Tag archive for Ojai

Ojai water district “excited” by report of water in mountains

Yesterday the Casitas Municipal Water District‘s management staff and Board of Directors held a meeting and heard a “Preliminary Water Security Project Analysis” report from two consultants, including hydrogeologist Jordan Kear, who has been surveying the Ojai Valley for years for a groundwater agency, and knows its geology well. (Note: the project analysis is attached to the agenda for the meeting at the bottom of the doc).

Let me just cut to the chase: Kear identified a large geological formation called the Matilija Sandstone that contains — history indicates and the geology verifies — a substantial amount of water.

A band of sandstone runs through the coastal mountains behind Santa Barbara all the way south to the mountains behind Lake Casitas. Drilling long tunnels (or “adits”) into the rock could allow the district to recover water stored in the porous rock over eons without pumping.

Here’s a slide from the presentation. Follow Santa Ana Creek north (up) and you’ll see it almost meets the planned 10,000 foot “Central Hobo” bore line. “HoBos” stands for horizontal bores.


Kear estimates that the formation, which in this area is about six miles long and 2,000 feet deep, at an elevation of about 3000 feet, contains a minimum of 29,000 acre feet of decent quality mountain water, by a conservative estimate, or as much as 216,000 acre feet of water, by a liberal estimate.

That’s more water that can be stored in Lake Casitas, possibly.

The idea is that the formation will serve as a backup bank for the lake, to be called on in times of drought. The formation does recharge, Kear estimates, at 2,000 acre-feet a year on average, so if the district calls on the bank when in drought, and the formation is what it is estimated to be, that would give the water district access to a large amount of water at a reasonable price — $5.6 million per bore, or less than a $1000 per acre-foot.

Which is a bargain. The city of Ventura has estimated that state water, if available, will cost about $2000 an acre foot, and desalinated water would cost about $2400 an acre-foot, according to board member Bill Hicks.

In his presentation, Kear noted that when Santa Barbara authorities drilled into the same sandstone formation back in the 1950’s to construct the Tecolote Tunnel, they saw “an increase in flow from about 1,000 gallons per minute, to 7000 gallons per minute.” Kear believes that tunnel is an excellent proxy for the proposed HoBos.

The Board approved further investigation of the project by a unanimous vote (although it did not close the door on an “intertie” to the State Water Project with the City of Ventura, which is already working on such a plan).

After the vote, Board Member Russ Baggerly declared “This is exciting!”

A possible solution to drought-caused water panic for one community in Southern California? Yes — exciting is a fair description. Shocking might be another word.

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Ventura County opposes backyard bee-keeping: Ojai fights back

Sorry I’ve been quiet: too many deadlines. Good news is that I have a number of stories to post, big and small, and so let me catch up please.

Here’s a story about a surprising fact. Ventura County, which annually grosses two billion dollars in agricultural revenue, discourages backyard bee-keeping.

Even though nationally bees and other pollinators are in decline. By over 20% nationally, according to a study cited by the National Wildlife Federation. From a story in the Ojai Valley News. We begin midstream:

The policy of the Agricultural Commissioner of Ventura County currently prevents beekeeping except in areas designated for agriculture or open space, according to Interim Ojai City Manager Steve McClary. “The property size and ownership qualifications prevents beekeeping on most residential properties,” McClary wrote in the item prepared for the Council discussion.c

The proposed ordinance will allow beekeeping on residential properties within city limits provided owners register their hive with the Agricultural Commissioner, have lots of at least 5,000 square feet, keep a source of water at all times for the hive, and maintain adequate space in the hive for the bee population to grow safely.

Mayor Paul Blatz asked if encouraging homeowners to keep bees in their backyards might mean more bees and possible problems for residents. [Glenn] Perry, [president of the Ojai Valley Bee Club] replied that actually a number of gardeners and farmers in Ojai, notably Steve Sprinkel of The Farmer and The Cook, had noticed that the bees in the area were in decline.

“I see a decrease in the number of bees around here that’s a little shocking in just the five years I’ve been here,” Perry said. “We’re not talking about an increase, but we are talking about making sure they don’t decline further.”

