Timepieces, Glendale, Caiifornia

Timepieces, Glendale, Caiifornia

“The Clock”, a cleverly assembled film by video artist Christian Marclay, is a treat of movie and television scenes. A timepiece, synchronized to the exact time the viewer is watching, anchors each scene and montages of film clips fold into a seamless sequence over the course of this 24-hour film.

I watched part of the film on a recent visit to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Seated on a white comfy couch in the darkened theater, the insistent clock tick-tocks and dramatic music kept me hooked.

The formula: a clock followed by a reaction shot. Anxiety, fear, boredom, anticipation. The scene I can’t forget is a husband returning home unexpectedly, interrupting his young wife’s bedroom tryst with her lover. The tension mounts as disbelief turns to anger as the lovers try to cover themselves. And then, the husband slowly and methodically removes and doubles up his thick black belt in his hands. Yikes!

I wanted to stay for more of this compelling film but the time (what else?) was about to expire on my parking meter.

“The Clock” got me thinking about the passage of time. My mantra lately is “where does the time go?” It passes in the tiny moments — the necessary daily activities of living, the minutiae, the to-do lists, the celebrations of new life, the sad moments of decline and death, the things that keep our lives, our bodies, and our spirits going. Tick-tock.

Endless Time in the Garden, Laguna Nursery

Endless Time, Laguna Nursery

But there’s never enough time. When I was a teen, I often felt bored, like time was moving much too slow for the dreams I had and I wanted so badly to fast forward time. But now, tempus fugit. Time seems to speed up each year and the seasons repeat themselves in quicker and quicker succession. I want a way to “pause” time.

And then I remember “Wondrous Nature.” Nature — a place where time slows down to a joyous retreat for me.

I walked the beach in Laguna early one morning last week, scrunched the sand between my toes, let the ocean foam splash up on my white capris, breathed in the salty breeze, petted all the sandy dogs that passed my way and time faded away as surely as my footprints in the shifting sand.

Blue-Eyed Crow Baby

Crow Baby, Glendale, California

Crow Baby, Glendale, California

Nine days ago a fledging crow fell into our backyard and seems to have become a permanent boarder here…rent-free.  I called Animal Control. The officer told me fledglings are common this time of year and to leave it alone because crow mom would care for him until he was ready to fly. So we’ve been waiting and waiting…. and waiting.

I’ve read that American Crows are highly intelligent birds and can work out solutions to many problems, as well as count. Well, I’m counting the days until crow baby finds his wings and flies away…far away.

For the first few days, crow baby (who’s actually a huge “baby”) wouldn’t leave a tall stack of flagstone in our side yard. We renamed the flagstone “white rock” for reasons I’m sure you can imagine.

A few days later, white rock was deserted and we celebrated that he had finally flown away. But then he kept popping up somewhere else in our yard when I least expected it, scaring the “be Jesus” out of me. Lounging in the ivy, perching on a rock, lazing on the wheel barrel, crouching in the jade plant, hopping on our deck.

He’s quite mischievous and ventured behind our fountain, startling us since he blended into the foliage so well. I got a good look at him and saw that one of his eyes seemed infected but the other was blue, a hallmark of a young crow.

I called Animal Control about the infected eye and Donald came to investigate. The officer slowly approached him with a large white towel and scooped him up to examine him. He said the young crow was well nourished, had a slight eye infection but was otherwise quite robust and active.

Within 30 seconds, a “murder of crows” — I kid you not, that’s the moniker for a group of crows — were cackling, circling and protecting their little darling. Crows are quite social and have a tight-knit family.

He wakes us at 5:30 a.m. demanding breakfast with loud “caws”. Mom delivers lots of yummies judging from that young crow’s output. The brood chatters throughout the day; communication is definitely one of their strong suits.

The last couple days, he’s been “feeling his oats”, hopping around and spreading his wings. He’s a bit clumsy and has crash-landed into fences, doors and bushes… but slowly he’s getting better.

