June 29, 2008

Birds Of A Feather Hollyhock Together

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , — geoff @ 8:48 pm

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Good morning and greetings from Santa Cruz, where the annual June gloom has been in full swing. Adding to the gloominess is the fact that a major fire is raging to the south of us in Big Sur and we’ve been receiving big-time smoke signals for over a week. Nothing like waking up and being greeted by ashes on my windshield. More on our state in flames later in the blog cast.

Last week on a somewhat dreary, fog-filled morning I was driving my son to his basketball camp in Capitola (photo #1) when I came upon a beautiful garden full of hollyhocks. These babies were at least 7-8 feet tall with a wingspan matching the Warrior’s number one draft pick Anthony Randolph. It was like driving by a basketball court-the colors were so striking that I had to stop and take a few shots. Here’s the inside scoop of these fantastic looking flowers.

Hollyhocks are believed to be of Asian origin, because they are depicted in Chinese art as early as the 9th century, before the invention of chop sticks and chopped liver. The plants were cultivated by Chinese peasants to symbolize the passing of time. Chinese peasants revered the cooked leaves as spring greens and the buds as a delicacy, the same way I revere a spring roll and a cream cheeses filled wonton. And for all you crab rangoon fans, the plants were brought to America in 1630 by the early descendants of Neil Diamond, who later wrote the song “Holly Holy.”

After its introduction to America in the 17th century, hollyhocks spread so quickly they were called alley orchids. The Spanish name for the plant is vanilla de San Jose. The French name is chocolate de Palo Alto. It is also known as San Jose’s wand. Why, I don’t know. Hummingbirds and butterflies find hollyhocks and my aftershave to be irresistible. Much like myself, hollyhocks are survivors, capable of enduring intense heat, drought, thin soils, freezing winters and and an up and down year by the New York Yankees. They now grow wild everywhere from the coast of the Black Sea to the foothills of New Mexico. Hollyhocks are used by herbalists as a cure for colds, sore throats and the summertime blues.

Back to the raging infernos. An unprecedented outbreak of lightning strikes ignited more than 800 wildfires in a single day across Northern California last week. This is what Lou Christie was referring to in his 1966 hit “Lightning Strikes-again and again and again and again.” A record dry spring and the worst drought in 100 years followed by early summer heat and freak electrical storm were responsible for one of the worst days for wildfires in the state’s history. That reminds me of the recently deceased George Carlin’s line about a freak accident-”three freaks in van ran into three freaks in a truck.”

Thick smoke obscured the sky and flyballs and reduced visibility to less than two miles in San Francisco. Bay Area meteorologists and chefs described the huge clouds of smoke and the Giant’s hitting as the worst since they moved here from New York. Even with out-of-state firefighters brought in at the request of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, the sheer number of blazes meant that many were left to burn out of control. The smoke from the fires has also created extremely unhealthful air quality and eerie shots of the sky for photographers to the north.

Currently there are 1,400 fires burning in central and northern California. As I mentioned before, two big fires, started by lightning last week, have merged together and are burning in the Big Sur. As of Saturday they had already torched an area of 42 square miles, approximately the size of San Francisco and continues to burn at a torrid pace. This Big Sur blaze is devastating an incredibly beautiful piece of U.S. coastline, what one writer refers to “as the greatest meeting of land and sea.” It’s odd to be writing about a disaster while it is still ongoing but hopefully these fires will be brought under control soon. It’s not just Paris burning. We’ve gone from the Golden State to the Orange Flame.

That’s it for our final blog of June, 2008. Coming up on Wednesday we’ll venture to the South Pacific and tell you about some angry native Hawaiians who want to reclaim their islands. Can’t say that I blame them. So enjoy the hollyhocks and let’s hope the firefighters can catch a break. We’ll catch you in July. Later, baseball fans.

June 26, 2008

A Snip In Time Saves Nine

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , — geoff @ 9:33 pm

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Good morning and greetings from the Pacific coast. Last week we took a look at a group of cormorants nesting on a shelf along West Cliff Drive. When I went to check them out later in the week I immediately noticed the females were sitting differently on the nests. That meant one of two things. Either there was a breakout of hemorrhoids or the eggs had hatched. Sure enough, it was baby cormorant central as most nests seemed to hold three youngsters. What made it challenging were the angry western gulls who were strafing my tender scalp in an effort to protect their black-coated friends. Fortunately I was wearing my “Mission Accomplished” safari hat which protected me from the attack.

I thought to myself, what an interesting place (photo #1) to raise a family. Right on the magical edge of the continent with waves crashing downstairs 24 hours a day. Great view and the rent is cheap. But as you can see from the final shot, not all of the cormorants are in the family way. You might say some are a still a little nervous, like they’re sitting on egg shells. These little ones will hang out until August when they’ll receive a map and their flight assignments.