Councilman Randy Haney wondered if homeowners wishing to keep bees who live near schools could inform administrators about any plans to add hives to their backyards. Perry said his group would be willing to consider the idea.

“Our proposal is intended to be as reasonable and as responsible as possible,” he said.

Mayor Pro Tem Weirick pointed out that the National Federation of Wildlife just released a plan to support bees, calling for a “Million Pollinator Gardens” by the end of this year. The organization pointed to a national study that found a 23 percent decline in bee populations between 2008 and 2013.

Took kind of a fun picture of Weirick after the meeting, which the paper charmed me by running:


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Bee-loving in Ojai — for good reason

To report now and again for a small town newspaper means documenting something that happened or is happening in a small town, but sometimes what at first seems purely local turns out to be much bigger — even international in scope.

From the Ojai Valley News:

A move is under way in Ojai to loosen restrictions on keeping a backyard bee hive.

Kit Stolz, Ojai Valley News correspondent

An international organization of scientists, meeting in Malaysia last week, released a two-year study estimating that up to 40 percent of pollinators around the world — such as bees — face extinction. The report attributed this, in large part, due to the perils of living in a world of rapid change and industrial agriculture.

In Ojai, the young, but active, Ojai Valley Bee Club is taking action to save bees by encouraging city officials to consider a measure loosening regulations that prohibit backyard beekeeping. The club, which meets monthly, has approximately 60 members.

Glenn Perry, an award-winning researcher into bee products such as propulis and the use of bee sting therapy to ease arthritis, moved to Ojai in recent years. He said he was surprised to learn from Ventura County’s Department of Agriculture that Ojai and Ventura County discouraged beekeeping at home.

“Unless you have a large ranch of hundreds of acres, or live out in the boonies, it’s basically illegal,” Perry said. “Ojai has a specific law that regulates beekeeping, and in urbanized areas nearby, such as Meiners Oaks, or Oak View, or Casitas Springs, the county regulations prohibit backyard beekeeping.”

(I must confess, looking at that first ‘graph, it feels kind of stuffy, Probably could have done better than its second sentence, which is simultaneously vague and foreboding. Oh well.)

Nonetheless, as I indicated in the story, Mr. Glenn Perry is literally a world-famous expert in bees. It didn’t take more than a few minutes in his presence to realize how much he knew, and how carefully he answered questions, and how focused his efforts were, and why they had such importance.

Perry, who helped start the Bee Club, argues that local bee hives support the health of important pollinators such as bees, are not dangerous, and should be supported by growers and gardeners alike.

Curtis Skene, who helps lead the larger and older Santa Barbara Beekeepers Association, agrees.

“Absolutely backyard beekeeping helps,” he said. “Bees are under pressure and in danger from all kinds of problems and predators and pesticides. Backyard bee-keeping is very important because it helps keep stocks strong,” he said.

Perry and others from the club reached out to Ojai City Councilman William Weirick, who has expressed a willingness to look at revising regulations to encourage backyard beekeeping.

“We know that that there are pressures on the bee population that are poorly understood and we know that these important pollinating species are being put at risk,” Weirick said. “We also know that bee hives have a much higher over-wintering survival rate in urban areas than in rural areas, and, we know that honey-producing activity is much higher in urban areas than rural, and so it appears that urban beekeeping is something of a refuge for the bees, and a help in their continuing survival.”

In fact bee-keeping is on the upswing across the nation, but especially amongst the trend-setters, in places like Santa Barbara, Santa Monica, Los Angeles, and New York.

(Bee-keeping is perfectly legal in New York City in fact, as long as bee-keepers follow a few basic rules and register their hives with the city.)