Although he’s not Fred Astaire, this morning, he did a jaunty hop and flew to a jade plant — 2 feet off the ground. Then he flew all the way to a chair top — 4 feet. Then he bumped into a wood fence. Later, we found him resting on our chaise lounge cover, looking a bit too comfortable for us. Talk about “failure to launch”.

He’s made a few bad landings, but practice makes perfect. In just the last few hours this afternoon, he’s been strutting his stuff. At 4 p.m., baby crow had lift off! He flew to the top of our wood fence and then up into the oak tree behind our house.

So right here on Bagdad Place, we’ve had our own first-hand “wondrous nature”.

Baby crow earned his wings today and joined his feathered family up in our sycamore trees. But we can only hope he soon finds someone else’s sycamores that he likes as much as ours.


“Heigh-ho, Heigh-ho, it’s home from work we go”

Leafcutter Ants, Sarapiquis Rainforest Lodge, Sarapiqui, Costa Rica

Leafcutter Ants, Sarapiquis Rainforest Lodge, Sarapiqui, Costa Rica

In the Sarapiqui rainforest in northeastern Costa Rica, we watched a long line of cutterants hard at work carrying green bits of leaves down a tree trunk and along the ground enroute to their nest. Hoisting the fragments above their heads, these little stevedores are herculean since the leaves can be three times their body weight.

Surprisingly, the ants don’t eat the leaves but instead bring them to an underground chamber and feed them to a soft, spongy fungus that they cultivate for food. Cutterants are farmers par excellence! They work in a multifaceted partnership that makes their fungus farming successful.

An average nest has 5 million ants living in a complex system of tunnels and chambers that can be the size of a small car. The queen is the heart of the colony and can lay 30,000 eggs a day.

The ant workforce is quite diversified. Each ant type has specific work assignments. Media ants do the leaf cutting and the heavy lifting and portage. Large-jawed soldiers patrol and protect the ants as they journey back to the nest with their green cargo. Another ant group distributes leaf bits to the fungus. The smallest ants, the minimae, tend the fungus. They often hitch a ride on transported leaves to clean off competing fungal spores. (A minima is riding the leaf towards the top of my photograph.) Minimas chew leaves into smaller pieces, adding feces and saliva and attaché this sticky material to the fungus.

They fertilize their fungus garden using nitrogen-fixing bacteria. They kill unwanted garden parasites with a type of Streptomyces bacteria that resides on the ants’ exoskeleton. The ants don’t fall prey to insecticides produced by plants because the friendly fungus zaps them.

Leafcutter ants and the antimycin compounds linked with the Streptomyces they carry have inspired research on anti-cancer drugs to use against chemotherapy-resistant cancer cells.

Ants secrete a chemical trail that leds them back to their nest. They communicate rapidly and don’t need Facebook to form a “flash mob”. Remember their lightening-speed communication skills next time you have a parade of ants invade your picnic or kitchen.

Ants never captured my imagination as a child but here I am awestruck by their ingenuity, synergy and work ethic. Maybe — just maybe — an Uncle Milton’s ant farm is in order for all of us to learn big lessons from the tiny ant.

African Leopard

Leopard©, Okavango Delta, Botswana, Photograph by Trina Pate

Leopard©, Okavango Delta, Botswana, Photograph by Trina Pate

My friend, photographer and infamous Nurseketeer, Trina Pate, took this photo of a sleek, graceful and watchful leopard in Botswana last year. Trina has been studying photography with Ralph Lee Hopkins, a National Geographic photographer, who started the Lindblad/National Geographic photography program.

Trina and husband Bud were part of a select group of photography lovers who didn’t want a quick snapshot of a wild animal but instead wanted a great image and would spend as much time as it took to get “that photo” of a rare and beautiful animal. They have been perfecting their photography skills with Ralph at National Geographic photography workshops in the U.S as well as on Lindblad trips to Baja, Alaska, the Falkland Islands, South Georgia and Antarctica.

Thanks Trina for sharing an inside peek of your adventure with this beautiful young leopard.