Let’s move from birds to mammals. Scientists and gossip columnists at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Zoo have revealed they reversed a vasectomy on an endangered horse to allow it to reproduce naturally – the first-known operation of its kind on an endangered species. Immediately this question comes to mind? Why were they doing the scissors kick on this pony in the first place? Couldn’t they have told him to just stop horsing around or at the very least supplied this sacred stallion with a case of some extra large protection?

Veterinarians and racing fans said that the surgery was performed in October on a Przewalski horse named Minnesota. Luis Padilla, the zoo veterinarian who performed the reversal surgery with a spin move on the baseline, said the procedure was a first for this species and likely for any endangered species. The horses are native to China and Mongolia and were declared extinct in the wild in 1970. Since then several hundred have been bred and reintroduced to the wild in Asia along with enjoying the pleasures of a Mongolian barbecue.

“This is kind of interesting turnaround,” said Dr. Sherman Silber, a St. Louis urologist who pioneered reversible vasectomies in 13,000 humans and helped with the horse surgery. If I were in this guy’s office, the first thing I would do is turn around. “We’ve made so much progress because the human really is the perfect model.” I don’t know if you’ve been to a stable recently but I’m not sure if I agree with that visual assessment.

A similar surgery was successfully performed while Padilla was a resident at the Saint Louis Zoo in 2003 on South American bush dogs, which resemble Chihuahuas and former U.S. Presidents. They are classified as vulnerable but not endangered unlike our Commander-in-Chief, who would be classified as clueless and dangerous. By the way, this is my last shot at the administration for a while as I return to my kinder, gentler self.

The “temporary vasectomy” could have a significant effect on how animals are managed in captivity by giving zookeepers a new way to control the animal’s offspring without having to neuter them or use contraceptives that can change an animal’s behavior. How about just telling them to knock it off?

Minnesota, the 20-year-old horse, had a vasectomy in 1999 at his previous home at the Minnesota Zoo. Boy, they really gave a lot of thought into naming this stud puppet. A vasectomy may be performed on an endangered animal because of space constraints, the size of species or if an animal has already produced many offspring and its genes are overrepresented in the population, says Budhan Pukazhenthi, a reproductive scientist at the National Zoo’s Conservation and Research Center in Front Royal, Va. I’m not that impressed by this scientist’s theory but I would love to use his last name in my next Scrabble conquest.

Scientists later realized Minnesota was one of the most genetically valuable horses in the North American breeding program based on his ancestry. Do you think a little research before might have be prudent so they wouldn’t have had to play snip to my lou. Zookeepers hope to find a suitable female for Minnesota in July. So far they’ve contacted eHarmony.com, Cupid.com and Yonkers Raceway.

Cheryl Asa, director of the American Zoo and Aquarium Association’s Wildlife Contraception Center, said the reversible vasectomy could be useful in isolated cases but probably won’t be adopted broadly. That good news for members of the animal kingdom. As for myself, when I’m thinking reversible, I’ve thinking jackets or maybe a practice jersey. As you can see, I’m more into sniping than snipping.

So there goes another week of blogging with the stars. I hope you are enjoying our summer program here on Monterey Bay. So enjoy the baby cormorants, have a fabulous weekend and we’ll catch you on the last day of June. Aloha, sports fans.

June 24, 2008

Weather I’m Right Or Weather I’m Wrong

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , — geoff @ 8:54 pm

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Good morning, cumulus cloud lovers. This past Saturday was day number two of the Summer of Love, 2008. It was also one of the most unusual weather days I can recall from my 23 years and 8 days on the central coast. The morning started out with a baby blue, cloudless sky and it looked like another scorcher was on the way as the temperature had hit triple digits the day before. Then in late morning, before you could say “What happened to John Edwards?” storm clouds started to move in. The sky was completing a 180 degree turnabout-I hadn’t seen anything change that quickly since the TSA started denying airline passengers the right to bear water on flights.

So we went from a stifling hot morning to the sky turning shades of blue and darkening as the mammatus clouds rolled in. These tornado-like clouds visit us only a few times a year around Monterey Bay, as they prefer to hang in the midwest. You can see them in photos #1 & 2. These uniquely shaped white pillows of moisture make their appearance when thunderstorms are in the area and this day proved no different. All of a sudden ThunderClap Newman was rolling in, lightning bolts were flashing across the bay and giants raindrops were pelting beachgoers. It was very strange, indeed with these dark, threatening skies after a morning full of crystal blue persuasion. Meanwhile, the thunderstorms sparked 14 small wildfires in the Santa Cruz mountains to add to the problem of trying to put out the fire on Friday that destroyed numerous homes and burned 630 acres.