It’s inspiring stuff — local folks making a difference, helping to keep the natural world alive. beekeepersbba

[bee-keeper photo from sbba]

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A song and prayer for rain on a hot spring day in Ojai

In the first chapter of the climate book that caught the imagination of The Guardian (and myself), called This Changes Everything, Naomi Klein argues that we are entering an era of climate change cognitive dissonance:

Meanwhile, each supercharged natural disaster produces new irony-laden snapshots of a climate increasingly inhospitable to the very industries most responsible for its warming. Like the 2013 historic floods in Calgary that forced the head offices of the oil companies mining the Alberta tar sands to go dark and send their employees home, while a train carrying flammable petroleum products teetered on the edge of a disintegrating rail bridge. Or the drought that hit the Mississippi River one year earlier, pushing water levels so low that barges loaded with oil and coal were unable to move for days, while they waited for the Army Corps of Engineers to dredge a channel (they had to appropriate funds allocated to rebuild from the previous year’s historic flooding along the same waterway). Or the coal-fired power plants in other parts of the country that were temporarily shut down because the waterways that they draw on to cool their machinery were either too hot or too dry (or, in some cases, both).

Living with this kind of cognitive dissonance is simply part of being alive in this jarring moment in history, when a crisis we have been studiously ignoring is hitting us in the face—and yet we are doubling down on the stuff that is causing the crisis in the first place.

Another example of this cognitive dissonance:, but without the industrial irony: a rain prayer from a native elder, Julie Tumamait, on a record-setting day of heat in SoCal. Yes it reached 94 degrees on March 14 in Ojai, and yet indefatigable Tumamait and her brother Pat and many supporters and even a Shinto priest connected to the Ojai Foundation came out to a local park to pray for rain, each according to their own tradition:


What was touching about the song and prayer to me was "the ask" for water for our streams and rivers, for our "winged people and rooted people and finned people," for lizards and men and women and birds and all creatures alike, so that we all could have a drink. Not just human municipalities, farmers, and homeowners, but for all those who live on and about and in the land itself.  

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Ojai fracking panel agrees: more transparency please!

Over the last four or so months I put together a panel on fracking for the Ojai Chautauqua, a centrist group that holds public forums/discussions on controversial issues at the Ojai Valley Inn. (Think I'm beginning to learn how to do it: This is the third such panel I put together this year, and the second I moderated.)

What happened? General agreement among panelists: more transparency please.

One of the panelists, a former petroleum engineer named Don Clarke, who has been touring the country for the Obama administration and the National Academy of Sciences on the subject of induced seismicity and fracking/injection wells, introduced a concept he picked up in Canada — the Social License to Operate. Meaning that oil companies need the consent of the governed, essentially, and if the process is convoluted or mysterious and the findings alarming, then the license may not be granted. (It's more specific than that: check out the link — but the point is a local permit is not enough.) 

Here's the story from the Ventura County Star. Funny to me the way I am quoted, but not inaccurate, I must admit. 

[OJAI, Calif. – The word fracking has become a red flag for people concerned about one of the practices of oil-well stimulation, according to Kit Stolz, moderator for the Ojai Chautauqua: The Future of Fracking.

“How do we deal with such a complicated issue?” Stolz asked a panel of five speakers with various ties to the oil industry on Sunday at the Ojai Valley Inn and Spa.

The panelists agreed on the need for greater openness on the part of oil companies about the process of extracting oil from the ground.

“There is a deep mistrust of oil companies. If (fracking) is safe, then let’s find out more about it. What chemicals are they using? By building transparency we hope to lower the temperature,” said Henry Stern, a legislative aide to state Sen. Fran Pavley, D-Agoura Hills. Pavley sponsored the highly criticized Senate Bill 4, which Stern helped write.

Senate Bill 4, in part, calls for extensive scientific analysis of fracking by the California Department of Natural Resources. The bill requires greater oversight of various oil extraction practices, as well as more regulation of wells, including permitting and providing information about the chemicals used, source of water used and plans for disposal of that water.

Panelist Craig Nicholson, a geophysicist from UC Santa Barbara, noted that while there has been a correlation between fracking and an increase in earthquakes in Pennsylvania, Oklahoma and Midwestern oil fields, the opposite is true in California.

Showing a chart that detailed the earthquake rates compared with fracking wells in Kern County, the only California county where hydraulic water injection — or fracking — is widely used, Nicholson said there has actually been a drop in seismic activity.

