Monday, August 31, 2009

Smoldering Sunset

The Station Fire rages on, but it appears to be moving more toward Acton and Sunland. (And right toward the telecommunications towers and historic observatory on Mount Wilson.) While I am glad not to see as many mountainside bonfires from South Pasadena's vantage point, I know the 42,000+ acre inferno is very much out of control, en route to ravage more chaparral and forest, and poised to terrorize more towns. Two firefighters lost their lives yesterday in a vehicle crash. Tonight, 6600 homes in the region are under mandatory evacuation. The slightest increase in wind could churn this disaster into a real catastrophe.

But there is far less smoke in South Pasadena tonight, and our beautiful neighboring cities of Pasadena and Altadena seem -- at least for now -- to be out of the direct line of (literal) fire that threatened for the past few days. I'm grateful ... but not quite relaxed yet.

Check out my overflow blog for a few more images from yesterday.

UPDATE: 8:45AM Fire doubled in size overnight to 85,000 acres. Hard to believe it is growing this fast and out of control with no Santa Ana winds pushing it. It is still only 5% contained, but at least superscooper planes have arrived to assist in the fight.

Our friend Altadena Hiker is doing a great job of posting information about this fire. For more excellent coverage of the growing/changing situation,check out:
LA Observed
Firefighter Blog
The Mount Wilson webcam
LA Times dynamic map of current fire zone

UPDATE: 10:15AM While South Pasadena and Pasadena may not be in the direct line of fire, we are suffering from "very unhealthy" air quality due to the smoke/particulate matter generated by the Station Fire. Here is the latest map from AQMD. Stay indoors, folks.

UPDATE: 1:30PM Just got back from running errands around the area. There is a dreadful amount of smoke in the air. The mountains have virtually disappeared. A thick haze hangs over everything -- kind of like the air in a Holiday Inn bar at a 1955 Tobacco Council convention. I was over near Hastings Ranch and the smoke seemed even thicker there but it's pervasive and noxious everywhere you go in the San Gabriel Valley. Here's the latest about Mount Wilson. Don't know if fire has actually hit but the webcam is down. (That could be to increased traffic.) Altadenablog has the latest on evacuations.

UPDATE: 3:00PM This fire is the biggest in county history since 1897. KNX reports it at 100,000+ acres.

UPDATE: 9:24 Mount Wilson still stands for now, fire still grows bigger -- latest from LA Times. The air in South Pasadena and Pasadena is better tonight than it was during the day. Winds must have shifted.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

20,000 Acres Up in Smoke

It's almost 1:30AM as I write this. I shot this image standing on Grand yesterday evening -- or maybe it was Arroyo Drive. I'm addle-brained from a day of watching the wildfire triple in size and leap across my beloved San Gabriel mountains like some kind of demon lightening bug doped up on speed and steroids.

The smoke is extremely intense here now, and it is really uncomfortable to breathe outside for any length of time. For the first time since moving into our charming 110 year old house with original fixtures, I actually understand the concept of duo-pane vinyl windows. We have towels rolled up against our drafty door jams, paper towels stuffed into the gaps of our original sash windows, the AC pumping air through a 3M filter and a portable air purifier cranked up to high.

It still feels somewhat like being inside a mesquite barbecue pit.

I can't explain how surreal it felt earlier tonight to actually see flames in the mountains as I turned the corner to my house. We've all seen movies of huge fireballs sweeping across ridges. It's unsettling when it's so close to home.

Click my overflow blog here to see many more of my pictures of this devastating wildfire.

I'll update here with news as it unfolds.

UPDATE: 9:45AM Fire almost doubled in size overnight. Currently burning over 35000 acres moving primarily northwest and east. La Canada threatened. Flames near Kinneloa Mesa area of unincorporated Pasadena. So far, Mount Wilson communications area untouched. More here.

