Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Upon the Fourth Thursday of November

Upon the fourth Thursday of November, with...

no family
no home
no money
no job
no lover
few friends
no plans
...we do not give thanks.

We don't fight.
We don't bicker.
We don't explain.
We don't say anything at all.

We mourn what's missing.
We wish for invitations we would turn down.
We long for the hassle of travel.
We wonder how our bellies will get full.

But it's only a day.
It's just one day.
Just another day on the calendar.
Like the next one, and the one after that.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Photo Essay: Throwing Good Bugs After Bad at Associates Insectary

I had known Santa Paula as the turnaround point for the Fillmore and Western Railway, and as one of the towns wiped out by the flood of the St. Francis Dam break, but it turns out that Santa Paula is also home to a bug farm that engages in biological warfare against crop-eating pests.



At Associates Insectary, founded in 1928, beneficial organisms are raised to combat the destructive "bad bugs" that munch on the leaves and fruits of many farms' agricultural endeavors.



That, of course, attracts some flies, and plenty of cobwebs.



It's all part of an integrated pest control strategy, which combines introducing natural enemies into the crop environment with occasional spray applications of minimum impact pesticides.



Associates Insectary started its business with – and is probably best-known for – rearing the Cryptlaemus montrouzieri, the Mealybug Destroyer Beetle.



But to rear the beneficial insect, you have to also rear the pest insect – the mealybug – for it to feed on.



So they have all these dark rooms of sprouting potatoes...



...which host the mealybug...



...which then the beetle – a kind of ladybug – can feed on...



...until it's ready to be packaged and shipped out.



Similar to the common ladybug...



...this particular species has a red head and black body.



There are other rooms where other host plants and produce are kept to germinate...



...and the bad bugs feeding on them flock to the light of the window...



...where they are collected and transported...



...to become food for the good bugs...



...like the Aphytis melinus...



...a parasite wasp that feeds upon the California red scale...



...a nasty pest of citrus.



In each of these cases, in order to grow the good bugs...



...they also have to grow the bad bugs...



...so the good ones have something to feed on.



The parasite wasps are collected on large white sheets...



...poured into a funnel...



...and distributed evenly (more or less eyeballed) into white plastic containers...



...which are then sealed with a plastic lid, where they all crawl around inside.




Finally, the eggs of the "bad mites" (the Persea mites, which attack avocado groves) are collected from lima beans....



...and fed to the "good mites," the Neoseiulus canlifornius...



...which grow and then are shipped out to fight the bad mites in avocado orchards.



The lima beans that host the persea mites are grown in greenhouses...



...which are kept warm and humid...



...so that the lima bean plants (which used to be prominent in the Heritage Valley) may thrive.



It's hard to visit the insectary and not get the creepy-crawlies. No matter how accustomed to bug life you are (and I have slept in cockroach-infested NYC apartments and survived tarantulas in my bathroom in Joshua Tree), some of these good bugs are so microscopic, you can't help but think you're bringing some of them home with you – on your clothes, in your hair, in your nostrils, whatever. And it's a little disturbing to see how we're messing with nature, trying to combat pests which have been introduced to California from foreign territories by rearing a population of their natural predators – but, in the process, of course, also raising the pests themselves.

Because sometimes good needs to feed on the bad. One cannot exist without the other. And one cannot be destroyed without the other.

Related Post:
Pinning It Down
Photo Essay: The Path of Destruction of the St. Francis Dam Flood, 86 Years Later
Photo Essay: Last Chance Weekend Scenic Excursion, Santa Paula to Fillmore

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Photo Essay: The Path of Destruction of the St. Francis Dam Flood, 86 Years Later

[Edited for factual accuracy 11/25/14 10:26 a.m.]

I've documented thoroughly the rise and fall of the St. Francis Dam in San Francisquito Canyon, about an hour north of LA – even walking the path of the initial flow of water, along what is now a paved road, closed after storm flooding.