Don Clarke, a petroleum geologist, said fracking essentially involves using liquid with various chemicals that is injected underground to fracture rock and release the oil. Other oil extraction methods include injecting hydrochloric acid down wells to dissolve rock.

Brian Segee, an attorney with the Environmental Defense Center in Ventura, contended that there is little oversight of old wells in Ventura County, many of which have permits that go back decades.

Stern pointed out that SB 4 calls for all wells that are fracking to get a permit, even those older wells. “If you’re fracking an old well, you need a permit,” he said.

Stolz, a freelance writer for The Star, said one of the biggest arguments for fracking and increased oil drilling is job creation. He pointed to a University of Southern California study that says using hydraulic fracturing to access oil in the Monterey Formation shale deposit would yield 15 billion barrels of oil and create 500,000 new jobs.

Dave Quast, California director of Energy In Depth, an advocacy group of independent oil producers, said those are “very optimistic” numbers. He added that most oil companies agree that greater openness about their practices will go a long way toward appeasing public unease.

Tom Krause, of the Ojai Chautauqua, ended the session by thanking the 150 or so people who gathered to pose questions or listen.

“This is a community-based project about how people can get together for civic discourse,” said Krause, who said the fracking panel is the third event sponsored by the group.

He concluded by asking people to send in nominations for other topics. For information about the Ojai Chautauqua, call 231-5974 or go online to http://www.ojaichautauqua.org.]

There is a fairly substantial uptick in local production in Ventura County since 2007, from about 7.2 million barrels a year, to about 8.9 million barrels. But it's impossible to know how much, if any, of that uptick can be attributed to fracking — or at least none of the panelists could answer that question.  


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CA drought hits home — in Upper Ojai

Or, to be precise, the drought hits my backyard.

Yesterday the second of two enormous oak trees that have fallen in the same area in the past month came crashing down.

About a year ago an even bigger and more beloved oak in vicinity split apart and fell. Here's a basic phone pic that gives a sense of the chaos and devastation. 


Drought related you must figure. I'm still shaken. 

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Record CA drought hits illegal pot grows

From a story in last week's Ojai Valley News:

Three years ago, local narcotics officers eradicated about 168,000 marijuana plants from Ventura County's backcountry.

This year, they've found much less — closer to 100,000.

So is that good news or bad?

Neither, say law enforcement officials. California's historic drought is drying up more than just lakes and reservoirs, it's draining the creeks and aquifers far upstream — the ones that marijuana growers utilize to water their gardens, which often contain thousands of plants.

"We had one up in Coyote Creek … and half of the grow was abandoned," said Sgt. Mike Horne of the Ventura County Sheriff's Office (VCSO) Narcotics Bureau. "They're just running out of water." In another grow near the Ortega Trail, he added, "When we went to cut it, it was gone — the reservoir had dried up."

Arguably this is burying the lede. It's not a question of good news or bad news. It's simpler — the drought is devastating everyone, even the illegal farmers ready and willing to cut corners.We may recall the Biblical words from Matthew: the rain falls on the just and the unjust alike. Here's a new version: the drought hits the law-abiding farmers and the unlawful farmer alike.

More detail from Misty Volaski, editor of the paper, below the fold, with a pic from a back country grow in Rose Valley busted last month.  


Backcountry grows, Horne said, often utilize hundreds and even thousands of feet of irrigation lines. Growers will find a canyon with water in it, build a reservoir, and let gravity pump water through the irrigation tubes to the gardens. The fact that hundreds of thousands of gallons of water are diverted from their natural course is troublesome enough, Horne said, but "then they take those reservoirs and throw in Miracle Grow" and other fertilizers. The result? "That stuff soaks into the ground, into our water table," he pointed out. "Everything from Rose Valley south, all that drains to the Ventura River." 

Most of the fertilizers found at these illegal gardens contain nitrogen, which helps the plants grow but also pollutes the watershed and other sensitive wildlife habitats. According to the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board (LARWQCB), nitrogen is one of the chief pollutants in the Ventura River Watershed, for which the board is developing new water quality rules. It promotes the growth of algae, which creates fluctuations in dissolved oxygen levels and can kill or seriously affect wildlife. 