And then in early evening on the second longest day of the year, the clouds rolled away, the sky returned to its Pacific blue self and if you had left for the afternoon you never would have known that anything was amiss in the universe. But it was a wild ride as a friend said hail fell in Soquel. I know that the rain in Spain falls gently on the plain but hail in June? The only thing that was missing was Dorothy, the Wizard and a golden rainbow. And rest assured I was looking for that one, Toto.

So that’s it for the wildest weather day of 2008. Tune in again on Friday when we’ll give you a photo update on the continuing saga of the cormorants on the cliffs. We’ll also look at a surgical procedure performed on an endangered species that is a Sunrise Santa Cruz classic that you are not going to want to miss.

So I thought we’d end with a little weather humor. A Hollywood director was shooting a big budget movie on location in the desert. One day and old Indian came up to him and said, “Tomorrow rain.” And sure enough, the next day it rained.

A few days later the Indian appeared again and said to the director, “Tomorrow storm.” And sure enough the following day there was a terrible storm, which brought a temporary halt to the filming.

The director was hugely impressed by the old Indian’s weather predictions and told his secretary to put him on the payroll. However, after a number of successful forecasts, the Indian didn’t show up for three weeks. Eventually, the director sent for him and said, “I have to shoot a big scene tomorrow and I’m relying on you. What is the weather going to be like?

The old Indian shrugged his shoulders. “Don’t know. Radio broken.”

That’s it. Goodnight, everybody. Catch you on Friday.

June 22, 2008

So Don’t Play With Me, ‘Cause Your Playing With Fire

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — geoff @ 9:10 pm

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Good morning and welcome to summer. In honor of the Frankie Valli’s favorite season, we were going to look at six of my favorite beaches along the central coast. But the weather gods have been unusually active and the skies have been lit up around Monterey Bay. Here’s what’s gone down and or should I say gone up in smoke.

Around 2:30 pm on Friday I noticed some huge plumes of smoke in the sky. Since there was no Doobie Brothers concert scheduled that afternoon I immediately went on photo alert. It was an extremely hot afternoon-it seemed a little bit like earthquake weather as major smoke was billowing into the sky. It was somewhat surreal and horrific as I had just shot another major blaze the week before. I took the first photo from the wharf while at the time not knowing where the fire was blazing. All I knew is that somewhere people and animals were probably panicking. I later learned the flames forced the closing of a 5-mile stretch of Highway 1 creating even more chaos for residents in the area.

Out on the wharf I ran into a policeman I knew and he said the word on the street was that someone had deliberately set five different fires. My first thought was, what is this kind of evil doing in our golden state? We are in the midst of a horrible drought here on the central coast and haven’t had any rain since April 23. The ground and brush were dryer than a sports bar in Salt Lake City on a Saturday night. On May 22, a fire broke out in Corralitos which torched 4,270 acres and destroyed 35 homes. The cost of fighting that fire was $16 million. Then on June 11, a 520 acre blaze destroyed 3 homes and cost the state another $5 million to extinguish. And more fires were started by lightning on Saturday but that’s a subject we’ll take a look at on Wednesday.

Reports were that someone had witnessed a motorcyclist setting spot fires in four or five areas about 20 feet apart along Highway 1. Those small fires erupted into hundreds of acres within hours, racing up the hillsides, leaving panicked residents little time to collect their belongings and get out and leaving animals trapped with no way out. By this time, more than 600 firefighters had poured into the region. Meanwhile, temperatures were hitting a record 105 in Watsonville near where the fire was centered as the high heat, low humidity and lack of rain contributed to the fast moving blaze.

But luckily, thanks to numerous aircraft attacking the fire, from fixed-wing planes dropping retardant to helicopters dropping water, firefighters were able to control the blaze. But not without cost. This was a disaster for both humans and animals. Anxiety, shock, fear-these are just some of the emotions that go along with these tragedies when people lose their homes. Overall, the fire is out but it burned 630 acres and the loss of pets and homes in still smoldering in our south county.

It’s been a tad on the warm side as the thermometer hit 102 on Friday. I don’t want to say it was hot this day but I was sweating like Bear Stearns executive. It was so hot that I saw a dog chasing a cat and they were both walking. That’s in comparison to last week when it was so windy that I saw Siamese twins looking for one another. Anyway, the all-time record for the warmest day in Santa Cruz was set back on September 7, 1904 when the thermometer hit 108 degrees.

