Saturday, May 16, 2015

Bring Our River Back!

The Central Arroyo ca. 1913.

"In and out among the trees, a trail has been worn, often leading down to the bed of the brook; and here one can wander for hours… in this leafy retreat, with the birds singing all about, and trout darting from the horse’s feet.”

-Charles Holder, “All about Pasadena”

Such memories still exist within the minds of Arroyo old-timers. Memories of an Arroyo Seco as a living river; an Arroyo with dark forests, verdant trails and trout darting through the stream.

As it was before, so it can be again!

The Arroyo Seco has been named one of the best candidates for urban stream restoration in the United States, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is currently formulating various alternative plans that could turn that vision into a reality. The Corps’ Arroyo Seco Ecosystem Restoration Integrated Feasibility Program provides an enormous opportunity for massive river restoration throughout the urban portion of the Arroyo watershed.

What does this mean?

The objective of the plan is to remove as much of the cement channel as possible, and to restore a natural soft-bottom stream. This change will enhance the quantity and quality of aquatic, wetland, and riparian habitat — meaning a natural stream environment that will support more fish, more plants, and more birds.
The Corps’ vision of a restored Arroyo at its confluence with the LA River.

In addition, along the restored stream, the Army Corps is considering the expansion of biking and hiking trails. The Corps may also add educational signage and other amenities to enhance the visitor’s appreciation of the newly restored stream.

The Arroyo Seco Foundation has developed a guiding vision for this restoration — theArroyo River Parks Program. This program would link existing parks and open spaces to each other and to the river, thereby connecting the surrounding Arroyo communities. Imagine being able to walk, hike, or ride from Altadena to Downtown L.A. through a series of beautiful, connected River Parks!

Public participation will play a critical role in determining which of the alternative plans the Army Corps of Engineers will recommend. The Corps is currently accepting comments on the Notice of Preparation for the plan until May 23.

Join the Arroyo Seco Foundation in advocating for the most expansive plan for restoring the Arroyo. Together, we can return the Arroyo Seco stream to its original splendor.
*Originally published in 

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Rosemont Preserve Docent Led Tour: Traditional Uses of Native Plants.

Learn to identify the local native plants of the Rosemont Preserve on this tour led by me and my friend, habitat restorationist and indigenous Californian Nicholas Hummingbird! Sample chia seeds, elderberries and other native foods as we discuss the various medicinal, spiritual and practical uses of native plants as they have been used in Southern California for thousands of years.

Native plants will be available for purchase after the tour!

The Preserve is located in La Crescenta at the north end of Rosemont Avenue, just past the chain link fence. Directions: Exit La Crescenta Avenue off 210 fwy, proceed north to Foothill Blvd., turn right to Rosemont Avenue, turn left. Parking is available at Two Strike Park which is on the left side of Rosemont Avenue, 2 blocks before you get to the preserve (5107 Rosemont Ave).

Monday, February 2, 2015

Faces of the Arroyo -- Danny Aldahl -- Crest Runs

There are some people who you just trust with your life.  People in whose abilities you feel completely confident.  When it comes to driving, my buddy Danny is one of those rare individuals.

A skilled mechanic, Danny is also a talented precision driver who can push it to the limit on the track, yet be completely cognizant of the physics and mechanics of his every move.  He has always been one to explore the limits, going back to our days as skating buddies when we first became friends.

With our skateboarding days mostly behind us, we’ve taken up new pursuits over the years.  Hiking and exploring the Angeles National Forest has become a big one, and we’ve gathered more than a few adventure stories and good times up in those mountains.

Fixing up and maintaining his own car -- a 1989 BMW E30 -- going on drives up “Crest” has become a regular part of what we do.  On a recent drive, Danny shared some thoughts:

“Well I mean, it’s like an unused resource.  Not everyone has the same outlook on driving as I do, but I come out here and it’s no cellphone service, no other cars, no traffic, no stop signs, no red lights, no green lights -- none of that stuff.  There’s wildlife and rocks, and that’s pretty much all you have to watch out for.”

“It’s so close!  We could get from 6000 feet to the bar at the Standard Hotel on the rooftop in an hour and a half, and that’s with traffic in Downtown.  We could be down there in 50 minutes if we do it at midnight.”

“It’s just different up here.  It’s quiet, it’s nice, I mean, if you have a fun car it makes it a little more exciting, but in any car it’s fun, it’s an adventure.”

“(Blue roads) are the older roads.  They’re the roads that are the scenic byways.  They’re not there to make you get anywhere quicker.  This road is purely recreation nowadays.  There’s no reason that people use this as a commute.  

It’s like driving up to San Francisco.  You can get there faster if you take the 5, but if you take the 101 or the 1, you’re going to have a way better time.  The road isn’t as direct, and it’s slower and it’s windy -- but the reward is far greater, I think.  If you’re going for time, then that’s one thing.  But if you’re going for the experience, then that’s another.”

“On a global scale, there aren’t many places in the world that exist like Los Angeles.  You go to Europe and there are great roads there, but they’re hours out of anywhere.  You have to sit on a freeway for two hours before you can even get to the mountain pass.  Not all of them, don’t get me wrong -- but here you can drive this twice, three times, four times a week.  I mean, I do!  It’s very accessible.  

