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.