So with any luck that’s our final look at any smoke on the water for this summer season. Coming up on Wednesday we’ll take a look at the very unusual weather that followed on Saturday. Oh, and by the way, the cormorant eggs have hatched along West Cliff and the proud parents and now sitting on the little ones. We’ll check our those youngsters on Friday. So have a magnificent Monday and enjoy the summer mode. Aloha, Tiger Woods fans.

June 19, 2008

Reef Madness

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: — geoff @ 9:29 pm

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Good morning and welcome to the final blog of spring 2008. I thought for today’s photo theme we would go with something fun and colorful and I don’t mean shots of caskets returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. We’ll be talking burials soon enough. I often think about our forgotten troops (and their families) currently fighting two wars. And FYI, we lost more soldiers last month in Afghanistan than Iraq and this is seven years after we supposedly defeated the Taliban. I’m not a reporter, I just play one in cyberspace.

Let’s turn to a more pleasant subject. For our photofest today we are going to look at six bright, elusive butterflies of love, little creatures who have flown into the westside of my life here in Santa Cruz. It’s always a good day when butterflies are fluttering in the neighborhood or I can find my wallet and keys. And on that note, to the person who invented the paging system helping me locate my mobile phone I’d like to award them the medal of honor.

On to today’s news. None of us really likes to think about where we might want to be buried but here’s something you might want to ponder in your bathing suit. About 45 feet below the ocean’s surface lies a cemetery with gates, pathways, plaques, benches and a snack bar. The Neptune Memorial Reef, which opened last fall, is seen by its creators as a perfect final resting spot for those who loved the sea or just want to stay moist. They hope that one day the reef will cover 16 acres, have room for 125,000 remains or worst come to worst, just try to keep the business afloat.

The Neptune Memorial Reef is located in open waters 3 1/4 miles off the coast of Key Biscayne, Florida, which means any certified diver, shark or underwater lunatic can visit it. The artificial reef’s first phase allows for about 850 remains and a couple of lifeguard towers. As Gary Levine, a diver who conceived of the idea and is now a shareholder in the company that owns it says, “This is simply as good as it gets.” I’m not sure if fans of Jack Nicholson or Diane Keaton would agree with him.

The ashes are mixed with cement designed for underwater use and fitted into a mold, which a diver then places and secures into the reef. A copper and bronze plaque is installed with the person’s name, date of birth and death. There is also a line for a message, haiku, or streaming video. “It’s sad to see someone die, but this is a celebration of life,” says artist Kim Brandell, who created the reef’s design. “We call it ‘life after life.’” Or you could call it, “Gee, who ate Grandpa?”

Brandell goes on to say, “I designed it to be a diver’s location. I am hoping and planning it to be the most dived location on the planet, besides Paris Hilton.” As a diver swims down the pathways of the reef there will be themed areas, like dancing, sports and dinner theatre. The cost of a placement starts at $995 and can go to all the way to $6,495, for those who want to be placed inside the base of a lion statue for all eternity. Yes, for those of you who always wanted to visit Davey Jones locker or who read “10,000 American Leagues Under The Sea,” dreams do come true.

The reef is designed to last forever or as long as Pat Riley remains coach of the Miami Heat. It is engineered to withstand the harshest hurricane to hit Florida in the last 100 years and Florida voting booths. It is being marketed by the Neptune Society, which specializes in cremation services and mermaid exploration in 11 states. This reef does have a certain appeal. I can just hear my wife saying, “Kids, get on your scuba gear, we’re going to visit Daddy.”

So that’s our show for the week. Today (Friday) is the summer solstice which means we will see more light on this day than any other this year. Then, much like myself, the days will be getting shorter. So tune in again Monday when we’ll salute to the beginning of summer. Enjoy the day, enjoy the weekend and remember that defense wins championships. Later, sports fans.

June 17, 2008

I Don’t Want To Crow Up

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Good morning and welcome to my world. Today we are going to look at six different flavors of birds I’ve observed in the last week. On Saturday my daughter and I took the dog for an outing at Antonelli’s Pond and before you could say “Rajon Rondo” we came upon these two geese (photos #1 & 4.) Where they had flown in from I couldn’t say, how long they were staying was never discussed and just what where they doing there at that moment was never asked. But they were very observant and said I seemed quite relaxed, or as “loose or as goose.” When I returned the next day both had flown the coop with their Canadian passports.

I spotted the Great Blue Heron doing aerobics in an open field on Delaware Avenue. The cormorant was nesting along West Cliff Drive while grooving to Blue Oyster Cult. The little black and white fellow I actually shot a few weeks ago at Four Mile Beach. He seemed lost and wondered aloud if John McCain was really the Republican party’s best choice. The final shot is a couple of baby gulls who were just born on the rocks at Natural Bridges. With them are the proud mother and father who posed for this shot before getting back to the business of sending out birth announcements.

