to 2016, with the greatest increases in southern California and western Colorado.23 This map shows the difference between 1986–2016 average temperature and 1901–1960 average temperature.23 Source: adapted from Vose et al. 2017.23

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From a new record by Jeff Tweedy of Wilco, paired with a “Silly Symphony” video by a fan (apparently). For a rainy day…

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a poem from the late Paradise

A poem I wrote the other night while grieving the loss of my hometown of Paradise:

I’m sorry – Please excuse the smoke.
It’s just the dreams and hopes of 27 thousand yesterdays.
It’s just the minuscule evidence of
That one baby picture,
That painting of the sea captain by my brother,
And those family portraits of the past 40 years.
It’s just the piano from my grandmother who passed away years ago that my brother just brought back from Iowa.

Excuse the hazardous air quality.
It’s just the thousands of saved kid’s drawings and crafts, books, children’s toys from years gone by that had been unpacked for grandchildren, wedding certificates, diaries, the favorite pillows, that favorite teddy bear from baby years, the 1960s records and the VHS tapes of birthday parties and graduations.

It’s just the houses of my childhood friends where we would play in the late summer evenings and spend nights dreaming of what our grownup years would bring. Not knowing that our futures would all hold this moment in time as our collective yesterdays ascend to the sky.

Please excuse the falling ash.
It’s just the church where I grew up attending with all the children’s songs, VBS programs and the baptismal where I chose to dedicate my life to God. It’s just the aisle where I stood and looked at the man on the day that I said “I Do”.

The falling ash – It’s just Paradise.
A little non-destination town that’s not on the way to anything important. It’s just that end-of-the-road town where people settle and know each other and roots run deep. It’s just a place where the biggest news was that Taco Bell came to town 20 years ago – until Starbucks finally made it 4 months ago.

Paradise – it’s just the place where everyone is your neighbor, as backyards are shared and simple icons are known and loved. Icons that are now ashes falling around you (sorry about that).
Icons like Fosters Freeze.
Gold Nugget Days.
Honey Run Road Covered Bridge.
That one antique store, just to name a few.
Icons like Kalico Kitchen where my dad and I had breakfast on the day of my wedding, just the two of us.
Icons like Darlene’s Frozen Yogurt and Round Table Pizza where many birthday parties growing up took place, not to mention the take home pizzas to mom and dad on weekends we would visit.
Personal icons like the Lucas’s house where many days and nights were spent as we grew up from toddlers, to grade school, to junior high, taking care of animals, watching movies, going trick-r-treating, and discovering our first crushes together.
Icons like the Muth house, where we made brownies and talked about boys and got ready for banquets and wrote songs, and led out in different high school student leadership opportunities.
Icons like the youth room at the church where we discovered so many amazing things together and planned mission trips and prayer conferences and learned what it meant to be used by God right here and right now.
Icons like Rankin Way house where we would watch different phases of our family’s life every year as we gathered for potlucks, game nights or just hear some good music.
Or Country Club where huge gatherings would take place like the 4th of July party for the neighborhood, or just coming together for brunch, or talking about religion and politics.
Or Peterson’s house where we would eat the most delicious Swedish treats and have a visit from Santa.
Or all the houses around town that we lived in since age 2, (that are now all gone) and finally settling on what would become home: Boquest Blvd. Boquest, where breakfast was late, like nights, and eras of my life passed within those 4 walls – from preteen, to high school, and as the walls of my room changed their decor as they held my changing eras like a quiet, constant friend. The early mornings getting ready for school, the late nights studying or dreaming of tomorrows that are now todays. The Christmas eves and mornings where my brother would wake me up to go open our stockings. The night I spent in that room with my sister before the day of my wedding, our conversations waning into the early morning. The years and eras fleeting now in hindsight, as most recently these four walls had been a refuge for my aging parents. And not knowing that 1 month ago would be my final farewell to my constant silent friend – my room – where I spent a few nights with my infant son as we cherished time with family.
Icons like Billie Park where I would go on hikes with my friends as a preteen and teen, and then later take my hubby as we dreamt of the future, and then most recently would take my own 2 children to play and romp and just be…in Paradise.

… And not to mention all the lives that were lost: mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, grandparents, beloved pets …

But please, once again, excuse our smoke.
It’s just what’s left of what was one of the most unique little settlements in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains: what was Paradise.💔

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