LARWQCB is compelling livestock and horse owners to keep manure — which has high levels of nitrogen — out of the Ventura River Watershed. It's also issuing new mandates to the Ojai Valley Sanitation District's treatment facility on Highway 33.

A 64-page report on the Ventura River Watershed from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) mentions livestock, horses and the treatment plant more than a dozen times, but never mentions illegal marijuana cultivation as a potential source of nitrogen pollution.

According to Horne, at a garden with about 3,000 plants, it's not unusual to find six to eight 40-pound bags of nitrogen-laden fertilizers. "And they're all over the ranchers for using too much nitrogen in orchards, but they need to look at people growing dope up in the canyon, too," he pointed out. "These guys aren't using a tablespoon (of fertilizer) a week, they're using a cup."

Beyond water issues, there is no shortage of other environmental concerns. Poisons are often spread around the garden sites to discourage rats, rabbits, deer and other wildlife from eating up the profits. During VCSO garden eradication and reclamation efforts, dead animals are common. Some are shot to be eaten; others are shot to protect crops; still others are consuming the poisons. Officials don't take the carcasses as evidence, however, so exact numbers and causes of death are unknown.

Pesticides are also being used and are having similar effects. "There are some things (pesticides) they're bringing in from Mexico that are illegal here," said Horne of the growers. "It's bad stuff …They say don't touch this stuff, it's like nerve gas, it's so concentrated."

The combination of the pesticides, poisons and growers' bullets are also taking a toll on wildlife. VCSO officers have found two dead bears in Matilija Canyon this year alone. Though it's difficult to be sure, Horne and his team believe they were killed by growers, due to their proximity to gardens found in the area.  

"Bears are a real problem (for growers). They can demolish the camps," Horne explained.

Trash and food smells attract bears and other wildlife to the site, as well. "At a typical grow site, they might have three guys in it," Horne said. "Imagine how much trash is accumulated if they're living there from March to September."  Tents, sleeping bags, cook stoves, large propane tanks, food, human waste, all that trash — cleanup is a "monumental task," Horne explained, one that wouldn't be possible without state and federal grants.

And the threat to wildlife stretches farther than the boundaries of a garden and camp. Horne said he's been on eradications of other grows in the Sespe Wilderness — not far away from the California Condor Sanctuary where humans are prohibited. 

Then, of course, there are concerns about who's reaping the benefits of these grows. "Almost 0 percent of plants in big outdoor grows in the national forest have anything to do with medical marijuana," Horne said. "It's not Johnny Headshop who has his 10 plants to fix his headaches or to party with his buddies. These are big trafficking organizations financed or belonging to Mexican drug cartels. The people doing this are not just involved in marijuana, they're involved in cocaine, smuggling, methamphetamine, human smuggling. This is just another way to make money." 

A man recently arrested at a grow site confessed that he was a migrant worker and had been picking grapes for $60 a day. "But when they hire you as a (marijuana) trimmer, you can make $160 to $200 a day," Horne said. And the penalty for getting caught? "For their first offense, they'll get 180 days in jail … for a lot of people, it's worth the risk."

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Harvesting the California drought: gold and wood

On the front page last Sunday the LA Times ran a story about how the drought — three years old in California, and now rated "severe" or worse in 100% of the state — had led to an upsurge in gold panning in streams and rivers. Such as the Kern River. 

Researchers said last week that the drought has meant a loss of $1.7 billion. The toll becomes clearer each day, as water vanishes, and long-submerged highways are revealed; as farmland sits fallow and thousands of jobs are erased; as salmon eggs are left exposed to the air and the harsh sun, killing them; as sheep ranchers cull their herds early because they can't make hay to feed them.

But for one small, proud, iconoclastic community — gold prospectors — the drought has been a boon.

It's an excellent story, and reveals subtly over it's not-long course that although prospectors are finding gold as they haven't in decades, perhaps lifetimes, it's still not a living — barely even a hobby. 

