There went that noise again.
Typing on my computer one night, a few years ago, I heard that sound, the sound coming from some eight feet above me. It was the scurrying of some sort of critter on my rooftop, the footsteps too light to be from a person, and too heavy to be that of a squirrel or any one of the numerous cats that wander about my neighborhood.
And the next night, I heard that noise again.
And again the night after that.
Eventually I had gotten well-accustomed to the sound of that random little critter on my rooftop. I paid no mind to it beyond the few seconds I could hear it dash above my ceiling. It could have been a monkey or even an extra-terrestrial visitor for all I knew.
Months went by, and I found myself watering the lawn one evening. And out of nowhere, it came out of the shadows, as if to introduce itself to me.
It was a raccoon.
Of course. It all made sense now. It seemed the right size and mass to be that little critter scrambling atop my roof every night. It kind of stood there, as if it wanted to initiate conversation with me, much like a human neighbor would. So I initiated the conversation:
"Well hello there, Mr. Rac --"
And then it just turned around and left.
The first time I awoke in the Mojave, I was cramped uncomfortably into the passenger seat of my girlfriend's Honda in a roadside rest area on Route 58 near Boron. It was not yet light. I had agreed to drive her car from Los Angeles to the Bay Area alone; she would fly back to spend time with her new boyfriend. Our breakup was not far off. I dropped her off at the airport, then drove off to head anywhere but home. A couple hours later I turned east on 58 from Mojave, vaguely remembering a rest stop from a visit five years before, not knowing which way I'd go when I awoke the next morning.
Through the dry, cloudless air, a few spring morning constellations shone brilliantly. The nearby hills on the Edwards Air Force Base, speckled with lights from one installation or another, made it hard to tell where the sky ended and the earth began.
And then I saw a difference between land and air. The black sky to the east at first seemed to turn a deeper black, as if some unseen hand had poured a vat of purple ink into it. The cast was enough to outline a few objects on land: texture crept slowly into the featureless dark. Then a pale red smudge began to outline the horizon. As I watched, rapt, it spread to the whole eastern sky, a brilliant vermilion wash fading to violet overhead. I left the car to stretch. Behind the spot where I'd parked, a twenty-five-foot Joshua tree stood outlined against the red morning sky.
This was the summer of the bear.
Their antics -- or what we imagine to be antics -- have gone viral on YouTube. Such as the July incident in which a 300-pound black bear ambled into Lonigan's bar in Estes Park, Colorado. That sounds like the start of a joke, but the patrons are the punch line. So fixed were they on throwing back shots and nursing a cold brew that they never noticed the burly bruin wandering through the establishment.
As for the member of the Ursidae family caught on camera as it rifled through a dumpster parked outside the Edelweiss restaurant in Colorado Springs -- who doesn't love a bit of larceny? Frustrated by its inability to get purchase on the tasty morsels buried within, the upright bear used its powerful body to push-pull the heavy roll-away from the loading dock and out of camera's eye, presumably to chow down in peace. The presumption was confirmed when, like a next-evening return to a favorite dining spot, it showed up 24-hours later, replicating its late-night snack run.
A different sort of fun-and-games captured the North American imagination in August when a research cam that the Alberta Provincial Park system had set up to monitor animal behavior picked up a quartet of bears in full romp. The grizzly foursome starts by rolling in the dust and then does some serious backscratching against the pine's rough bark, a touch of midsummer madness.
And then there is Meatball, a one-time inhabitant of the Glendale, CA foothills who in 2012 gained an instant internet following after breaking into a garage refrigerator and wolfing down frozen meatballs. Sightings of it in other backyards captivated some residents, one of whom immediately established a still-active Twitter feed dubbed Glen Bearian. Although in time state wildlife officials captured the bold bear and sent it to a San Diego wildlife sanctuary, this summer the city decided to immortalize its arresting presence in the community's life: Meatball will be the featured (and animated) figure in Glendale's float in the 2014 Rose Bowl Parade, popping out of a flower-bedecked trash can.