UPDATE: 10:45AM I'm getting email from area residents wondering about exact location of fire. Altadenahiker also mentioned increase in visitors looking to bloggers for up to date information. Here's a link to the current fire zone. I believe it is dynamic and will change as day progresses but if not, at least it gives a snapshot of this morning.

UPDATE: 11:15AM Okay, folks. Current info: South Coast Air Quality Management District (AQMD) has the current air quality, smoke advisories and advice. Inciweb, a multi-agency reported website, updates regularly with wildfire overview, conditions, current evacuation info, weather, outlook, etc.

UPDATE: 5:20PM Depending on the source, the fire is reported to be between 1 and 2 miles of Mount Wilson -- which would mean a devastating possibility of loss of communications systems for media, police and fire deptartments. I'll try to verify this. Media coverage is spotty about these details. Anyone with more information and a source, leave it in comments.

UPDATE: 7:00PM LA County Fire Dept. Mark Savage told reporters as of 5:30 fire "hours away" from Mount Wilson. Latest from Pasadena Star News. Was in Pasadena today, and South Pas is oddly more smoky. I think we're getting channels of the stuff funneled down the Arroyo.

UPDATE: 8:50PM Here's the view from the Mt. Wilson web cam. Yikes. 18 homes lost in fire's path, 2 firefighters perished in vehicle crash. The view from South Pas is less dramatic than last few days, but still unnerving as fire moves toward Acton to the north and Sunland to the west. Smoke is less tonight than last night.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Too Close for Comfort

The rest of the world loves to say that Californians don't know anything about weather. Sure, we have a lot of days that are mild and sunny. And I'll grant you that we don't know much about blizzards. We enjoy an inordinate amount of beautiful days, but like most pretty creatures, California is temperamental. And when she throws a fit, it's usually a doozy. There is nothing mild and breezy about earthquakes, floods, mudslides...

...or fires.

100+ degree days and gusty winds have given local firefighters a challenge. The Station Fire has grown into an out-of-control blaze, consuming 5100 acres above nearby La Canada/Flintridge. And when I say nearby, I really do mean nearby. The above picture was taken from Via Del Rey at noon yesterday. The giant plumes of lavender smoke billowed throughout the day as most of San Gabriel Valley rubbed red eyes. By nightfall, the hills burned a crackling, surreal orange.

Check out my overflow blog for my dramatic night wildfire images from Pasadena and South Pas. You'll find links for fire coverage from other local bloggers too.

UPDATE: 10:45AM The fire has spread to 5500 acres and is only 5% contained. Be sure to click the links off my overflow blog post for even more photos and information from other local bloggers.

UPDATE: 12:20PM Evacuations begin in Altadena. 7500 acres are burning. Partial closure of Jet Propulsion Laboratory. More info here.

UPDATE: 3:15PM Huge smoke plumes blanket the skies north of South Pas. The view from Raymond Hill is staggering -- flames leaping across most of the mountainside. La Canada residents flee, fire closing in on more of Altadena. Check out Altadenahiker's latest post, especially if you can help a family that needs to move animals right away.

UPDATE: 6:45PM Station Fire now burning 20,000 acres and moving in every direction. Structures in Big Tujunga burned. Fire came close to communications stations for LA Basin located at Mount Wilson. Evacuation area expands. Details here. As the sun sets, Los Angeles has a very uneasy feeling.

Friday, August 28, 2009


It takes a lot of commitment to stand in front of Rite Aid with a donation bucket in 100 degrees...

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Unsung Heroes

Smoke from the fires in nearby Angeles National Forest mixed with hot, August winds to create a toxic haze all over the San Gabriel Valley. Lucky for my family, we could hole up indoors.

Which makes me appreciate workers like this even more. (Though I don't think he appreciated me snapping this picture!)

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Living Space

Sometimes I stumble across something that is quintessentially California. Sure, people abandon furniture on streets all over the world. But here -- artfully placed right next to a palm under a blast of almost supernaturally bright sunlight, -- the sofa looks whimsical and cool. Hopeful, even. In fact, with the mild summer weather of late, this wouldn't be a bad spot to chill out and take in the day.

