August, 2011:

MARCH ON WASHINGTON – Part Two

Charlton Heston, James Baldwin, Marlon Brando -- in D.C. March

 

 

Martin Luther King’s March on Washington was scheduled for Saturday, August 28, 1963, and several of my bosses from Washington National Airport’s Operations department would be on duty. I jumped at the chance they offered me to blend in with the celebrities, and I invited my good friend Harriet to go along. In the early ’60s, especially around Washington, women got dressed up for events and even shopping; it was a more formal time and T-shirts and jeans were not appropriate attire. Harriet and I knew exactly what to wear—high heels, stockings, and a dress. I don’t recall if we wore hats; usually hats were for church.

California, where most of the famous folks were coming from, had been declared the home of “fruits and nuts.” As an Easterner, I was ignorant about almost everything but the term “Hollywood” and knowing somewhere out there was the magical Disneyland.  Harriet and I probably took along our white gloves, which were the ultimate extra touch when dressed up. I recall my three-inch-high beige heels, but I don’t remember the dress I wore. It was probably a sheath of some kind that looked business-like.

Harriet and I were very excited about the day, but had no idea what to expect as we climbed the stairs to the second floor lounge at the Butler Aviation terminal. It was full of people milling around, most of them casually dressed. I gawked as I saw a fully bearded Paul Newman, fresh from filming the comedy, What a Way to Go; he played an obsessed painter married to Shirley MacLaine. In the middle of the room was the handsome Sidney Poitier talking to Dianne Carroll.

One wall of the lounge was almost entirely glass and looked out upon the airfield. I walked toward the window to see if any planes with more stars would be landing.  I felt tall and imposing as I stood there in my heels—I was about 5’10” in my “spikes.”  Two diminutive black men came and stood on either side of me, neither of them taller than my breasts. On one side was the multi-talented actor-singer Sammy Davis, Jr.: on the other was renowned author James Baldwin. I tried to act nonchalant as they talked. I was probably too nervous to eavesdrop. In any case, I have no idea what they said.

Not long afterward, someone announced a private plane from Southern California was landing and would soon be taxiing to the Butler Aviation gate. All of us were encouraged to go downstairs and outside to greet them. Harriet and I followed along and wondered who the new arrivals would be. While we were waiting, I overheard some cynic say, “Here come more of the fruits and nuts of Hollywood.”

Within minutes a small passenger plane taxied toward us, engine still roaring. I put my hands over my ears and looked up into the smiling face of Moses himself—Charlton Heston. “Loud, isn’t it?” he intoned with that unmistakable, powerful voice. I beamed at him and nodded my head.

As he turned away, Harriet leaned in. “Can you believe that was Charlton Heston?” She was grinning with excitement.

The plane’s engines quit and the door opened. Men and women began to descend the stairs and I noticed how differently they were dressed—tanned women were wearing loose clothing with flashy jewelry; men were in white shoes and colorful shirts. Out the airplane door sauntered someone I knew from television: handsome James Garner. Photographers and reporters were there to cover the story and the dark-haired Garner didn’t disappoint. Right away he waved and played to the crowd, starting some fascinating repartee I no longer remember. But I couldn’t forget his charming easy smile.

Some years later when I had moved to California and became part of that laid-back lifestyle and sunny climate, I would remember my historical hint of things to come, courtesy of Dr. Martin Luther King.  I saw an older James Garner in person at a shopping center: he was asleep in an overstuffed chair, probably waiting for his wife. I told a Californian friend, who knew Charlton Heston, about my minor encounter, and he was always intending to tell “Moses” about my thrill, but he never did.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Victoria Giraud

Author — Melaynie’s Masquerade

historical fiction adventure listed on Amazon Books

Book of short stories in progress

Editor  —   85 books in all genres

Blogger —  Words on My Mind

 

MARCH ON WASHINGTON – 48 YEARS LATER

Martin Luther King Memorial

 

Today marks the 48th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech and the 1963 March on Washington. It was also supposed to be a special occasion: the dedication of the Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial on the National Mall.