So let’s stay with the bird theme. There’s a crowing, or should I say growing problem in the Japanese city of Kagoshima. Crows have been setting up their nests on electric poles causing strings of blackouts in this city of 500,000 on Japan’s southern island of Kyushu. Blackouts are just one of the problems caused by an explosion of Japan’s crows, which have grown so numerous that they seem to compete with humans for space and jobs in this crowded nation. There are said to be 150,000 crows, 2 blue jays and an albino pigeon in Tokyo alone. Communities are scrambling to find ways to move or reduce the crow population as the birds have taken over parks, nature reserves and miniature golf courses, frightening away residents and caddies .

With wingspans up to a yard, intimidating beaks, sharp claws and money to spend, Japan’s crows are bigger, scarier and more aggressive than those usually seen in North America. Hungry crows have bloodied the faces of children while trying to steal candy from their hands and have carried away ducklings, prairie dogs and sushi vendors from Tokyo zoos. The city stepped up its efforts after a crow buzzed the head of the governor while he was trying to shoot an eagle while playing golf.

Japanese bird experts say the crow population and the use of teriyaki sauce have increased enormously since the 1990′s. Experts say that behind the rise is the growing abundance of garbage, many of them TV shows imported from the U.S. Actually, it’s because the Japanese have adopted more of a western lifestyle. This has created an orgy of eating for the crows and we’re not talking just grapes. They have become scavengers with an attitude. So the Kyushu Electric Power company has put together crow patrols that have removed 600 nests and a sushi bar since they began three years ago.

But despite these jumpsuited men in gray, the crows are winning as the nests, blackouts and adults with crows feet keep increasing. These birds are quite crafty. They have begun building dummy nests to draw patrol members away from their real nests. The crows have also shown a surprising ability to disrupt Japan’s supermodern technical infrastructure as over the last two years Tokoyo has reported 1,400 cases of crows cutting fiber optic networks, apparently to use for nests and better cable reception. Fortunately these black crowes are confined to Japan and have been unsuccessful in making the long flight to the U.S. mainland. I would estimate that’s about 6,000 miles by the way the crow flies.

So that’s our look at the black plague that’s reeking havoc in the land of the rising sun. Enjoy the menagerie of birds and congratulations go out to the new NBA champion Boston Celtics. This year’s playoffs were a tad disappointing (er, weak) as with a few exceptions the games and series did not live up to the hype. The western conference battles down the stretch during the regular season were a lot more intense. LA was a joke and a choke during the Finals. I guess this means I won’t be wearing my Kobe Bryant pajamas again till next season. Those padded feet were annoying anyway. Aloha, Laker fans.

June 15, 2008

So How’s Bonny Doon?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , — geoff @ 9:52 pm

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Good morning and welcome to the central coast, where we’ve experienced two major forest fires in the last month. The first, the Summit Fire in the Santa Cruz mountains, burned 4,270 acres and destroyed 35 homes. The second began last Wednesday. I was cruising the westside at around 3:30 when all of a sudden white smoke appeared in the sky (photo #1) coming from the Bonny Doon area. As the fire spread it looked like a bomb had gone off (photo #2.) I was shooting at Natural Bridges as the smoke spread across the sky in a rather eerie fashion. Soon everything was changing color due to the smoke and the ocean (photo #5) turned into a coppertone sea. As the smoke got thicker the sun (photo #6) displayed shades of colors that signaled something is very wrong here today.

Fortunately, as of today the Martin Fire is pretty much contained. We have some friends living in Bonny Doon who refused to evacuate their home so things were kind of dicey for a while. Overall, 520 acres burned and the cause of the fire is under investigation. Investigators are speculating that hikers, trespassers or magic squirrels in the Moon Rocks area of the Bonny Dune Ecological Reserve might have accidentally ignited the blaze. Rumor has it that this area, which is closed off to the public, is a favorite spot for people who like to practice preventive glaucoma.

So I got to wondering, what’s the story with wildfires, these raging blazes that rapidly spread out of control, much like the Bush administration did after 9/11? Like vacations, they occur most frequently in the summer, when lightning and morons are roaming the sky and woods. We haven’t had any rain in months and the brush was dry and the flames moved unchecked through the woods like Ray Allen did through the lane at the end of the game 4 on Thursday night. Like the Bonny Doon blaze, fires often begins unnoticed and spread quickly with the wind carrying the flames from tree to tree. As you can see in photo #3, dense smoke is the first indication of either a fire or a Grateful Dead concert.

