August 30, 2012 § 7 Comments
It didn’t take me long to realize the coyotes do Canyon residents an invaluable service by hunting tree rats (R. rattus, also known as roof rats or black rats) that make their habitat in trees, ivy and scrub. The rodents are unstoppable climbers, leapers, burrowers and swimmers, and are able to squeeze through any half-inch gap. In Beachwood, their numbers used to be kept down by foxes, but those disappeared long ago, leaving only coyotes to do the necessary culling. Without coyotes, we would certainly be overrun by pests–not only tree rats but squirrels (both ground and tree varieties) and moles.
Sadly, having a fence means unwittingly providing sanctuary for tree rats, which come in to escape the coyotes outside. Over the years, I’ve had to use bait boxes and traps to keep them from infesting the property–including, at various times, the crawl spaces of my house–but even so I’ve never been able to grow vegetables (other than arugula, which they apparently can’t stand).
In light of my travails, I’m grateful to coyotes for being nature’s exterminators. Almost nightly, I hear them hunting above my house, starting about 1am and continuing intermittently through the night. That’s what I thought was happening early Sunday morning, when I was awakened before dawn by yapping, snarling, and something that sounded like a kazoo. This strange cacophony of coyote noises sounded closer than usual, but I was too tired to investigate. It wasn’t until I finally got up and looked outside that I realized what had happened. A small, mangy coyote lay on the cushioned bench below my bedroom window, basking in the sun. He had done what I thought was impossible: scaled a six-foot chain link fence that runs along one side of my property and come inside to hunt. As surprised as I was, I immediately realized he done me the favor of clearing the garden of pests, just ahead of my calling the exterminator.
When I shouted, he took off, apparently leaving the way he came. This was a relief; I didn’t relish the idea going out there to let him out the gate like a dog. But aside from the time it took to scrub the bench and the deck (where he’d left a souvenir pile of scat), his visit cost me nothing. His hunting, on the other hand, has saved me $35 a month in exterminator fees. Now that the garden free of pests, I’ll be planting a few vegetables–and wondering when the coyote will return.
January 17, 2012 § 3 Comments
For the past 1 1/2 hours, helicopters have been circling and hovering overhead–an unusually long time for the Hollywood Hills. I soon learned why from a neighbor, who emailed me this link:
Those who hike in Bronson Canyon can attest to the ease with which they can leave the city and hit the trails. The last time I was there, on Christmas Day, my visiting sister was amazed at how quickly we reached wilderness from my house: 10 minutes by car and another 5 on foot. She remarked that it would take her more than half an hour to drive to a comparable area from her much less densely populated city on the San Francisco Peninsula.
Since moving to Beachwood Canyon, I’ve experienced two other incidents of prolonged helicopter surveillance. The first occurred around 2007, when two hikers got stuck on one of the steep trails near the quarry. One was injured, and both required rescue. The second incident, in 2010, was the tragic death of Sally Menke, best known as Quentin Tarantino’s film editor, who collapsed in Bronson Canyon while hiking in record-breaking heat.
According to the latest report, today’s emergency began when a dog discovered a human head in a bag. Leaving aside uncanny similarities to the work of Tarantino (and David Lynch), I have to wonder at this sentence from a press release I just received: The detectives are treating the case as a possible homicide. Possible?
According to breaking news on the LA Times blog, the head is believed to be that of a recently murdered Armenian man in his 40s. Police are looking for “additional body parts in the area.” Hikers–and their dogs–beware. http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/lanow/2012/01/human-head-found-in-bag-on-hike-trail.html
Update, 12:40am: The search was suspended at 8pm and will resume at sunrise on Wed., January 18th. Better hike elsewhere today.
December 2, 2011 § 1 Comment
The lights went out in Hollywoodland around 1:15am on Thursday morning, hardly a surprise given the 100 mph winds that roared through the Canyon all evening. Power outages occur a couple of times a year here, usually because of windstorms, and generally last a few hours. But this one was different: there was no electricity when we got up in the morning, and none during the day and evening that followed.
It wasn’t just Beachwood that was affected: some 300,000 households in a wide geographic area–including Pasadena, Eagle Rock, Echo Park, Silver Lake and Los Feliz–lost power for an extended period of time. Some areas, such as Sierra Madre and Altadena, were without power for 48 hours or longer.