Hurricane Irene canceled the dedication plans for now. Martin Luther King’s spirit has a great deal of power, apparently, and it’s still at work! It’s odd that a powerful hurricane interfered! It made me remember another disaster, especially since I experienced it. A major Los Angeles earthquake occurred on January 17, 1994, which was the Martin Luther King holiday.

In late August of 1963, shortly before Martin Luther King’s March on Washington event, a retired Navy pilot asked me: “How’d you like to see some movie stars?” The summer before my senior year of college, I was working for Operations at what was then Washington National Airport on the Potomac River in the District of Columbia.

I was the only female among six retired Navy and Air Force officers, all former pilots, and our offices were on the field level of the airport. Even though the men had done their twenty years in the service and were drawing their retirement pay, they were only in their forties.

The fellows in Operations, who were all cocky and full of charm and humor, would make sure takeoffs and landings were going smoothly. They were in charge of monitoring aborted flight departures or problems with arrivals because of engine trouble or whatever else might go wrong and did. Potential mishaps, depending upon the severity, were labeled either “Standby at the station” if it was mild—as with a plane coming in with less than all engines operating—or “Standby on the field” if it looked more serious—faulty landing gear, for instance. These competent but seemingly relaxed men were privy to what was going on around the airport in general.

As a lowly clerk-typist, GS-3, I was responsible for answering phones and typing whatever documents needed typing—monthly reports of the flights in and out of the airport, for instance. Our oak-paneled offices were nicely appointed and were historic, having been used by Franklin D. Roosevelt during his long presidency, and on our wall there was a photo of him sitting in this office. I enjoyed the job because my flirtatious but well-mannered bosses were fun to work for; there was never a dull moment if they were around. I was their built-in audience and they let me in on their little jokes. One of the them, who resembled old-time movie actor Robert Taylor, would request that I bring him his coffee just like his women—“hot, dark and sweet.”  A former Navy pilot, whose crewcut was getting sparse on top, claimed his hair was guilty of mutiny—they were all deserting the ship.

I was only dimly aware of the growing civil rights movement, which was beginning to heat up at that time. I attended William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia, and we had no African-American students. Although integration within Virginia schools was mandatory, it had yet to become widespread.  In 1963 Viet Nam action consisted of American military “advisors” and was very much an unknown factor; it was August 1964 before the US began a substantial military build-up, which escalated into a war.

Washington National Airport was a hub of activity in those casual days before extensive security checks and terrorism. Getting on and off planes was easy; no one cared what a traveler had in his luggage. If my bosses, who seldom stayed around the office except to have coffee or tell me a joke, spotted anyone famous in the airport, they’d tell me, especially if there was time for me to go sneak a peek. Renowned Spanish painter, Salvador Dali, with his distinctive long curling mustache, was once spotted in time for me to look him over. One of my bosses was very excited when he caught sight of NBC  television news anchor Chet Huntley, who had probably flown on the Eastern Airlines Shuttle—their gate was close to our office. I enjoyed my peek at the handsome, bushy brown-haired Huntley, who was based in New York City; his co-anchor, David Brinkley reported from Washington. Their famous Huntley-Brinkley Report was a highly popular news program of that day and broadcast from 1956 to 1970, when Huntley retired.

None of these celebrities compared to the mix of stars who were coming for the March on Washington, a massive protest for jobs and civil rights headed by Dr. Martin Luther King and his supporters.  Since then I’ve learned much about that milestone and about King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech. At that time, all I knew was that King’s celebrity supporters would all be gathering at the private aviation terminal, not far from the main terminal. My bosses didn’t know who would be there, but they’d be delighted to drive me and a friend to the Butler Aviation Terminal. We just had to act like we belonged there.