Down here in Ojai, the drought is giving homeowners a similar kind of sad bounty — opportunistic beetles (such as the ambrosia) are bringing down drought-stressed oaks that have stood for decades. This may be a sighting of the polyphagous shot beetle, an invasive species from Asia. Plant pathologists in L.A. fear its spread, for as yet we can do absolutely nothing to stop it or the fungus it vectors.  

Though small and sluggish, its appetites are wide and its spread is relentless. It attacks forest trees, city trees and key agricultural trees. It has defied all conventional and chemical weapons. No one seems to have a way to stop it.

Every cloud has a silver lining, they say. Here in Ojai, the silver lining of drought to date is cord wood — I guess. Would rather see all this oak (and all this work) still above us, shading the land. 


 Look closely and you can see in the background another dead oak…in what in years past has been a stream. For one day this year the stream ran, after our one atmospheric river storm.  

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A spiritual retreat ruled by a cat: St. Barbara Monastery

Hidden in an oak woodland, across a bridge and over a stream, on Highway 150 not far from Thomas Aquinas College in Ventura County, can be found one of the least ordinary of sanctuaries for the traveler in search of spiritual renewal.

[Here's a favorite human interest/travel story I wrote recently for the Ojai Valley Guide (pdf) and the story in a more browser-friendly version]

Hidden in an oak woodland, across a bridge and over a stream, on Highway 150 not far from Thomas Aquinas College in Ventura County, can be found one of the least ordinary of sanctuaries for the traveler in search of spiritual renewal.

         It’s the St. Barbara Monastery, housing four sisters of the Eastern Orthodox Church, who open their modest four-bedroom home and a nearby campground to travelers on a donation-only basis.

         Mother Victoria and her fellow three sisters of faith of wear only black, produce income mostly from the construction of redwood coffins, and pray four times a day. Given the seriousness with which they take their traditional faith, and the many hours they spend praying to expiate their sins, it’s easy to fear frowning faces, heavy accents, and stern looks of condemnation for a visitor from the 21st century. 

         Instead, in conversation around the dinner table, an impish humor quickly emerges from the sisters, Americans all, to surprise a visitor. Especially quick with a quip is Mother Nina, but all of the sisters – even Mother Victoria, who was born into the church, and retains at all times a matriarchal dignity – have their witty moments.

         Who rules the monastery? Punkin, an orange tabby, the sisters agree, and declare him the ruler of all he surveys in the monastery. The cat sits still and his eyes close sleepily as he is complimented, as if to say – of course, of course.



Mother Victoria explains how the monastery came to move from Goleta, where a larger group of sisters and one monk had been living, to an obscure home in the country, eight and a half years earlier. Partly the motivation was economic, because despite the fact that the monastery houses a relic from the 4th century Saint Barbara of Kiev, after whom Santa Barbara was named, affordability was an issue in the area. 

          “We had a realtor, and she told us now don’t bother the people at this property. Just go take a look as best you can. So we parked by the highway and walked out on the bridge, but the gate was closed. So we peered through the gate to see what we could see,” Mother Victoria said. “And the orange cat squeezed himself through the bars of the gate and walked out on to the bridge and welcomed us.”

         Mother Victoria smiles.

         “And we said oh we have to have this cat. So we bought the cat and they threw the house in for just a little bit more.”

         In the early years of the monastery, she explains, they were a much larger group of sisters and a monk. Mother Paraskeva – the youngest of the group – picks up the thread of the story.

         “We had seventeen people living on the property – imagine that! We only have two rooms in this house, but we must have had a dozen or fifteen trailers on the property. You should have seen it! We used to joke that we were living in St. Barbara Trailer Camp.”

         “Or gypsy camp,” says Mother Victoria, in a corrective way, but she smiles.

         On the property now under construction is chapel. When the monastery was applying for the permit for construction, a biologist and an the inspector from Ventura County came to look at the property. The inspector took Mother Victoria aside to tell her she simply couldn’t be housing that many trailers on the property.

         The order took the news philosophically.

         “Our bishop was of the opinion that it was of God because the sisters who left went on to inhabit a defunct property in Northern California that used to be a monastery,” said Mother Victoria. “So God used the county of Ventura to create two monasteries where there had been one.”