These intense displays by Mother Nature got me to wondering about other big-time fires. Here’s number one on the disaster hit list. On the evening of October 8, 1871 the worst recorded forest fire in North American history raged through northeastern Wisconsin and upper Michigan with hurricane force winds. By the time it was over, 1,875 square miles of forest had burned, an area twice the size of the state of Rhode Island and Donny Rumsfeld’s ego.

An accurate death toll has never been determined since local population records were destroyed in the fire. An estimate of between 1,200 and 2,500 people were thought to have lost their lives. Peshtigo, Wisconson, the town hardest hit, had an estimated 1,700 residents before the fire. The city was gone in an hour. In Peshtigo alone, 800 lives were lost. More than 350 bodies were buried in a mass grave, primarily because so many had died that no one remained alive who could identify many of them.

The fire was so intense it jumped several miles over the waters of Green Bay as well as jumping the Peshtigo River itself to burn on both sides of the inlet town. Surviving witnesses said that the firestorm generated a fire tornado which threw rail cars and houses into the air. The smoke blocked the sun, the rising moon turned red and witnesses thought it was a sure sign of the apocalypse.

This Peshtigo fire represents the greatest tragedy of its kind in North America. Yet amazingly, most people have never heard of it because it occurred at the same exact time as America’s most famous fire-the Great Chicago Fire that destroyed 17,450 structures, caused about $200 million in damage and left one-third of the city homeless. This makes the suffering of present day Cubs fans look like a romp in the park. As you can imagine, this fire grabbed all of the national headlines. But citizens of Wisconsin are well aware of this painful tragedy as well as the Packers losing to the Giants in this year’s NFL playoffs

So that’s our look at the Hall of Flames. If you follow the national news, you know the torrential floods in Iowa and killer tornadoes throughout the midwest have been dominating the headlines. Hurricanes, cyclones, earthquakes, reality television, we are living through some wild times. So get on board and enjoy the ride here at Sunrise Santa Cruz and we’ll catch you for some Larry bird action on Wednesday. And speaking of which, get ready for game 6 between the Lakers and the Celtics Tuesday night. With any luck, it will be a classic. Later, sports fans.

June 12, 2008

Hand Me My Sweater, It’s Getting A Little Chile In Here

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , — geoff @ 9:46 pm

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Good morning and welcome to westside story. On Wednesday we checked out a spectacular sunrise over the Pacific at Lighthouse Point. Today we are again blasting back to the past and heading a couple miles up the coast to Natural Bridges State Beach. These are a couple of never seen before sunsets that I thought would be a good way to close out the week. Then again, I thought the Lakers winning game 4 and tying up the NBA Finals would be a good way to finish off the week but I guess the Celtics had another idea.

We’ve been talking food this week here on the blog. Well, when it comes to healthy vegetables, my personal favorite and the numero uno choice of Americans is the proud potato. Mashed, baked, scalloped, roasted, french fried, au gratin, no matter which way you serve it, I find them all to be very apeeling. These taters tots are included in one of every three meals that Americans eat. But where did these carbohydrate cloggers first set down their roots? The origin of the potato has become, a “hot potato” between neighbors Peru and Chile. The spud dispute began last Monday, when Chilean Agriculture Minister Marigen Hornkohl said 99% of the world’s potatoes derive from spuds native to Chile and that “you cannot petition the Lord with prayer.”

Peru, where the potato and llama races are a source of national pride, bristled at the claim and said that these spuds come from a part of the Andes near Lake Titicaca, most of which is located in modern-day Peru. The country claims to have some 3,000 varieties of potato, all of which can be made into french, steak and seasoned curly fries. And by the way, who named Lake Titicaca? Howard Stern?

The spud dispute is just the latest flare-up between the testy neighbors. The one previous to this was which nation actually coined the term “peasant.” This new, simmering, so-called “Pisco War” flared up again when Peru’s agriculture minister called Chilean Pisco “bad,” after Chile declared May 15 “National Pisco Day.” This is not to be confused with “Joe Piscopo Day.” Now both nations are fighting over bragging rights to the potato and who receives the next major earthquake.

Andres Contreras, a researcher at Chile’s Austral University in Valdivia, said archaeological studies have found the first evidence of human consumption of potatoes dating back 14,000 years in southern Chile, right before the discovery of ketchup. This would be long before evidence emerges of spud consumption in Peru, which also claims bragging rights to Peruvian lilies, Peruvian marching powder and Shining Path rebels.