Having worked late the night before, I didn’t feel pressed to seek out a Wifi connection outside the Canyon. Instead, I decided to see how long I could be productive without electricity–and found enough to keep me busy until 2pm. By that time, I needed to escape the oppressive silence that had descended on my office, and took my dog hiking. On the way up the Canyon, I expected to be impeded by downed trees and other damage from the storm, but there was nothing more dramatic than some branches by the road and an uprooted tree at Lake Hollywood Park. Nevertheless, for the first time I can remember, there were no tourists at the Lake Hollywood lookout and the picture-taking area for the Hollywood Sign.
The Lake’s surface was like hammered silver in the afternoon sun.
At the head of the trail, a big pepper tree had shed thousands of pink berries that crunched satisfyingly underfoot.
Around the corner, the Village Coffee Shop, which had closed its doors the previous day (the space will be reincarnated as the Beachwood Cafe in March), displayed Christmas decorations in its window.
Shortly afterwards, outside my house, I ran into a neighbor who passed on the news that we might be without power for another 2-3 days. I called DWP and listened to a recorded message that stated that power would be restored by 3:30pm, but by then it was after 4, and I found no reason to be optimistic about the coming night. I arranged my flashlights and candles before going to the gym to work out and shower, and arrived home in pitch darkness.
Without electricity, night in the Canyon was hushed and premodern. The only illumination came from the radio tower and ranger station above the Hollywood Sign. Undisturbed by lights, the coyote that normally hunts on my hillside in the small hours started chasing tree rats at 6:30. My routine was no less altered: normally, I stay up late, reading, writing and watching TV. Last night, I cooked by candlelight and washed the dishes (with water boiled on the stove) before 9pm. I tried to read. Then it was flashlights out at ten.
The lights came on almost 24 hours to the minute after they had gone off. I woke up immediately and went downstairs to start the dishwasher. Later, I remembered to take the milk from the freezer and return it to the refrigerator. Sleep was impossible: suddenly everything hummed with electricity, and the previous day and night receded like an odd but compelling dream.
September 30, 2011 § 1 Comment
While doing research for my documentary “Under the Hollywood Sign,” I found my way to the Los Angeles City Archives, which keeps bound volumes of the many laws enacted by Hollywood during its brief period (1903-1910) as an incorporated, self-governing city. While I was there, I also studied early 20th-century Hollywood maps, and was fascinated to see the area north of Franklin between Beachwood and Gower labeled “The Pineapple Tract.”
The name refers to the tract’s former incarnation as the farm of J.B. Rapp. (See photo below.) He began as a lemon grower but expanded into more exotic fruits–dates, avocados and pineapples, among others. Although it is likely that these fruits had their origins on local ranchos, Rapp was among the first to grow them commercially. At a time when oranges and lemons were rare delicacies for most Americans, pineapples and avocados must have caused a sensation.
Hollywood’s frost-free climate made the cultivation of these crops possible, but it took vision to grow things for which there was little apparent demand. Rapp succeeded on several levels: he grew and created a market for exotic fruits, while in the process enhancing Hollywood’s reputation–and property values–as an American Garden of Eden. Among those drawn by the promise of year-round fresh produce was the Theosophical Society, which established itself just north of the Pineapple Tract in 1911. In a letter to Annie Besant, A.P. Warrington, head of the American Branch, rhapsodized about the Canyon’s farming potential:
We can make the spot a veritable Garden of Eden, because….the region we have chosen happens to be one of those rare spots that are [sic] absolutely frostless, and so we can raise anything….
Unbeknownst to Warrington, Beachwood also boasted thin soil and an abundance of produce-devouring wildlife. This may explain the fact that the Krotona Colony’s map shows several ornamental gardens and a decided lack of farm plots. As a resident whose efforts to grow vegetables have been thwarted by squirrels and tree rats, I sympathize.
Next time: bananas!
July 13, 2011 § 7 Comments
Like a lot of other people, I moved to Beachwood for some peace–and much of the year, I get it. Birds sing, coyotes hunt, owls hoot–it’s a natural wonderland, especially at night. But not in summer. My six summers here have been noisy enough to drive me indoors during the day, while many nights have been almost sleepless, thanks to my neighbor’s 1am-6am parties.
The fact that Beachwood Village is a natural amphitheater–it was the precursor to the Hollywood Bowl–makes things exponentially worse.* Every sound is magnified. A couple of nights ago, two children and their father were calling for their dog on the street above me, but it might as well have been in my bedroom. People overhear neighbors’ bedroom intimacies, phone conversations and random comments from the Beachwood Market, whether they want to or not. The only good thing about this forced eavesdropping is that it’s often difficult to know where the noise is coming from, as sounds bounce back and forth across the Canyon. (On the other hand, the distortion makes it harder to tell the cops where to go to shut down the all-night party.)