To be continued…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Victoria Giraud

Author – Melaynie’s Masquerade, historical fiction adventure

listed on Amazon Books

Editor    — Over 85 books in all genres

Blogger –  Words on My Mind

TRIPOLI THEN & NOW – THE CONTRASTS OF HISTORY

One of the fascinating aspects of aging is the recollection of the past and reflecting on its comparison to the present. It’s something I seem to do a great deal of in my blog.

Watching CNN and other news stations reveal the latest happenings in Tripoli and Libya in general brings up a mix of bittersweet emotions. How can we not feel connected to the places we’ve lived, especially in the formative years of youth? Many of the young rebels fighting to rid their country of Ghaddafi’s violent rule are not much older than I was when I lived in Tripoli. They’re even wearing jeans, our clothing of choice way back in the 1950s. Kalishnikov guns, however, were not part of an American teenager’s attire in those days of the Cold War.

Tripoli has changed a great deal since the middle years of the 20th century. Scattered among its modern architecture (whatever may be left after all the fighting), there are still remnants that we former residents remember, like the recently renamed Martyr Square, which borders the pretty harbor, the Barbary Pirate fort, and the ancient old city.

A A street in the Old City

In the 1950s, Libyan dress was far more traditional with women in white wool Barracans that covered their entire bodies. Today, females are colorfully dressed in bright head scarves that reveal pretty faces instead of the solitary right eye of the old-time Barracan. The young men at war to create a more democratic government sport tee shirts of every color and design. Because there is no formal army, few have a uniform or boots, but sneakers are plentiful. “Nike Goes to War” could become an ad slogan. Western styles have taken over a great deal of the world!

Who would have thought, in the 1950s, that major events would be broadcast around the world on TV? It’s commonplace now, but groundbreaking as well as heartbreaking when John F. Kennedy’s assassination and funeral in 1963 was thoroughly documented and shown as it was happening, for the most part. The coverage hasn’t dimmed since as we  have watched rockets and space shuttles blast off, the World Trade Center collapse, and, it seems, countless Middle Eastern wars. We aren’t spared, if we choose to watch.

It might have been easier to be an American living in the US all those years ago. We got our news in print or on radio and could avoid it more easily. Being an Army brat exposed me to real life in a few foreign cities, none as exotic as Tripoli but it was an invaluable education that created an appreciation for our American democratic system and our mostly affluent lifestyle. It also made me more open-minded and gave me an understanding that people are more alike than not, despite the differences in culture. Today’s TV news and commentaries bring those factors home and I truly feel connected.

Although Libya’s upheaval and changes are not over yet, I feel encouraged and delighted for them. The Arab Spring extends to Autumn; may the New Year be a magnificent one for them.

Rebels in Libya

 

 

 

Victoria Giraud

Author – Melaynie’s Masquerade, historical non-fiction adventure listed on Amazon Books

Editor    — Over 80 books in all genres

Blogger – Words on My Mind

 

MIGHTY OAKS FROM LITTLE ACORNS GROW

In 1978, when I was first hired as a reporter, the Acorn was a little newspaper (8 to 16 pages) and might have had a circulation of about 10,000. It had once been just a “shopper” with ads for local businesses in a hilly valley between the Santa Monica Mountains and the Simi Hills, northwest of Los Angeles. Besides the venerable and almost ancient oaks, the Reyes Adobe, built in 1796, was the most historic point of interest in an area dotted with ranches, which was developing into a suburbia filled with new housing.

My husband, a civil engineer for Los Angeles County, worked in nearby Malibu, a quirky but famous beach location just a short drive through the mountains. We bought a home in this sylvan area in 1970 because houses in Agoura were new and reasonably priced, and it was an ideal area for raising our two children.

When I answered the ad for Acorn reporter, I was offered $25 a week for a few stories. Although it was only a pittance, I wasn’t desperate and the job required very little time, ideal since my kids were both under ten. My first big assignment was to put together a special issue of stories detailing the new development plans for Agoura and Westlake Village, which were rapidly expanding with shopping centers, restaurants, and quite a few small businesses.