I was reminded of a wonderful bit of recent epic poetry called The California Poem by Eleni Sikelianos. Here's an excerpt:

California, where the car brakes never work and I always roll
through stop signs, into the gaps

of glowing green lights through the trees

There are things that keep us
from work and school: the rain, or each husband
who comes home with a 60”-screen color TV

“which has brought me here
to the gold of all my wishing”
to give an account of our first ages,
and of all the great events which happened
in the infancy of the world when

having no tan to work on I was
working on my self,
shiny shiny

was my glistening chapel
Westminster Cathedral, gothic
beach scenes to the west

Memory can be anyone’s shimmering
Albion, bathyspheric hellhole hideout
trop severe
in such a book of sun I like too much

liken it to the apathy of opposite collaborations
with Carmathian mortality
sifting spiritual liquids filled with less than these colors
into microfine powders & let them drift
through air, with the words
red through red
blue through blue

into the kingdoms of the western rimlands
in the crack up of the old orders
the winged sea towers our coastal artists drew
The Chief of the House, Keeper of the Chalk, slips off
my hereditary admiralship of Ocean Sea
in a swarm a storm, my restless
my rootless people
just as a bird is homeless
I am homeless too

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Monday, August 24, 2009

Settings: Part 15

Paging my armchair directors! It's time for another fun-filled game of imaginary movie making! For my new readers, this is where I stomp my feet like Louis B. Mayer and demand that you come up with a great story for the location.

So, don't let me down, people ... if this were a scene in a film, what would happen in it?

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Sitting Pretty

Even with a tarp on top, this red confection takes a fine portrait...

Saturday, August 22, 2009


Sometimes people watching can offer glimpses of hidden worlds and even feel a bit like time travel. I've mentioned a similar phenomenon a few times before, but doesn't it seem like these two are versions of the same guy? See how the hip young adult seems to be emerging from the shy teenager?

Thursday, August 20, 2009

It's a Sign...

I often look for reasons to drive on Hope Street. It's a pretty little road, but not particularly noteworthy. Other South Pas streets have bigger landmarks, and flashier houses and larger trees. But I don't drive on Hope Street for the views ... I drive on Hope Street because it's fun to say to myself, "Hey! I'm on Hope Street!" (It's also fun to drive in the Garvanza Hills area of Highland Park, turn a corner and exclaim, "Yeah, I'm on Easy Street...") There's something cool and magical about feeling like you're literally standing/walking/driving on HOPE.

When life throws loopy curveballs at us, it would be really great if we could duck, abandon the field and just head on over to Hope Street to power up for another shot at bat. Maybe that's one reason I love to see these street signs -- like little referees reminding me of a bigger set of rules. Hope is palpable. Hope is motivating and miraculous. Hope is a mighty powerful word. (Just ask Obama.)

And we could all use more of it.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Ready for her Closeup

When you live in the greater Los Angeles area, you get used to coexisting with Hollywood's dream factory. Yet another film crew set up along El Centro the other day. Despite an impressively lavish production set up across the street in the library lawn and down the block at the brick lofts, it was business as usual at Kaldi. (Regular patrons were decidedly unimpressed.)

Tuesday, August 18, 2009


Day melts into night as civilization ebbs and swells. Looking west from Arroyo Drive at dusk often yields exceptional views, but if you stop and listen, the cars on the freeway below sound kind of like ocean waves. (Unfortunately, this concrete sea has different sirens.)

Monday, August 17, 2009

Amy's Playground

In the heart of the Mission West District, Amy's Playground offers an indoor wonderland for South Pasadena's adventurous under-six crowd. (And as I've mentioned before, this burgeoning demographic group is quite a crowd!)