During our African photo safari in September 2013, we stayed a few days in Savuti Camp, located in the Okavango Delta, Botswana. On one of our morning game rides, we came upon this gorgeous young female leopard sitting atop a termite mound.

She was 18 months old, not yet fully grown, and was still learning to hunt. Many times when leopards are seen, they’re up in trees sleeping. This leopard was quite active, and we spent 4 1/2 hours taking photos of her. It remains the best day of my life in terms of photography. Normal people would have gone crazy, but all of us were ecstatic!

Leopard on a Termite Mound , Okavango Delta, Botswana, Photograph by Trina Pate

Leopard on a Termite Mound , Okavango Delta, Botswana, Photograph by Trina Pate

We followed her as she walked across open fields, through dense brush, around lakes. Sometimes, she seemed to be posing for us, thus she was coined “Cindy” after Cindy Crawford, the supermodel. After a while, she climbed up the tree in the photo and took a nap. She was aware of our presence, but seemed unbothered by us.

We were parked in a Range Rover less than 50 feet from the tree. She’d sleep for a while, move around the tree, and then grab another catnap over the next two hours. After she left the tree, she continued roaming, again striking poses for us. I think each of us took at least 1,000 photos of her. She is probably the most beautiful animal I have ever seen. What a magical day it was!

I can understand why people might want a coat made from leopard fur, but I cannot understand how anyone could look into her gorgeous eyes, and then kill her for her fur. Her fur looks far better on her than on any human!

Trina shot this photo with her Nikon D300s with a Nikkor 70 – 200mm telephoto lens. (This photo is copyrighted and cannot be used without Trina Pate’s permission)

Mermaids Sighted in Solana Beach

Mermaid's Delight, Mermaid Cottage, Solana Beach, California

Mermaid’s Delight, Mermaid Cottage, Solana Beach, California

Mermaids encircled me this weekend and I didn’t even have a toe in the ocean. The mermaid-inspired cottage we rented in Solana Beach was awash in sleek, green-finned mermaids — at the front door, embedded in the bathroom tiles, adorning the walls and the pièce de résistance — a sparkling 5-foot mermaid mosaic in blues and greens that illuminated our private patio.

Solana Beach is nestled along the northern coast of San Diego County and a 30- minute drive from downtown San Diego. After a relaxing 2½-hour ride on Amtrak’s Pacific Surfliner, Jim and I arrived at Solana Beach’s Quonset hut-inspired train station.

Solana Beach is a favorite destination of ours. Small and inviting with lovely beaches, shops, restaurants, and nearby hiking. The Cedros design district has abundant art galleries, import and antique stores and cafes. Leaping Lotus, one of my favorites, has 21,000 square feet of shopping pleasure. Beautiful, fun, quirky and unique gifts, many created by local artists, always tempt me.

Many stores carry decorative items featuring the mythical oceanic half-female, half-fish mermaid. These beautiful, seductive maidens with their streaming auburn tresses have mystified seafarers for thousands of years and inspired myths, stories, movies and even an annual Mermaid Parade in Coney Island. Hans Christian Andersen’s Little Mermaid is perhaps the best know mermaid of all time, but who can forget Daryl Hannah and Tom Hanks in the 1980’s romantic comedy Splash?

In 1493, Christopher Columbus sighted three mermaids near what is now the Dominican Republic. He wrote they “came quite high out of the water but were not as pretty as they are depicted, for somehow in the face they look like men.” English adventurer John Smith described a mermaid he saw off Newfoundland in 1614, “her long green hair imparted to her an original character that was by no means unattractive.”

Mermaids, manatee, doppelganger, who knows? The mermaid spell has endured across space and time and clearly lingers in Solana Beach where surfers, paddle boarders, and families enjoyed the unseasonably warm November day.

On my last evening there, I walked to Tide Beach to watch the sunset. As the sun kissed the sea good night, I wondered if the fleeting green flash I saw was the shimmering tail of a lost mermaid as she dove down to the idyllic oceanic floor. I don’t know for sure… but I’d like to think so.