Monday, November 28, 2016

Dying To Get In - The Santa Barbara Cemetary

The Santa Barbara Cemetery (901 Channel Dr., 805/969-3231) is one cool spot. Sure, the resting place of the dead isn’t on your typical itinerary when you visit someplace (though admittedly I routinely visit cemeteries all over the world), but it’s definitely worth stopping by when you’re in town. The cemetery is unmistakably quiet and holds the best piece of land, high on a bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean with pristine views to the mountains and Channel Islands as the Pacific fans out before you.

Advertising in the local paper from the 1940s
As cemeteries go this is flat out beautiful and though the dead may not be impressed with the views, all of us living folks certainly will be. Many notables from Santa Barbara history are buried here (JP Sterns of Sterns Wharf; Lewis Burton-the 1st mayor of Santa Barbara in 1850; and Pearl Chase who basically single-handedly made Santa Barbara the tourist paradise it is today,) as are actors Ronald Coleman (films: The Lost Horizon, The Prisoner of Zenda, and he once owned the San Ysidro Ranch), and Fess Parker (TV’s Daniel Boone and local vintner), and even a few tragic souls from the legendary Jonestown massacre in Guyana from 1978; otherwise you’ve probably never heard of most of these folks.
In fact author David Petry writes, “One couple, Alice and Charles Sedgewick Minot of Boston, is buried in the cemetery although neither of them ever visited Santa Barbara while alive. Alice Minot requested in her will that she be buried on a beautiful site overlooking an ocean.  Her husband, after sending his attorneys on an extensive search, selected the Santa Barbara Cemetery.” The land goes back to 1867 as a burial place and was originally a 5-acre parcel on what was then the outskirts of town. Today it sits between the Four Seasons Biltmore and the Santa Barbara Zoo. There’s even a 200-page book on the complete history of the cemetery, “The Best Last Place,” written by the aforementioned David Petry, and quote from his book. Such is the dedication of Santa Barbara natives and their love of local history…and burials, I guess. A short walk across the thin grass amid palm tress, sunshine, ocean breezes and headstones will give you a new perspective on life – if not, go wine tasting.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

The Hot Chick – California Condor Makes Flight in Monterey

Betty the Condor, 2 months old-NPS Photo by G. Emmons
An endangered female California condor chick took flight from a nest in early October 2016 in Pinnacles National Park in Monterey County, for the first time in more than 100 years. Earth-shattering news? Not to most people. Important beyond our scope of understanding? Oh hell yes. The “historic flight,” as the Pinnacles NationalPark people put it, was under the supervision of her parents, both of whom were released into the wild through a partnership between the National Park Service and Ventana Wildlife Society. The chick, a hot little number in that prehistoric beauty vibe, is unceremoniously known merely as Condor #828. Let’s call her Betty.

Volunteers and staff have been observing the nest, found in a remote location in the park, since Betty’s parents started incubating the egg in February. The five-and-a-half month old chick piqued the attention of park biologists when she left the nest one month earlier than expected. “Condors nesting in the wild and surviving on their own is what it’s all about and this is yet another milestone towards that goal,” says Kelly Sorenson, executive director of the Ventana Wildlife Society, which first initiated condor releases in central California back in 1997. The federal government and conservation groups have dedicated considerable resources to the restoration of the condor population that was brought to the brink of extinction in the 1980’s.

Condor #340 (dad) in the nest with Betty-NPS Photo by G. Emmons
“The young condor’s flight from the nest gives us a strong sense of hope,” said Karen Beppler-Dorn, superintendent of Pinnacles National Park. “However, our hope is tempered by the challenges that still exist for her and all wild condors.” What “challenges” might there be? Lead poisoning continues to hinder recovery of these magnificent birds and they can become ill and die when they inadvertently ingest fragments of lead ammunition in carcasses they feed upon that are left over from hunting or ranching operations. “Condors and other scavenging wildlife, such as eagles, benefit from carcass remains left behind, if non-lead ammunition is used. Hunters and ranchers have a long-standing tradition of wildlife conservation,” said Beppler-Dorn. “Shooters who have switched to non-lead ammunition have made an invaluable contribution to the health of all scavenging wildlife.” Of course loss of habitat due to human expansion is always an issue as is pollution, be that water, air and even noise pollution.

With continuing threats to condor’s survival and recovery, volunteers contribute immeasurably towards the protection of wildlife in the park, particularly the condors. Female condor #236 (Betty’s mom) was first released from Big Sur and male condor #340 (Betty’s dad) was released from Pinnacles. Now that Betty, has left the nest, she will remain close to her parents as she learns where to go to forage for food and how to interact with over 85 other condors in central California. These may seem like small victories, but every instance where we as humans give respect to the natural world only makes our physical world, and yes our spiritual world, that much better.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Helena Avenue Bakery – Good Bread in the Best Place

“How can a nation be great if its bread tastes like Kleenex?" - Julia Child

Bread is important.
Pastry is supremely important.
And a good bakery is the cornerstone of civilization.
At least to me.
So when I heard a new bakery was opening in Santa Barbara, I was delighted. For a city the size of mine, we are woefully short of enough bakeries. Yes, we have a few very good ones, but more is always better, and location is everything.

Housed in an industrial warehouse building and retrofitted to be hip and trendy the  Helena Avenue Bakery is the latest addition to an ongoing stunning change to the Funk Zone, a former unsightly industrial area two blocks from the beach. There are multiple tasting rooms, Figueroa Mountain Brewery, a distillery, art galleries and multiple places for food, like Mexican street food at Money’s, to food trucks to Seven Bar & Kitchen, Lucky Penny and The Lark - these last two owned and operated by Sherry Villanueva, who started the bakery. “Having a bakery was a logical progression for us,” Sherry Villanueva told me when I stopped in. “It’s exciting to see the growth in high quality businesses opening up in the Funk Zone. The need for a wholesome bakery that appeals to people of all ages became quite clear to us as the neighborhood continues to unfold.”