After hours of work calling builders, picking up photos and maps, and typing the stories, I was feeling cheated by my low pay. Gathering my courage, I cornered Bill, our gregarious owner, and demanded more. He agreed and paid me the enormous amount of $40! I didn’t complain; it was too much fun working there.

Bill was just the man to run a paper: he’d been in the armed forces and then gone into sales. He kept a cheap little cabinet in his private office filled with booze, obviously remembering the days when bosses drank at the office and when they went out to lunch. (Anybody seen “Mad Men” on TV?).  For the most part, I’ve found that newspaper people, no matter how influential their paper, are generally congenial and have outrageous senses of humor.

The Acorn was located upstairs in a fairly new at that time, all-wood, rustic-style building, part of Whizin’s shopping center, named for Art Whizin, its founder, who had an office near us.  Designed like an open plaza with a roof, the downstairs featured Koi carp fishing ponds, a few shops and a couple of restaurants. From the center of the high-peaked ceiling of the second floor hung a huge mobile with a wooden Indian and other Western artifacts, created by Whizin’s son, Bruce.

Current view of Whizin's Center. Canyon Club features bands of all types.

 

The office was small, only three rooms, and messy, like a newspaper office is supposed to be. Way before computers, we had old-fashioned equipment I wasn’t familiar with. One of our printing machines—perhaps the headlines?—produced lots of tiny perforations and these paper circles got embedded in the shag carpeting. Some years later my husband went into his own business and rented this same office. Some of those bits of paper were still in the carpet!

The Acorn is still operating, all these years later.

 

 

 

THE NEWSPRINT WRITING BUG BITES

When I moved to Agoura in 1970, my daughter Heidi was a year old. A couple of years later, son Hans was born. I was absorbed in raising babies for a few years and didn’t even consider a career of any sort. I was lucky I had a husband who was a civil engineer with Los Angeles County; he could support us without my having to work.

A suburb of Los Angeles, which was almost on the Ventura County line, Agoura resembled a small Western town with oak trees among the grassy, rolling hills (green in winter—gold in summer) and dotted with horse ranches. This valley was ringed by the Simi Hills and the Santa Monica Mountains and seemed far away from the hustle and bustle of the Entertainment Capitol of the World, as the photo below shows.

About the time my kids could fend for themselves to a certain extent, my husband spotted an ad in the Agoura Valley News local weekly, which was delivered to the local developments like Fountainwood, Old Agoura and Oak Park. He suggested I apply.

It was a non-paying position to write the news of our housing development, Hillrise. I’d have my own weekly column called Hillrise Highlights. Since I knew plenty of friendly people in our community, it wouldn’t be difficult to put something together.  Our development was filled with enthusiastic young families, a good amount of open space for kids to explore and a small park.

When I got bored with chatty stuff about birthdays, anniversaries and local events, I looked around for more important news. It didn’t take long to get involved in a community effort among several housing developments in the area interested in widening Kanan Bridge, which spanned the 101 Freeway and was part of the freeway entrance/exit. It had been built when the area was sparsely populated, and the freeway was only two lanes on each side. In the 1970s, the Conejo Valley was growing fast (it still is). It was easy to see the two-lane bridge would soon become a bottleneck since Kanan Road led to lots of open land ripe for more development.

Using my column was a great way to energize and organize efforts to improve our area and the traffic flow. It was my first political effort and my last. I remember sitting in front of the local grocery store collecting signatures on a petition. One of the local pioneers, A.E. Wright, who was probably in his 90s by then, signed it. When he died, he had a middle school named for him.

I have a copy of a front page story I did with a dramatic headline (by that time I was writing for an up and coming weekly newspaper—the Acorn): Will They Wait Till Someone’s Killed To Widen The Bridge?

The campaign for the bridge took months to get organized and lots of meetings to attract attention. Organizers went to the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors and California Department of Transportation before the group got the State to invest the money. The political wrangling process and the ensuing construction took 5 long years, and that’s already been 30 years ago!  Kanan Bridge has been improved twice since then.