Now this is where things gets starchy. The head of Peru’s National Institute for Agricultural Innovation, Juan Risi, called Chile’s potatoes mere “grandchildren” of Peru’s tubers. “Peruvian potatoes that originated near lake Titicaca are the true potatoes, and their children spread throughout the Andes,” Risi said. And we all know that the children shall lead us. But who even knew that potatoes were sexually active?

Experts say the disputes reflect lingering historical tensions between the Amos and Andean neighbors. The disputes are “a very superficial manifestation of this ongoing concern of national pride and wounded feelings over various problems in the past,” said David Scott Palmer, a professor of Latin American politics and American policy at Boston University. I believe the professor is referring to soccer matches, border disputes and the origin of “chili fries.” Bottom line, it sounds to me like both nations have a potato chip on their shoulder.

That’s it for another week of blogging with the stars. So happy Father’s Day to all you well-deserving males out there who put time in with your children to make this world a better place. And on a personal note, here’s wishing my father, Daniel Gilbert, a Happy Father’s Day. 91 years old, living in Santa Cruz and still going somewhat strong. Unbelievable. They say every American eats about 126 pounds of potatoes every year and he is definitely one of them. And remember, while you’re reading this people are worried about losing their homes in the Bonnie Dune fire so try not to sweat the small stuff. So have a great holiday weekend, enjoy the sunset cruz and we’ll take a look at that raging fire on Monday. Later, aloha fans.

June 10, 2008

We Won’t Be Food Again

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , — geoff @ 9:53 pm

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Greetings and welcome to the light side, photo lovers. Santa Cruz, California is known for its world class sunsets. But being an early riser, I’m partial to its world class sunrises, which are not quite as popular and seen but just a lucky few. That’s where this site steps up to the plate. I’ve been photo blogging since last August but have been digitally involved since 2005. So I think it’s only right that we sometimes go back into the time tunnel and take a look at some pasterpieces that have never seen the light of the blog day.

This little jewel is a sunrise from back in 2006. It was a spectacular morning with an incredible array of colors down at Lighthouse Point. As you can see from the first shot, my dog dug this early morning light show and insisted I name this shot “Golden Dreams.” Much like my Freudian therapist, once she gets her mind set on something there’s no changing it. Anyway, throughout the summer (no pun intended) we’ll be revisiting the past to check on the magic and magnificence of yester year. Or to quote Ralph Kramden of
“The Honeymooners” to his wife Alice, “You can’t put your arm around a memory.” Replied Alice, “I can’t even put my arm around you.”

Now Ralph Kramden was a guy who liked to eat. Which brings us to our subject du jour. According to a government study, Americans today waste an astounding 27 percent of food available for consumption. It happens at the supermarket, in restaurants, taco bars, vegan buffets and in very own kitchen. A federal study found that 96.4 billion pounds of edible food was wasted by U.S. retailers, food service businesses, consumers and Hollywood caterers in 1995. That’s about 1 pound of waste per day for every adult, child and sumo wrestler in the nation. And that doesn’t count food lost on farms, by processors, wholesalers or in my Scooby Doo lunch box.

Grocery stores discard products because of spoilage, minor blemishes and dedicated shoplifters. Restaurants throw out what they don’t use. And consumers toss out everything from bananas that have turned brown to Chinese leftovers to that brie cheese that’s turning moldier than Napoleon’s troops at Waterloo. In 1997, in one of the few studies of food waste, the Department of Agriculture said that 96.4 billion pounds of the 356 billion pounds of edible food in the United States was never eaten. Fresh produce, milk, grain products, sweeteners and Pringles make up two-thirds of the waste. Dick Cheney and Halliburton make up the rest.

The study didn’t account for the explosion of ready-to-eat foods now available in supermarkets. We’re talking rotisserie chickens, macaroni and cheese and potato wedges the size of Gary Coleman. A more recent study by the Environmental Protection Agency estimated that Americans generate roughly 39 million tons of waste each year. This is about 12 percent of the total waste stream where ironically I do most of my fly fishing. All but 2 percent of the food ends up in landfills. This rotting food produces methane, a major source of greenhouse gas that is giving carbon dioxide a run for the money at the pump.

America’s Second Harvest, the Nation’s Food Bank Network, reports that donations of food are down 9 percent but the number of people showing up has increased by 20 percent. In England, a recent study revealed that Britons toss away a third of the food they purchase. This includes more than 4 million apples, 1.2 millions sausages, 2.8 million tomatoes and a 7.5 million English muffins. In Sweden, families with small children threw out about a quarter of the food they bought not including Swedish pancakes, Swedish
meatballs and an assortment of Danish.