In summer, construction-related noise makes it impossible to be outside during the day. Currently, we’re under siege because the streets are being dug up for new sewer lines. Trucks grind their way up Beachwood Drive at 7am, after which jackhammering goes on until 4:30pm, with an hour off for lunch. I work wearing Bose noise-cancelling headphones, as I did during my first and second summers here. During those years, my across-the-street neighbors built a 20-foot-high retaining wall and, the following summer, had it faced with stone that was cut, deafeningly, in front of their house. They managed to go on vacation during the worst of it, leaving their neighbors to endure weeks of ear-splitting noise.
Then there are the parties. There currently are four “party houses” in the upper Canyon–houses rented to tenants who hold all-night parties. This number doesn’t include houses, like the one around the corner from me, that are owned by people who party all night. After more than two years of sleepless Saturday nights, I finally impressed upon my neighbor that I wasn’t going to lose any more sleep over her noise–which, thanks to our topography, is funneled directly into my bedroom. The next step, I promised, would be lawyers.
Since then, her party noise has died down dramatically. Perhaps this is because of my threat, but I suspect it might have something to do with my neighbor’s loud nocturnal fights with her boyfriend. These can be heard two houses away, but at least they don’t go on all night.
Next time: High season for tourists.
February 2, 2011 § Leave a comment
When Anne Sinclair married Valdemar Knudsen in 1867, she moved from her family’s “forbidden” island of Ni’ihau, whose population numbered in the low hundreds, to the comparatively populous but still rural Kaua’i, 17 miles to the east. Though Kaua’i had some towns–Hanalei to the north, Kapa’a and Lihue to the east, and Koloa to the south, the Knudsens lived on a ranch at the western end of the Island, not far from where the road ends and the Napali Coast begins.
The remoteness of their home, Waiawa, was underscored by its proximity to Polihale, an enormous white sand beach considered by Kaua’i’s natives to be “the place from where the souls of the dead descended to Po in the ocean depths,” according to Ida Knudsen Von Holt, Anne and Valdemar’s eldest daughter.
The Knudsens’ five children–Ida, Augustus, Maud, Eric and Arthur–were born between 1868 and 1875. Boys and girls alike galloped horses, surfed, swam, camped and hunted. From infancy they were taken to visit their maternal grandmother in Ni’ihau, a trip that started on horseback at 2am and ended after a 5-hour crossing in a whale boat rowed by Hawai’ians over rough seas. All the children spoke fluent Hawai’ian, as did their father, and had the peerless survival skills of both parents. Their mother, whose own childhood was spent in the wilds of New Zealand, seems to have been unfazed by danger. Wrote Ida:
I remember once when some one asked Mama how she could bear to have her children running along the cliffs of the Waimea Canyon, hunting wild cattle, exploring the Alakai Swamp, etc., she replied, ‘If they are so fool-hardy as to fall over [the side of Waimea Canyon], or become lost, I tell them it will be good riddance to bad rubbish.’
But Anne and Valdemar, both products of prosperous, educated families, were equally dedicated to their children’s formal education. At the ranch, Anne began the day by teaching them reading, writing and music. Then Valdemar would take over, teaching math and German before turning the children loose to collect plant samples for their botany class. An amateur ornithologist who was the first to catalog the Island’s birds, Valdemar also taught his children astronomy and Norse folklore.
The Knudsen children’s home-schooling culminated in a nearly three-year family stay in Berlin and Vienna, where they were enrolled at various academies and conservatories. They completed their educations in Boston, the girls at finishing school and the boys at Harvard and MIT.
Kaua’i was home, but the Knudsen children’s splendid educations were a springboard for their varied destinies. Ida, a conservatory-trained musician, became a patron of the arts in Honolulu while raising a large family in the adventuresome style of her own childhood. Maud became a talented painter as well as a wife and mother. Eric, in addition to running his father’s businesses, had a distinguished political career in Hawai’i and became a noted folklorist. But it was Augustus who broke with the family, and with Kaua’i. Though he became an engineer as Valdemar had wished, and returned to Kaua’i for a time to run the family ranch, he was far more passionate about astronomy and religion. It was the latter interest, which he attributed to encounters with kahuna (Hawai’ian priests), that drew him to India and Hollywood, places far removed from his childhood paradise.