         Although the Eastern Orthodox church is not nearly as well known in California as many other Christian faiths, it has five million followers in the United States, and countless millions more overseas, especially in Eastern Europe. Many of the visitors to the monastery are followers, and some come on tours. A van of eleven pilgrims on tour of monasteries in California and the Southwest stopped in for a brief visit on their way north to visit a church and orphanage in San Francisco earlier this year.

         Kurt Luebke, a member of the tour from Tucson, explained how he was converted.

         “When I was seventeen, my mother passed away, and I started going to the old Greek Orthodox Church,” he said. “I can literally say that the first time I went I didn’t know a word that was being said but I could feel the presence of God. I love it. It’s not a religion, it’s a faith.”

         Also on the tour was Elizabeth Brollini, who plans to launch an orphanage for children in the Tucson area. She said she has been working in child services for twelve years, but feels the kids need more than the child welfare system can offer.

         “The kids are really suffering,” she said. “I’ve been inspired by St. John the Wonderworker [in a church in San Francisco] and he will be our saint, to feed our spiritual thirst. We are fully incorporated already, and looking for a home. I think these monasteries are little pieces of heaven on earth.”

         Mother Victoria said that visitors often misunderstand the icons of saints in the Orthodox Church, thinking that they – the paintings, which contain the relics — are being worshipped.

         The relics include a tiny fragment of the “True Cross” of Christ’s crucifixion, reputedly, and a sliver of the forefinger of Saint Barbara, a 4th-century martyr venerated by the Orthodox and respected by Anglicans, but not by Catholics, who doubt the history of her story.

         “The saints intercede for us,” Mother Victoria said. “They bring our petitions to the attention of God. The popular way of explaining icons is as windows to heaven, because they are portraying the saints as they are in heaven.”

         Sometimes the monastery attracts followers who stay longer than expected. Mitch Denny, a young carpenter on a spiritual quest, came to the monastery intended only to camp out for a day or two before exploring the backcountry, but has ended up staying for months.

         He tells the story with wry amusement in his voice. He visited a number of monasteries, he said, and even a famous monk in England, looking for guidance, but could not found the answer he was looking for. Yet he wasn’t ready to settle down into the trade.

         “I bought a backpack and prepared to wander to go from monastery to monastery. I thought I would come here and test my gear, because I’d heard there was good camping up in the hills. So I came and they said we’re starting this casket making business, can you build some shelves?” he said. “So I stayed a few days and built some shelves, staying a little longer than I thought, and they said if you want you can rest in that trailer over there, and then at the end of the week they said, well, you know we have this chapel project…”

         Denny smiles.

         “And here I am.”

         “Watch out!” Mother Nina said with to the visiting reporter. “It could happen to you!”

         Accommodations at the monastery are simple: a couch with a view, and a campground by the stream. Campers have use of a firepit and a portable toilet. A flock of ducks noisily hangs out at a few shallow pools in the early morning. The nuns freely share their meals, tea, and prayers, but do not offer entertainment, televised or otherwise, and the chapel, which is under construction, will not be finished for some time.

         Mostly the monastery is about spiritual renewal – an escape from the demands of the insatiable ego.

         “Our visitors usually come to pray with us and be with us in services,” said Mother Victoria. “They share conversations with us around the table. A meal of some sort. Many of them come with a desire to speak one on one.”

         A simplicity and peace awaits visitors to the St. Barbara Monastery, which is ruled by Punkin, and visited every morning by a peacock named His Majesty. The residents welcome visitors of all sorts.

         “You never know who is going to come across that bridge,” said Mother Victoria. 

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Everything you always wanted to know about drought*

Four of us from the Ojai Valley area, all concerned citizens from very different backgrounds, think that we need to talk frankly about the drought, and more, do what we can about it. Not just for ourselves, our properties, gardens, orchards, trees, lands, and wildlife, but also for our community.