Beyond the old-fashioned toys and boutique gifts in the storefront windows you'll find nearly 3000 square feet of indoor play space complete with tumbling mats, a giant bouncer and an elaborate floor to ceiling maze. When your little one is tired from all that climbing, sliding and running, you can both sink into a plush sofa and read one of the many available children's books. Or, duck your head and exercise imagination in the wooden playhouse with play kitchen. Tables and benches along the perimeter offer a space for packed picnic lunches -- or for sneaking a few minutes on your laptop while your child tries to snag a turn on one of the riding toys. Amy's even provides complimentary coffee for tired parents -- a nice respite after Junior has worn you down for "just five more minutes... PLEASSSSSE!????"

I really appreciate the fact that unlike most kid zones, Amy's doesn't feel like a giant, festering petri dish. (Hello Chuck E. Cheeze!) Here, the bathrooms are immaculate, and staff members regularly wander through the play areas with cleaning supplies and antibacterial spray. Oh, and the music is kid-centered but kind to adult ears. (You'll hear a lot of mellow Jack Johnson and fun Elizabeth Mitchell but no mind-crushing Barney.)

Amy's Playground is open to the public Monday through Friday, and available on weekends for private parties. (Bring along socks, as no shoes are allowed.)

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Summer's Frills

Did I mention crape myrtle trees? It's hard not to think of them when they line so many South Pas streets. Jacarandas may usher in the season but crape myrtles stay way past the curfew. In fact, they turn late summer into another lingering spring -- blossoms last clear into September with shades of dark pink, red, white and occasionally lavender.

This one outside Shakers seems to be looking back toward Mission Street, where many others are also blooming.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Stop and Ask

I've said it before, I'll say it again: it should always be this easy.

(As long as we're on the subject, what is your question?)

Friday, August 14, 2009

Old Trees, Young Love

The crape myrtle branches aren't the only things blooming during these hot summer days...

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Branching Out...

It's not that South Pasadena is oblivious to the effects of heritage trees. Sure, many or our streets are uneven (take a look at the curb above!) and a lot of clay sewage pipes burst from tangled roots underground. We understand. Trees can cause damage to infrastructure. And on a similar unromantic note, we should eat our vegetables, avoid cake and choose comfortable shoes rather than heels.

But sometimes, practical just can't trump beautiful. Why go for pragmatism when you can enjoy nature's gorgeous, fanciful expression?

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Settings: Part 14



Well, then what do YOU think would happen here if this were part of a movie?

Tuesday, August 11, 2009


So, I was wandering around in the hills the other day, hoping to discover something interesting to photograph. I happened upon this scene -- teal stucco, what looks like fossilized topiary -- and I thought, well, it's just not quite right, it needs something else...

Then the bird landed. Snap! Et, voila...

Monday, August 10, 2009

Voyeur Sky

You never know what a sunset along the Arroyo will inspire...

I was driving the other day when I just had to pull over and admire this view. I noticed two others standing on the trail. One, a woman, had her hands over her mouth in ecstatic surprise. But she wasn't looking at the sky. Instead, she was looking at the man, kneeling before her, with a little black box in his outstretched hand.

I can only assume her answer was yes.

No, I didn't sneak a shot of their moment. But I did sneak this shot of their sunset. (May they ride happily ever after into it.)

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Santa, Maybe...

My little daughter said, "Look, Mommy! When it's not Christmas, I suppose Santa lives in South Pasadena!"

What do you think?

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Walk Softly, Stranger

Maneuvering the dark corridor from Rite Aid to the parking lot is normally an uneventful experience. But in late afternoon on a long summer day? It's a film noir moment.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Caption this photo... (#15)

Who's up for a challenge captioning this one? (No pressure or anything, but I know you guys won't let me down...)

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Surreal Night

If film is a warm classic, then digital is a cool avant-garde...