Map: Ventura County Star

But it's only recently that I've ventured west along the Santa Clara River Valley, the natural downstream basin that provided the perfect pathway for the "river" of mud, vegetation, buildings, livestock, and even people that flowed downstream from the St. Francis Dam site, all the way out to the Pacific Ocean between Ventura and Oxnard.


Photo: Los Angeles Times (March 14, 1928)

Along the way, the flood from the dam break wiped out many of the small towns along the way, including Piru, Fillmore, and Santa Paula...


Photo: Los Angeles Times (March 14, 1928)

...where houses were destroyed, and roads were torn up.


Photo courtesy of Courtesy of Alan Pollack/SCVHistory.com

Somehow, the towns of the Santa Clara River Valley – now known better as Heritage Valley – rebounded, and continued to make major contributions in agriculture, particularly with its citrus groves but also walnuts, avocados, and honey.



The first town along the path of the St. Francis Dam Flood, Piru, has a rich history in horticulture and even gold mining...



...but it's probably best-known as a common filming location...



...most notably and recognizably from the music video to Rod Stewart's "Hot Legs."




YouTube screenshot via Rhino Records


YouTube screenshot via Rhino Records





A little farther west, nestled between the Los Padres National Forest and the Santa Susana Mountains...



...where the train still runs through...



...is the town of Fillmore...



...whose Bennett's Honey Farm is the first thing you see along the north side of Highway 126...



...beckoning visitors to come have a taste of honey.



And they have about every variety of Topanga Quality Honey you can imagine.



Also along the train tracks in Fillmore is the sixth city hall in the small incorporated town of 16,000 people, this one built in 1997 near the railroad station.



The area by the train station also features a tiny, historic post office, and a historical museum that includes many archival photographs of Fillmore at the time of the St. Francis Dam flood, including the damage.



In Santa Paula...



...several telephone operators there (notably Louise Gipe) risked their lives to stay behind and telephone local residents with a warning of what was to come...



...and motorcycle police officers who rode through the flood-threatened, low-lying areas of town to warn its residents to evacuate before the wall of water arrived...



... are memorialized today by a monument steel sculpture called "The Warning."



These days, you can still see the Santa Paula train station, and its neighboring Moreton Bay fig tree (planted in 1879), both historical landmarks...



...as is the Glen Tavern Inn, across the street...



...a Craftsman-style former brothel, speakeasy, and gambling hall...



...which, as a boarding house and hotel...



...has hosted celebrities from Harry Houdini to Lindsay Lohan (who filmed Georgia Rule in Santa Paula)...



...and, reportedly, a number of ghosts.



A block or so away is the former Union Oil building, whose downstairs now serves as the California Oil Museum...



...but whose upstairs has been restored to its original condition as offices...



...where sections of original linoleum tile were discovered...



...and the hardware on the doors is incredible.



The original safe isn't going anywhere...



...but you can go inside it...



...and view the various ledgers from the Union Oil Company business that ran out these headquarters from the 1890s to the early 1900s.



There were many records kept behind, and although they're there in storage, no one has had the time to go through them and see what they contain or say.



Chevron actually owns the building now, and leases it to the City of Santa Paula.

Many of Santa Paula's historical landmarks were spared by the flood of the St. Francis Dam, and its streets have been rebuilt and repaved, but there are many unknown victims of the disaster who are buried at Santa Paula Cemetery, without headstones. The remains of perhaps as many as 20 victims are marked by a single plaque.

Otherwise, a modern day visitor would never know. After all, the destruction caused by that much water, flowing over 40 miles from the northeast, is nearly inconceivable. And all these years later, it's still the nation's worst civil engineering disaster, and California's second-worst disaster.

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: Hiking Old San Francisquito Canyon Road, Along the Path of the St. Francis Dam Flood
Photo Essay: What's Left of the St. Francis Dam
Photo Essay: The Power Plants of the St. Francis Dam Disaster
Photo Essay: Last Chance Weekend Scenic Excursion, Fillmore to Santa Paula
Photo Essay: Last Chance Weekend Scenic Excursion, Santa Paula to Fillmore