This Sunday, at the Ojai Retreat, one of my favorite scientists, Bill Patzert, will I expect scare us with his talk on the history of drought in California and the Southwest, along the lines of this recent piece of his in Los Angeles magazine

Let’s look back over the last 20 centuries: We’ve seen tremendous droughts in the American West. In the 11th century there was an 80-year drought along the Colorado. This is before global warming by anthropogenic—or man-made—sources. The 20th century, which is when we built our civilization in California, was one of the wettest in 2,000 years. It was an anomaly. We know this from tree ring records. We have built a civilization, which is the sixth- or seventh-largest economy in the world, based on imported water in a wet century. How do you like that?

Patzert's talk will be followed by a panel discussion, with Steve Bennett, of the Board of Supervisors; Russ Baggerly, of the Ojai Basin Groundwater Management Agency, Steve Sprinkel, of The Farmer and the Cook, and Steve Wickstrum, of Casitas Municipal Water District, moderated by yours truly. 

Here's an op-ed I had in Ojai Valley News on the subject of this event, below, but the basic point to be made is simple — if in the Ojai area, come join us this Sunday, from 1:45 to 5:15. It's free with a reservation. 

FACING DROUGHT TOGETHER: Concerned Citizens of Ojai Valley

         According to meteorological records from the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, California has been in drought for the last thirty months, and the last two months have been as dry as any winter since the 19th century. That was when Mark Twain supposedly remarked, “Everyone talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it.”

         Here in Ojai, where we are dependent on local sources for all our water, we need to face up to this issue. Four of us from the Ojai Valley area, all concerned citizens from very different backgrounds, think that we need to talk frankly about the drought, and more, do what we can about it. Not just for ourselves, our properties, gardens, orchards, trees, lands, and wildlife, but also for our community.

         It’s not a stretch to say that a successful culture depends on fresh clean water, and not only is it as dry as it has ever been in the instrumental record in California, but paleoclimatologists suggest – working with evidence such as tree-ring records – that this may be the driest period since the year 1580, a year they say almost no precipitation hit the Sierra Nevada.

         For this reason, we are hold an afternoon drought conference March 9th at The Ojai Retreat. We will begin with a “big picture” talk from Bill Patzert, a veteran overseer of a NASA satellite program, and perhaps the leading voice on the climate and meteorology of Southern California.

         The governor and legislature have proposed funding for a groundwater storage lan they say will make a difference for the state, but Ojai and part of Ventura, dependent on the Ventura River watershed, have our own water management decisions to make.

         Already some voices in the community have called for mandatory water conservation measures; meanwhile Ventura and Los Angeles offer assistance to homeowners who convert turf lawns to water-conserving or ocean-friendly gardens.

         Probably we can agree on the need to conserve water, but which path towards that goal will we take? We are not at mandatory conservation yet, but now is the time to discuss constructive actions to keep our community together. Water in crisis has the potential to pit neighbor against neighbor – which only makes matters worse.

         For this reason, as a reporter, I will ask questions of a panel of prominent government officials, (including Steve Bennett from the Board of Supervisors, Steve Wickstrum from Casitas Municipal Water District, and Russ Baggerly from the Ojai Basin Groundwater Management Agency); Steve Prinkel, of the Farmer and the Cook, and Deborah Pendrey, of the Ojai Valley Green Coalition. We hope the ensuing discussion will clarify the issues and possible choices without rancor.

         Because we believe in helping each other save water, we also are holding a workshop session, organized by civil engineer Bill O’Brien, on greywater strategies. Cinnamon McIntosh from Casis MWD will offer instruction on water saving in the home, and Renee Roth will speak on water conserving gardens.

         Pastor Victoria Loorz has called on spiritual leaders from the community, and with Ched Myers, Jule Stensile-Tumamait, among others, will help us see how the watershed connects us both physically and spiritually, and how we can benefit from praying together in our different ways.

         The director of the Ojai Retreat, Ulrich Brugger, wanted to host this event especially – to give us a chance, at least for one day, to be together on this issue, and to find a communality in our plight.

         Please join us. This is a donation-only event, but seating is limited; make reservations at 640-1142.

Here's NOAA's drought monitor for CAafter the recent rainstorms. Here in Ventura County, we're in "extreme drought," but it could be worse — we could be in the brown/"exceptional drought" category. 


*but were afraid to ask.

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