 

 

 

 

THE DAPPER CHARLES MUREAU

While managing advertising and public relations for Pelican’s Retreat restaurant in Calabasas, CA, I had the privilege of getting to know an unusual Renaissance man—an artist, inventor, astute businessman, and  accomplished horseman who once rode to hounds.

Mureau died a few years ago but left his mark on Southern California. He had come from Nebraska in 1945 and bought land in Calabasas: 24 acres for his own home on top of a hill north of the main artery leading from the San Fernando Valley northwest to the Conejo Valley, and the 3-acre property on which the restaurant (an old schoolhouse when he bought it) stood. He was considered a pioneer; Calabasas wasn’t yet the tony city it is today with hugely expensive homes. The street that borders his property and crosses the 101 Freeway is named Mureau Road, after him.

The building that became Pelican' s Retreat Restaurant

I met the very gentlemanly and dapper Mureau when he was in his 80s. Sporting a mustache, usually in a British flat cap and cravat worn with a sports jacket, this soft-spoken bachelor was so spry and well dressed he seemed ageless.

For an interview I did for my Daily News column, I was invited to his hilltop art studio workshop, as unusual as he was. The airy, high-ceiling building had its own built-in dovecote, complete with cooing doves that flew in and out as they wished. Around the walls were Mureau’s many oil paintings and a few of his metal sculptures made from scrap and old parts inventively put together.

He told me he used to be a member of the West Hill Hunt in the San Fernando Valley in the 1950s and 1960s. Instead of foxes, they’d use horses and hounds to go after coyotes, and the hunt would also be held in places like Santa Barbara and Thousand Oaks. Mureau and an Englishman, David Sanford Evans, published The Pink Coat or The Why’s & Wherefore’s of Fox Hunting in 1961.

In the early 1980s, Mureau was saddened by the AIDS epidemic in the US. Being naturally artistic and creative, his mind was usually ahead of others. He had put together a sculpture using scrap metal car parts: a carburetor and an oil can with a long spout, among others. He felt the sculpture was the perfect symbol for the AIDS Foundation, which was just getting off the ground at that point. He showed me a photo of the sculpture, which seemed to depict a lion tamer. I didn’t get the point at first, but didn’t want to say so. I showed my teenage son later, and he immediately figured out the message, “It’s a man taming his dick, Mom,” he told me with a laugh. I did some preliminary exploration on promoting the sculpture symbol, but it went nowhere and Mureau gave up on the idea.

Instead, he pursued his longtime dream of having a distinctive party house and a regulation croquet field to be used for tournaments. His property bordered the freeway and for years drivers could see the beautiful, large white octagonal building with a cupola surrounded by a lush green lawn.

While I was writing for the Warner Center News in Woodland Hills, published by Kathleen and Rodger Sterling, Mureau invited Rodger and me for a special private lunch in his party house. The Victorian-style building was quite spacious inside and boasted a solid maple hardwood floor for dancing and a 200 year-old English fireplace. The main room was big enough to hold at least 300 guests. To keep the old-fashioned idea intact, the bathrooms had pull-chain toilets.

Last time I looked, the party house and lawn, now in disrepair, can scarcely be seen through the bordering trees. I bet Charles Mureau, wherever his soul wanders, might be a little sad about that.

 

A MIX OF HISTORY AND SEAFOOD

Being a writer usually leads in a variety of directions. It’s frequently said that life is what you make it, and that people are as happy as they want to be. I prefer to have fun and enjoy what I do. I took a somewhat different path after my divorce when I decided to pursue advertising and public relations instead of the newspaper trade.

Pelican’s Retreat Restaurant in Calabasas, CA was my version of a magic carpet ride for a few years. It was a pleasure to plan parties and special events, especially when the restaurant owners were a congenial bunch. Fishing excursions, St. Patrick’s Day celebrations, live entertainment, participation in nearby Agoura Hills’ Pony Express Days, and mixers for various chambers of commerce were a few of the activities.

