Sunday, January 31, 2010

So I underestimated the hawks

You know how I said in my last post that the red-tailed hawks often hang around our back yard, but never actually catch anything? Apparently, they heard me.

If I had to guess, I would say this was the remains of a young phoebe, a fairly common bird that nests under the bridge just down the channel from out house. In any case, it wasn't any of my lifestock, so Bon Appetit, my red-tailed neighbor.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

The Los Cerritos Wetlands are Wet- which is not as common as you might think.

I finally got off my kiester on a Saturday morning and took the whole famdamily to do a Los Cerritos Wetlands cleanup. These wetlands, which were almost entirely filled in by misguided individuals a century ago, are now seriously degraded, full of invasive species of plants and dotted with those mutant-grasshopper-looking oilwells you can just see in the background of this photo (which is not mine, but is representative of the area). I was pround of how well my kids did. Jillian spent a full hour towing garden wagonloads of debris and trash back and forth to the dumpster. Adults loaded and unloaded it, but she was a trooper. Ben towed even heavier loads. Michael worked for about half an hour before his attention wandered to the search for interesting bits of trash to attempt to smuggle home. I let him get away with one hair barrette that looked like it had been lost on the last cleanup day. (If anything else made it home, I will find out when I do the wash!) We were part of the biggest turnout that the Los Cerritos Wetlands Stewards ( had ever had. If they post the picture they took of us, I will repost it here.

The boys were really hoping to see some snakes while we were working, but no luck. They did get a kick out of the wild rabbit that bolted out of a pile of brush they were clearing. I wasn't all that impressed by the two circling red-tailed hawks, because the both of them have made several attempts (usually failed ones) to catch small birds in our back yard. And of course, living along the flood control chanel we see all sorts of herons, egrets, and pelicans. They've even left the occasional offering of a dropped fish head in the neighborhood (yes, it is as gross as it sounds to find one of those lying on the lawn). But I did get to see a kestrel in the wild for the first time. None of these photos are mine, BTW. My cargo pants were so full of gloves and water bottles that I was already in danger of losing my modesty without having a camera along, as well.

We treated the kids to lunch at Pick Up Stix afterward, which seems to have impressed upon them the notion that taking care of our local environment- what little there is left of it, anyhow- is a reasonably fun thing to do. Now to figure out how to get the Young Men & Women to make it a service project...There's no way I am treating them all to Chinese food afterward, but maybe ice cream sundaes at my house?
Oh, and I almost forgot to explain what I meant by the title. The los Cerritos Wetlands are an ephemeral, or seasonal, wetlands. Since the landfilling cut off direct access to the ocean, it is only really "wet" when we have had rain- and lately we've had more than we know what to do with. Someday the Los Cerritos Wetlands Stewards wants to cut an access to the San Gabriel River, which runs right past the wetlands. This would idealy return the area to nearly its original circumstances. So which do you think will happen first - the nature freaks will defeat the corporate oil interests in court, or sea level will rise enough to make the wetlands truly wet, regardless?

Wednesday, January 27, 2010


It all started with a $20 donation to Heifer Project. Heifer Project is a wonderful international charity organization that takes the “Teach a Man to Fish” paradigm one step farther. First they teach a man to raise fish. Or a woman to tend dairy goats. Or a teenager to raise meat rabbits. You get the idea. Then they give said persons the fish, goats, or rabbits, on the condition that, when the animals are bred, the caregiver will “pass on the gift” by giving some of the progeny to another deserving, trained person in need. Heifer has existed for about 70 years, and has operations around the world. After you make a donation, you get a free subscription to their “World Ark” magazine, among the most readable of such publications I have seen.

So one morning I found myself reading an article about a farmer in Southeast Asia who had implemented an impressively integrated farm model on his family’s relatively small property. Food scraps from their garden were fed to their chickens, ducks, rabbits, and goats. Anything they all didn’t want went into their worm bin. Escaped or surplus worms were happily eaten by the chickens. The ducks roamed flooded fields, foraging for snails and fertilizing the flora. Chickens helped keep insect pests under control. The goats were kept in a pen above the pond: fed weeds and fibrous crop waste (goats think cornstalks are as tasty as Snickers bars), their “nannyberries” became fish food. The fish in turn became people food, and the scraps became chicken food. Rabbit droppings fertilized the vegetable gardens, the produce from which fed the humans and the scraps from which fed the rabbits. And of course the rabbits also fed the people, from time to time. You see where this is going. The waste from one animal or plant was food for another. There was no “trash,” just resources to be moved from producer to consumer. A nearly closed system. Harmless. Wise. Absolutely beautiful. Now how could I get in on that?

I was looking for a worthwhile project. I was a stay-at-home mom and part-time daycare provider, college educated but with little daily stimulation. I wasn’t a PTA sort of gal, or a play-date-in-the-park sort of gal. Have you seen that T-shirt that reads “Does not play well with others”? I am absolutely amazed that none of my siblings has given it to me for Christmas yet. Here was what I needed to do - what that farmer half a world away was doing, in whatever way I could, on my own little 1/3 of an acre on the periphery of urban Long Beach, California. Take care of myself and my own, with as little waste and bother to others as possible. That would keep me occupied for awhile. In the process, I just might figure out why exactly I wanted it to.