Additional Source for quotes and photos: Von Holt, Ida Elizabeth Knudsen. Stories of Long Ago, Niihau, Kauai, Oahu. Honolulu: Daughters of Hawaii, 1985.
For more about the Krotona Colony, purchase the documentary “Under the Hollywood Sign” at http://hopeandersonproductions.com/?page_id=3361
The film is also available for rent at https://vimeo.com/ondemand/uths
November 6, 2010 § 1 Comment
Even unlit, the Hollywood Sign can be seen at night from Hollywoodland, the neighborhood that is its home. The Sign’s whiteness reflects light, whether natural (from the moon) or electric (from the ranger station and communications tower above it). At times it glows, an alabaster sculpture against the dark chaparral. For those who live near it, the Sign is visible day and night, except on those rare rainy days when it’s shrouded in fog.
When I moved to Beachwood five years ago, the Sign was being repainted, and its renewed whiteness struck me as an omen for my new life. On one of my first nights in my house, I was amused to hear a child yelling, “Hello, Hollywood Sign!” outside.
As I soon learned, the Sign affects adults in much the same way: they want to know it, and knowledge demands proximity. Hollywoodlanders who live high in the Canyon report a steady stream of nighttime visitors, particularly in summer. The Sign’s inaccessiblity–it is fenced from the back and heavily alarmed–dissuades few from getting as close as possible, even if it means going on foot, either legally, up the steep fire road, or illegally, to its front.
I like to hike up the fire road with my dog in the late afternoon. It takes us about an hour to make the round trip, and in winter we sometimes have to hurry against nightfall. The road cuts through parkland and gets dark very quickly after sunset; there are coyotes, bobcats and mountain lions in the area. Yet I’ve never not passed someone going up as I was making my way down.
Early in 2007, Tjardus Greidanus, the DP on my documentary, “Under the Hollywood Sign,” was shooting b-roll before dawn when he saw a man heading up toward the Sign, a bottle of wine in hand. There was no doubt of the man’s intent: a libational greeting of the new day, at the epicenter of new beginnings.
October 18, 2010 § 3 Comments
Until houses were built over them, there were five springs in Beachwood Canyon, an unusual amount of water for such a small, arid area. Because of them, the Canyon once teemed with wildlife. The springs drew deer, raccoons, skunks and possums; there also were foxes that disappeared as the human population grew denser.
Following in their footsteps are Beachwood’s deer, victims of a shrinking habitat, speeding cars and, in at least one incident, illegal hunting. Not long ago, deer were as common here as coyotes. A friend who lived here in the early 90’s told me her neighbors left their garage door open when they went out to dinner one night and came back to find a deer inside. Another neighbor was startled by a buck running through the Village one morning. Though I’ve seen deer on Ledgewood, Mulholland Highway and Canyon Lake Drive, in the past two years I’ve seen none.
When I moved to the neighborhood in the fall of 2005, I was enchanted by the owls I heard hooting in the tree across the street. There were two that would call to each other late at night, one low-pitched and the other high-pitched. When I was editing “Under the Hollywood Sign” and wanted to record their sounds, however, the owls were conspicuously absent. I had heard one in Bronson Canyon and hiked up into the quarry to record it, but by the time I set up the equipment and turned it on, the owl had stopped calling. All I captured was the cawing of crows.
Though I didn’t know it that first year, owls only come to my part of Beachwood in the fall. For the last couple of years, I’ve heard only one, but recently a pair have taken up residence in my neighbor’s tree. Their high-low duet lulls me to sleep at night. (Here’s a link to a similar call: http://www.owlpages.com/sounds/Athene-cunicularia-2.mp3)
That same neighbor recently discovered an unusual visitor in his garden: a tortoise that landed upside down in a flower pot during the first rains of the season. He righted the tortoise, took this picture and sent it on its way.
October 3, 2010 § 1 Comment
When I posted “On (Not) Keeping Wildlife Wild in Beachwood Canyon,” (September 7th), I didn’t envison it as the first in a series. After all, how much can one say about the folly of making wild animals dependent on handouts? I also thought my examples–burgeoning crow and squirrel populations and meandering coyotes–would address the subject once and for all.
Ha. Lately Beachwood’s crows have attained heroic proportions: when they fly overhead, you can hear their wings beating–not only audibly but loudly. From the ground, it’s like being an insect in a Miyazaki film.