 

One of the most satisfying occasions was the Living History party. The restaurant building, nestled on a hill adjacent to the 101 Freeway and the Calabasas Grade (a steep drive down to the Conejo Valley from the western end of the San Fernando Valley) had a long history. On the hill behind it had once stood the first Calabasas one-room schoolhouse, built in 1890. When the old Victorian-style school was demolished, another one-teacher school was built further down the hill in 1925. A retaining wall and stairway, plus the north wall of the restaurant, remained part of the remodeled building, which was a rambling old place with atmosphere. There was a double-sided fireplace, a rather long narrow bar area and two outside patios shaded by shapely trees, appropriately named Trees of Heaven.

The Calabasas Historical Society hosted the party at the restaurant, prompted by the painting of the original 1890 Victorian schoolhouse by a local artist. Catherine Mulholland, granddaughter of LA’s famous engineer, William Mulholland, whose efforts had brought water to Los Angeles, was there as well as Charles Mureau, who had bought the school property in 1950. A few relatives of original area pioneers, who had homesteaded huge acreage or had local businesses, like the first garage, café and courthouse, attended. The area had changed a great deal since the days of oak trees and native grasses with a definite Western flavor. It was fast becoming the exclusive and expensive residential area it is today.

Our mutual efforts brought out a good crowd to see 19th and early 20th century black and white photos. Original desks from the schoolhouse era were also on display. The capper for the evening was attracting the attention of the Los Angeles Times, our largest newspaper. They sent reporter Bob Pool to write a long story about the affair. A few years before, Bob and I were both writing newspaper stories about the Conejo Valley.

John, Gert, Bruce & the Pelican--ready for Pony Express Days

 

 

 

GOIN’ OCEAN FISHIN’ WITH THE GUYS

Imagine being one of three women (I was the only one who was single) and nineteen men embarking on a fishing excursion off the Southern California coast. This adventure was long before I’d decided to write a seafaring yarn about  Francis Drake in the Caribbean. I’d never handled a fishing pole or even had a desire to catch a fish, but I loved the ocean.

The fishing trip was being hosted by Pelican’s Retreat, a seafood restaurant that had hired me for advertising and public relations.  Owners Bruce and Gert were part of the fishing gang, a gregarious bunch of restaurant patrons. After our sporting efforts, we were taking our fish back to the restaurant for a fish fry/grill with all the fixings.

The large group gathered about 1:30 a.m. in the Oxnard Harbor area, ready to head out at 2 a.m. on the Pacific Dawn for Santa Cruz, the largest of the Channel Islands. By leaving at this hour, we’d get a few hours to snooze before we anchored and the sun rose. Sleeping accommodations were below and consisted of very basic wooden rectangular compartments with a plastic covered mattress pad: room for one or two squeezed together. Since I was a novice and was curious about the ocean views, I didn’t hit the bunk right away and stayed up to see the oil platforms lit up like huge Christmas trees.

When I was married, we’d taken our two kids to explore Anacapa, one of the smallest of these islands, and I remembered the weather along the California coast can change quickly and a calm sea can turn into a roller coaster ride. Being confined to a constantly moving boat for 15 hours made me very thankful for my “sailor’s stomach,” which has enabled me to enjoy ocean ventures.

No time for much sleeping in on a fishing excursion, a loud and disgustingly cheery voice called us to breakfast in the galley about 6 a.m. It was chilly and overcast and the anchored boat was rocking, but many enthusiasts in the group had already eaten their bacon and eggs and were fishing. When the sun came out, so did the beer. Thanks to beer and the stronger stuff, there was as much laughter as fishing.

With many capable fishermen around, I had plenty of help with a borrowed fishing pole and the slimy bait. I didn’t participate in the jackpot for largest fish, but as luck and persistence would have it, I caught the second biggest fish on the boat. They told me it was a whitefish, but it looked pink to me.