And the caliber of road is unbelievable.  Every major motor journalist in the United States has tested a car up here, I’m willing to bet.  They film car commercials up here.  Part of it’s the industry in the area, and part of it is that it’s a very good road.  It’s exciting, and you can test a car without really breaking the law.  It’s absolutely world class.”

The scale at which we traverse the landscape has truly made the mountain range feel like our own.  We’ve made ourselves locals, and every peak, turnout, and trail we pass become familiar to us.  What a life-affirming experience it is to go high upon the mountain at night, to gaze out at the stars from a darkened turnout.  What a gift it is to so easily recharge in our local mountains -- a place which has melded to form our very identities.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Plant Profile -- Wild Cucumber

Following the recent rains, I’ve noticed wild cucumber (Marah macrocarpus) has begun to make it’s seasonal appearance.  I first learned about this native plant when I was a fourth grader at Linda Vista Elementary School.  That year, our class was taken on weekly field trips to Hahamongna Watershed Park as part of a nature program.  It was during these trips that I viewed a free flowing stream for the first time within my own city limits -- something I’d never seen outside of the Sierras.  It blew my mind!

I remember that our instructor and guide through the park was a young woman named Gigi.  We used to do all sorts of hands on crafts with her, and it was during one of our explorations of Hahamongna that she first showed us wild cucumber.  Shortly thereafter while playing in my backyard under the oak trees, I was astounded to discover it growing right there on my own hillside!

The author.  May, 1998.  Hahamongna.
Wild cucumber traditionally had many uses for native Californians.  Roots were used as a fish poison. Seeds were used to treat rheumatism and to create pigments.  The dried seed pods were used as hair combs, and used by Shamans to carry their poisons.  Wild cucumber is also one of the first signs of spring in native California.

Whenever I see wild cucumber, I am reminded of what a great impression can be made in the lives of children when you show them somewhere special in their own backyard.  That’s something I’ve kept in mind when guiding kids through Hahamongna with the Arroyo Seco Foundation.

Unfortunately, we now stand to lose this special place to a shortsighted plan by the LA County Flood Control District to scour the Hahamongna basin and destroy it’s irreplaceable habitat.  The District has ignored alternative proposals which would achieve needed flood protection in the area without such significant impacts.  I hope that you will learn more about the effort to Save Hahamongna, and help us ensure that future generations have the same chance that I did to benefit from this amazing community resource.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Plant Profile -- California Holly

In the old days, Toyon, or California Holly, was the most abundant native food available in the winter, which was traditionally a time of hunger and relative scarcity as far as tending the wild.  People used to chew tobacco leaves to suppress hunger, and relied on Toyon berries to supplement their food stores during the cold months of the year.

Toyon berries may be eaten raw, but usually taste astringent and chalk-like.  When dried, Toyon takes on a subtle sweetness, and may be added to trail mix, or ground into meal and added to acorn porridge or flour for baked goods.  The berries may also be cooked, and are great to add into a stir fry!

Toyon berries added to a nopal, corn, pepper and onion stir fry.  Delicious! 
California Holly is a beautiful, drought-tolerant, native shrub, and tolerates full sun to full shade conditions.  A wonderful plant to grow in your yard, Toyon provides rich habitat for birds and wildlife, and keeps them fed as it  kept people fed in the old days for thousands of years.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Life and Death of a Bridge

I really enjoyed this beautiful video about the struggle in Los Angeles to save our past.  Directed and edited by my lifelong friend Derrick Deblasis, I’d like to think his Tom Explores Los Angeles series is beginning to build a culture around appreciating our history -- at long last.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Making California Buckwheat Pancakes

California Buckwheat has long been a staple food plant for native Californians.  I first learned of its use while a student in Christopher Nyerges’s Survival Skills class at Pasadena City College, and have been curious about cooking with this abundant native plant ever since.

The pink and white flowers produced in the spring begin to turn a nice rust-brown color this time of year, and may be gathered and mixed with wheat flour to create bread, porridge, or one of my favorite breakfast dishes which I created this morning -- pancakes!

The first step in using buckwheat as flour is separating the dried seed heads from the stems.  This process was easily accomplished with the help of a rolling pin.  I simply ground down the buckwheat, and then picked out the stems.  California Buckwheat was a favorite staple of the elderly back in the old days, as the seeds required minimal processing and were easy to eat.

The flavor of California Buckwheat can be somewhat creamy, with a woody coarseness reminiscent of sawdust.  It’s not a bad flavor, and the coarseness was definitely diminished by grinding it down.  I added about 1/4 a ratio of buckwheat flour to 3/4 whole wheat flour in order to enjoy the flavor of the buckwheat without being overwhelmed by it.  

The whole wheat flour also helps to keep the pancakes together while cooking.  If someday the sh*t hit the fan and food was not readily available, knowledge of California Buckwheat could go a long way toward stretching out and even doubling depleted rations of flour!

The pancake batter looked lovely, and the pancakes turned out great!  The ratio of buckwheat to whole wheat flour was the perfect amount, and I loved the specks of California Buckwheat that were cooked into the pancakes.

The distinctive California Buckwheat flavor is perfectly complimented with some butter or coconut oil, maple syrup or local honey, and fresh berries on top.  

My white-sage enhanced green tea combined with these California Buckwheat pancakes to create the perfect native California breakfast -- a simple and satisfying way to connect myself physically and spiritually with the land I call home.