Ten days ago, I had a surprise morning encounter with “Wolfie,” the mange-ridden coyote discussed in the first post. I was walking my dog on Woodhaven when I saw Wolfie standing in the middle of the street, scratching himself. Although she desperately wanted to be let off the leash to chase him, as in the pre-mange days, we kept our distance while the coyote–now completely hairless except for his upper back–scratched his bald hindquarters. After 5 minutes of this, during which I found myself idiotically shouting, “Wolfie!–go away!” we turned around and took another route.
Then there’s the huge rat I discovered a week ago Saturday. I had just pulled into my garage when I saw six inches of tail snaking down the back wall, behind some open shelving. A moment later I saw the rest of the rat, impressively scaling the wall behind my paint cans. From nose to tail, it appeared to be over a foot long, easily the largest rat I’ve seen at close range.
I sat in my car, horrified. It wasn’t just its size that appalled me but the fact that, in an area where rats are a seasonal problem, my detached garage had always been a rodent-free zone. I’d often wondered why–since at various times rats have invaded my garden, deck and crawl space. Now I was discovering the truth: there’s no such thing as a rodent-free zone in the Hollywood Hills–or, judging from the number of bait boxes I’ve noticed in public places lately, anywhere else in Los Angeles.
The rat’s size made confrontation impossible. I hastily exited the car, shut the garage door and didn’t come back until the next day, when I found the place quiet. In a fit of optimism, I assumed the rat had let himself out the way he got in, through a tiny gap in the side of the door, and called my exterminator.
When the exterminator showed up on Wednesday, the rat revealed himself briefly before disappearing again. There are now six baited traps in the garage, none of which have snapped. Obviously, I have the Rat King on the premises. The mystery is why I can’t seem to find an exterminator willing to take him on.
Where’s a coyote when you need one?
September 29, 2010 § 1 Comment
The thing about up here was that it didn’t feel like I was in the city anymore….I felt like I was in a national park, in the middle of some great wilderness. –Artist Jesse Vital, in “Under the Hollywood Sign”
On Monday at 12:15pm, the temperature in downtown Los Angeles reached 113 degrees, the highest of any day since record-keeping began in 1877. Here in Beachwood, always slightly cooler because of its higher elevation, the temperature reached 110. In my house, the air conditioner was unable to cool the upstairs below 91 degrees; downstairs, where I work, the atmosphere was somewhat better, around 85 degrees. Though I kept my dog and bird indoors rather than expose them to stroke-inducing heat, I ventured out in my much cooler car to run a few cross-town errands. Traffic was nonexistent due to the temperature, and I got home in record time.
As night fell and temperatures dropped to bearable levels, I gave up on air conditioning and threw open the windows. Helicopters circled overhead, and as the evening wore on I began to wonder if a fire had broken out in Griffith Park. Eventually came word that the helicopters were assisting in a search for a lost hiker. Besides thinking it was the worst possible day for hiking, I wasn’t surprised: hiking accidents are an occasional occurrence in the Park.
It wasn’t until yesterday morning that I learned the hiker was found dead in a ravine in Bronson Canyon, just east of Beachwood. She was Sally Menke, 56, an editor best known for her work on the films of Quentin Tarantino. Despite the heat, she had begun hiking that morning with her dog and a friend, carrying only 16 ounces of water. When Menke decided to cut the hike short, her friend went on without her. It wasn’t until hours later than anyone realized she was missing.
Search-and-rescue teams found Menke’s body just after 2am. Her dog–who miraculously survived–was standing guard.
It’s hard to convey the vastness and wildness of Griffith Park to those whose idea of a park is Central Park or some other man-made green zone. Its size–over 4,200 acres–not only makes it the largest municipal park in the United States but gives it more in common with a county or state park. As the Park’s website makes clear, it is largely wilderness and contains not only deer and coyotes but bobcats and mountain lions.
Its 52 miles of trails are a huge civic resource, allowing residents to enter the natural world without leaving the city. Nevertheless, hikers often underestimate the trails’ dramatically varied elevations and levels of difficulty. In Bronson Canyon, the trail begins easily but becomes increasingly steep and narrow as hikers approach the Hollywood Sign. This isn’t the first time someone has gotten into trouble there. A couple of years ago, helicopters were called in for a pair of hikers, one of whom was injured and needed rescue.
In the wake of this tragedy, one can only hope that hikers will take better precautions in Griffith Park, carrying adequate water and knowing their limits. I know all too well the urge to go hiking on the spur of the moment: because the trails are close by and hiking is commonplace, it’s hard to see it as a risky activity. But everyone, regardless of ability, should understand the dangers of hiking in extreme heat.