 

Me and My Fish

 

Another highlight that day was consuming the freshest sushi I’d ever had. Several just-caught fish were filleted and handed out with a slice of fresh lemon to those who weren’t afraid of chowing down on uncooked denizens of the deep. It was delicious and tender.

Warm sun and a calm sea blessed the day and after making an excellent haul of over 300 fish, we headed back to land in the afternoon. We’d carpooled to get there and on the drive home, which was less than an hour, one of the rowdy guys in the camper in front of the car I was in decided to make his inimitable statement on the crazy day by mooning us. I still have the photo of the fisherman we all dubbed “Dr. Moon.”

CALIFORNIA DANGERS – WILDFIRE SEASON

As summer heads toward fall, Californians start thinking of fires and what the season might be like. This year was a very wet one—skiers could still use the slopes at Mammoth in July and the snow melt has made the rivers in Yosemite extremely dangerous. But we are a state of great contrasts. In the fall we get the Santa Ana winds that blow from the deserts in the east and blast their way west as temps rise toward and past 100 degrees. Some fires begin accidentally; others are deliberately set.

I’ve experienced many massive wildfires during over 40 years here. I remember one specifically while living in the Conejo Valley area, northwest Los Angeles County. The Simi Hills and the Santa Monica Mountains are considered prime fire territory. I learned a great deal about fires from direct experience and from being the Editor of the local Acorn newspaper.

A fire is an exciting topic when you write the news. Since I knew people all around the area, I could get a variety of personal stories when the October 1982 fire roared into town. Costs were estimated at $5 million then—probably a pittance compared to current fires. This fire started close to Bell Canyon, an exclusive area of homes to the east of Agoura, on a Saturday and burned 54,000 acres and 65 homes before it ended in Malibu on a Sunday. It followed a typical pattern: racing from one set of mountains and a valley before leaping the 101 Freeway, then burning through the Santa Monica Mountains before reaching the beach. Fires in the last few years in Southern California have been even more extensive and damaging.

My family home was spared; we lived in Hillrise, a housing development north or the freeway surrounded mostly by wild grass and some oak trees. Grass burns rapidly if the fire is close enough but it’s easier to control; the fire doesn’t stick around to really take hold, unlike the highly combustible chaparral in the mountainous areas. I climbed the hill behind my house to watch in horror and fascination as the smoke, propelled by strong winds, climbed into the skies and the fire got closer. How people fared depended on where they lived and if they’d cleared the brush around their property.

The photo below is the smoky view from my backyard hill.

 In Old Agoura, a nearby neighborhood north of the 101 Freeway full of small ranches and various animals, friend Rita was terrified in her home, still under construction. “We lost wood, paint, and the hen coop,” she said. “But the chickens lived. I don’t think they will ever lay again!”

Toni, who lived south of the freeway in the vegetation-rich mountains, struggled to keep control of her horses while she hosed down the hill behind her home. Just as the fire seemed to get out of control, a fire engine arrived. The noise spooked a horse, which lost its footing and rolled on top of Toni’s sister. Paramedics took the slightly injured sister to a nearby hospital, and she was fine.

“The wind strength was unreal and the smoke so dense you couldn’t see the flames,” said Fran Pavley, who also lived south of the freeway.  Pavley, who has been politically active for years, still lives in the area and now serves as a California State Senator.

When fires consume the vegetation in the canyons prevalent throughout Southern California, there can be hell to pay for residents of these bucolic areas, and to those who fight the fires. A fire chief told me that one of the fires that had burned through steep and scenic Malibu Canyon was left to burn itself out. The energy generated was more powerful than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima in WWII.

Nature always regenerates. After a fire, spring brings flowers that hadn’t been seen since the last fire, perhaps many years before.

 

Fire in Malibu in 2007

 

 

 

 

Rss Feed Tweeter button Facebook button Technorati button Reddit button Myspace button Linkedin button Webonews button Delicious button Digg button Flickr button Stumbleupon button Newsvine button Youtube button