Eliminating food waste won’t solve the problem of world hunger, greenhouse gas pollution or the lack of quality sitcoms on network TV. But the Department of Agriculture estimated that recovering just 5 percent of that food that is wasted could feed four million people a day. Recovering 25 percent would feed 20 million people. That’s a lot of hungry people and there is nothing funny about hunger. Now the country of Hungary, that’s a different story.

There are efforts to cut down on the amount of food people pile on their plates. A handful of restaurants are offering smaller portions on bigger plates. And a growing number of college cafeterias, after viewing the John Belushi led food fight in “Animal House,” have eliminated trays, meaning students have to carry their food to the table rather than loading up a tray. Next to go are knives, forks and straws. The biggest problem for people fighting the food waste problem is the attitude, “Why should I care? I paid for it.” I believe the rising prices of food are the answer to that. Then again, obesity doesn’t grow on trees.

So that’s it for another Wednesday experience. Tune in again on Friday for our Father’s Day tribute. So enjoy the color and remember to think about what you might be able to do to help make this world be a less hungry place. And congratulations to Kobe Bryant and the Lakers for beating the Celtics on Tuesday night and hopefully turning the NBA Finals into an event worth watching, or at least TiVoing. Good night and good luck, Yankee fans.

June 8, 2008

The Nest And The Brightest

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , — geoff @ 9:00 pm

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Good morning, bird lovers. If you live on the central coast and you spend time at the magical place known as the edge of the continent, then birds are part of your daily vision. Whether strolling, running and recycling along West Cliff Drive, there is non-stop bird action. It could be chains of pelicans gliding in and out of the fog, gulls circling in the wind or large groups of cormorants flying in a straight line formation. That last group is the aviary organization we’re going to peruse today.

As I was walking along the cliff last week I noticed the cormorants hanging on their usual shelf just south of Natural Bridges. A observant friend pointed out that they were nesting and I was immediately intrigued. As I watched the females dust and clean around the nests I noticed the white objects they were sitting on. Eggs, glorious eggs. So I ran home, had a piece of toast, did a few push ups and then grabbed my camera and starting jump shooting away.

I see Brandt’s Cormorants every day and it got me to wondering, what is their story? What turns them on, what makes them tick, what are their names and on what streets do they live? So here’s the scoop. They are a medium sized bird who, like myself, have a sleek black body. This group is not to be confused with the double crested cormorant, because as we know, 4 out of 5 dentists recommend the double crested for their patients who chew gum.

Brandt’s Cormorants are common in California; over 3/4 of the world’s population resides here and have second homes in Palm Springs. Despite the high cost of living, the largest numbers are in central California. The bird is named after J. F. Brandt, a Russian naturalist who first described the bird in 1838 and first spelled it correctly in 1839.

Along the central coast hundreds of Brandt’s Cormorants are often seen flying in long lines near the water’s surface as they furiously flock to their feeding ground and doctor’s appointments. A group of cormorants has many collective nouns, including “a flight of cormorants”, “gulp of cormorants”, ” rookery of cormorants”, “sunning of cormorants”, a “swim of cormorants” and my personal favorite, a “sh**load of cormorants.”

Brandt’s Cormorants are colonial nesters, not to be confused with Eliot Nesters. A breeding adult has bright blue skin under its bill which is gray in nonbreeding season because gray goes with everything. The male Brandt’s Cormorant chooses the nest site, puts down a deposit and attracts the female to it. Once paired, they build a circular nest on the ground of seaweed, algae, grass, hash, moss, weeds, seaweed, sticks, rubbish and leggos. The male gathers the nest material and the female builds the nest while the male then watches sports on TV. Pairs may reuse the nest, adding more material and perhaps a second level or a deck in the following years. Both the male and female incubate the eggs, and both regurgitate food for the young, which is something I never understood my parents doing. When the babies are born, they are like I was most of my freshman year at Syracuse, naked and helpless.

Under breeding conditions, the adult Brandt’s Cormorant is very impressive with white plumes on the head and an exotic display of a colorful blue throat pouch. Here on the central coast of California, the displays and the NCAA tournament are underway in March-April, eggs are laid in during the NBA playoffs in April-May, youngsters are in the nest as baseball takes center stage in June-July and battles for custody and visitation rights get underway in August. When the eggs hatch, the youngsters look almost reptilian. It will take six weeks for them to grow to full size before they fully mature and start playing one parent against another.

So that’s it for part one of the Brandt Cormorant Family Saga. I will be watching those nests along West Cliff as closely as voting officials in Florida for when those youngsters hatch. I’ve seen photos of the babies and they are stranger looking than a Jerry Springer all-star team. So enjoy the nesting action and we’ll catch you on Wednesday. And remember to extend your hands on defense for deflections. Later, aloha and I’m out.

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