I couldn't resist stopping the car and trying to capture the dramatic summer moon last night as it dangled over a sparkling Los Angeles -- despite the fact that I had the lesser of my two cameras and no tripod. Still, my little digital maverick surprised me with this groovy rendering of a surprisingly psychedelic sky. It's almost as if my camera decided it was Kirlian and started picking up the regional aura.

Yeah, it's grainy and blurred (where was that tripod!?)but I love the way the digital sensor seems to illuminate an impression of the surreal Southern California spirit.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Walking Down the Avenue...

Summer's long days bring such wonderful shadows. There's not much to say about this cool shadow scene from the Farmer's Market. So, I'll just let a couple of guys sing, instead.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Good Things: Small Packages

For a teeny tiny, itsy bitsy, widdle biddie horsie ... this one has the spirit of a Triple Crown winner. At least that's the way it seemed to my daughter and me when we recently stopped by San Pascual Stables to watch the riders. (I think the instructor was pleased with what she saw in the corral but I couldn't really hear her over all the "awwwww"s.)

Monday, August 3, 2009

Arroyo Seco Golf Course

What can you do when your child whines, "I'm booooooooored" this summer? Forget video games or high def movies, take her back in time for an afternoon. While The Arroyo Seco Golf Course is better known for its 18 holes of par 3 golf, it also boasts a cool 9 holes of mini golf right out of a 1960s coming-of-age film. It's fun, it's colorful, and it's only six bucks for a family of three to play. Finish up with something yummy from the grill -- and be sure to get yourself something cold from the bar -- and we're talking serious cure for the summertime blues.

The course has been pleasing golfers and parents alike for 50 years -- and it has definitely preserved its original charm. Everything from the old water fountains next to the driving range to the squeaky Naugahyde booths in the cafe seems right out of a midcentury fetishist's dream. Oh, and the place even has a charming little bonus for kids: frolicking chipmunks just love to dart across the green.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Sweet Nothings

Romance was literally in the air when I recently captured this sunset image. Can't you see it there, dusting the sky and mountains with a sentimental shade of pink?

It begs for a proper love poem:

i love you much(most beautiful darling)

more than anyone on the earth and i
like you better than everything in the sky

-sunlight and singing welcome your coming

although winter may be everywhere
with such a silence and such a darkness
noone can quite begin to guess

(except my life)the true time of year-

and if what calls itself a world should have
the luck to hear such singing(or glimpse such
sunlight as will leap higher than high
through gayer than gayest someone's heart at your each

nearness)everyone certainly would(my
most beautiful darling)believe in nothing but love

--ee cummings

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Picking up the Scent...

On a recent walk through Garfield Park, I practically tripped over two little girls scampering out from under the branches of one of the many hibiscus bushes.

"Did you know that fairies live inside these flowers?" One of the girls said. The other giggled.

"Well, I have heard the rumor" I said. "But I've never seen one. Have you?"

"I've seen TONS of them!" The first girl said. "But sometimes they hide." The other girl nodded. She pulled off one of the flowers and tucked it behind her ear before running toward the slide. When her friend followed, I decided to see if I could photograph one of those fairies...

Hmmm. Maybe I should have used the macro setting.

I just couldn't let my little eyewitnesses get away without further investigation into their claims! So, I turned to the definitive fairy expert -- Cicely Mary Barker, whose 1920s Flower Fairy poetry and watercolor paintings offer a revealing glimpse into the natural world. Here's what she had to say:

Open Your Eyes

To shop, and school, to work and play,
The busy people pass all day;
They hurry, hurry, to and fro,
And hardly notice as they go
The wayside flowers, known so well,
Whose names so few of them can tell.

They never think of fairy-folk
Who may be hiding for a joke!

O, if these people understood
What's to be found by field and wood;
What fairy secrets are made plain
By any footpath, road or lane--
They'd go with open eyes and look,
(As you will, when you've read this book)
And then at least they'd learn to see
How pretty common things can be!

South Pasadena is a fairly magical place. I've already seen gnomes and imagined ghosts. Fairies? Why not?