And the Funk Zone is unfolding rapidly and smartly. “We are trying to build a sense of neighborhood,” Sherry says. “It's not about making a quick buck, It's about building the long-term relationships.” Helena Avenue Bakery serves as a wholesale bakery providing custom-baked goods for Lucky Penny, The Lark, Les Marchands and other coffee shops and restaurants throughout Santa Barbara. What’s cool is that now it’s open for retail, via a shared door of the Santa Barbara Wine Collective. And Helena Avenue Bakery has a two pronged approach: bakery and picnic lunches. The bakery offers various quiche selections with a deftly crispy crust; baguettes; walnut batards; ciabatta bread not to mention egg croissants with arugula pesto and prosciutto; apricot-thyme croissants; and cookies including their rich peanut butter.

But there is also The Picnic Counter offering prepared foods for take-away like house pickled veggies; couscous salad with cherry tomatoes, cucumber and feta cheese; Brussels sprouts Caesar salad; focaccia with roasted corn, pasilla peppers, queso fresco and cilantro; and fried chicken sandwich on ciabatta.

These foods are ideal for dining on-site, or heading the scant two blocks to the beach or picnics around the Santa Barbara area. Open 11:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. daily, bread is now king in the Funk Zone! So check it out, eat up and enjoy some of the best of Santa Barbara.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Baby You Can Drive My Car: West Coast Kustoms

I’m not really a car guy. Sure, old cars are cool and I’ve detoured to see the Bonnie and Clyde death car and visited auto museums in Vegas, Los Angeles and Texas just because you have to appreciate the workmanship and often sheer beauty that the American automobile represents, let alone the rest of the world’s great automakers. But when I heard the original Batmobile will be at the 35th West Coast KustomsCrusin’ Nationals in Santa Maria (May 27-29) well, you need to know about this.

800 auto entries are expected with cars from as far away as New Jersey and Texas as well as an entry owned by James Hetfield of the band Metallica. The event is open to American-made autos that were manufactured prior to 1961 so you get classic, historic and downright American originals.

As a tribute to George Barris, who died in November of 2015 and the creator of the original Batmobile, the actual Batmobile will be brought to the event by his family. Designed exclusively for the 1966 "Batman" TV show starring Adam West and Burt Ward, this sleek was styled and engineered with many different special effects innovations by Barris Kustom Industries. Originally it started off as a $250,000 1955 Ford Lincoln Futura concept car originally built in Italy. Barris bought the car directly from Ford for a buck, and started working on it. With a deadline of three weeks before the cameras were ready to roll, this Lincoln was transformed into one of the world’s most famous cars and it had its TV debut on January 12th 1966. Sure I watched the show as a kid but in 2015 when in Hollywood I went to original Bat Cave where the car was filmed zooming in and out of the cave, located on the path up to the Hollywood sign.
At the real Bat Cave in Hollywood

Besides the Batmobile and other cool customized cars there are live bands, food booths, a ton of vendors and presentations of auto-customizing. All in all, I’d say it will be a smooth ride.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Raptors Poetic – Of Ojai, Eagles and Owls

Birds of Prey. Sounds pretty cool. But what does it actually mean?
“Raptors” is a word given wider accessibility because of Jurassic Park when the clever thinking raptor dinosaurs decided to attack the humans killing that Australian dude. That notwithstanding, raptors are actually birds of prey, meaning they eat meat. Yes, some birds are vegetarians, but for raptors, meat is what’s for dinner. The official definition: A raptor is a bird of prey that uses its sharp talons to catch and kill live animals. The word raptor comes from the Latin word rapere which means “to snatch or grab.” According to the Ojai Raptor Center people often group Vultures into this category but they are not genetically related (the birds, not the people), and do not hunt live prey.

The Ojai Raptor Center (ORC) opens their doors to the public twice yearly and it is a fantastic chance to see these rehabilitated birds up close, within a few feet actually, and marvel at the stunning grace, agility, beauty and all around wonder of these birds. I recently visited, and the next time they open up, you should too.

The fee is a mere $5 per person, about the cost of a lame Starbucks coffee drink – and you get way more. The ORC is housed in what used to be an honor farm – a place for juvenile delinquents - and now is home to multiple non-profits, of which ORC holds a great place with open aviaries, a small theatre, a Kids Corner and a stage. There are bird pelts (which you can touch), live birds, and eggs on display and this is meant to be a place of wonder, a place to connect with the best of nature and remind ourselves that we as humans, though probably smarter and more able to use logic, pale in comparison to the sheer beauty and jaw dropping efficient design of these birds who actually have to hunt for their food, not sit at a drive-thru. 
All of the birds at ORC are birds that have suffered some injury and are being rehabilitated in Ojai, given new life and a reimagined purpose. What’s great is that each bird has a name and the caretaker for that bird, perched on their gloved hand, knows virtually everything about their bird. No, you can’t pet them (again, the birds, not the people), but you can get closer than you ever could in the wild.
You’ll see owls, falcons, eagles, vultures and other very cool birds. It’s a great place for kids though many of the adults were as transfixed as the kids were. So remind yourself that we share this planet with other species and that we have an obligation, since we sit atop the food chain, to protect, safeguard and treat well all other species. In doing so we become better animals ourselves. A visit is not an all day occurrence, and it’s a 10-minute drive to Ojai, and you’re right near Casitas Lake for fishing or boating, so fly up to Ojai and prepare to be amazed. 
The wingspans on some birds is bigger than me!