So what is it about these magnificent animals that have so fascinated folks online and off? Why have hundreds of thousands of viewers spent so much time loading and reloading YouTube to watch them prowl and pilfer and play? What does our watching say about us?
Four new California lizard species have been described in a new scientific paper published last week, and a couple of them were hiding in plain sight.
The new species are all legless lizards. Formerly considered members of the wide-ranging species Anniella pulchra, the lizards are different enough in skeletal structure, scale patterns and color, say the paper's authors, to deserve assignment to their own distinct species.
Given that Anniella pulchra was already rare enough despite its extensive range to concern conservationists before being split up into five species, the herpetologists say that the new species probably deserve close scrutiny by wildlife protection agencies.
This past week, Los Angeles International Airport got a $1.9 billion, 1.2 million square foot upgrade with the much-anticipated opening of the Great Hall and South Concourse of its newly-expanded Tom Bradley International Terminal.
From a visual standpoint, the renovated terminal looks remarkable. The rigid, right angles and grid-like aesthetics of the original 1984 terminal now give way to a Pacific Ocean wave-inspired design with sweeping, curved rooflines and windows that invoke more natural sunlight. Inside, the curved, angled ceilings and large window panels also evoke familiar iconic landmarks like the Hollywood Bowl, The Getty Center, and the adjacent LAX Theme Building. The visually stunning and interactive Integrated Environmental Media Systems (IEMS), made up of multiple LED panels and LCD screens are one of the unique highlights of the terminal. And the over 60 retail and dining establishments bring an upscale shopping mall experience to the airport.
The 21st century design of the updated international terminal also calls to attention one aspect that didn't yet exist in the 1980s: environmental sustainability. According to Los Angeles World Airports, the city-run agency that administers LAX, the new Bradley Terminal is designed to achieve a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Silver certification from the U.S. Green Building Council.
Most of the terminal's sustainable practices were demonstrated during its construction phase. Building materials made from recycled content were used in the interior finishes, and over 75 percent of construction and demolition waste was recycled or salvaged. The interior of the facility uses low-emitting paints, adhesives, sealants, and carpeting. And several mitigation measures were used during the heavy construction phase, from noise and emissions retrofits to construction vehicles, to dust control, to increasing the efficiency of concrete mixers and other heavy equipment.
In terms of power and water use, in addition to a more natural sunlight-friendly design, energy-efficient lighting with occupancy sensors were installed to save electric consumption. The heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems are set to maximum efficiency temperatures. And low-flow plumbing fixtures were installed in all restroom facilities.
For such a large and prominent public structure, a LEED Silver certification is impressive. But is it sustainable enough?
Airports, by their nature, are not inherently sustainable facilities. They are usually located away from city centers, occupy huge swaths of land, with the majority of it being paved. And of course, airports, particularly large international gateways, are sources of air and noise pollution, although advances in aircraft technology are addressing those issues, such as the lighter composite materials that give the Boeing 787 Dreamliner increased fuel economy, and the relatively quiet jet engines used to propel the massive Airbus A380.
But other new airport facilities have already left LAX trailing in terms of sustainability. The Bradley Terminal's counterpart at Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport has a LEED Gold certification, utilizing innovative features such as rainwater capture and environmentally-friendly cleaning practices. Another LEED Gold certification has been attained just up the coast, at California's second-busiest aviation facility, with San Francisco International Airport's Terminal 2, renovated in 2011, boasting locally-sourced and organic food at its dining outlets, water bottle refilling stations, and a reclaimed water system used for toilets and industrial uses. And though much smaller in size and scope, Chattanooga Airport's renewable energy-powered general aviation terminal in Tennessee has earned a LEED Platinum certification, using 4,000 solar panels located in a nearby site to power the building. Additional sustainable measures include the use of 95-percent recycled building materials, and native plant landscaping.
The newly-revamped terminal is undoubtedly more pleasing to the eye and more convenient to the traveler, but its day-to-day sustainable practices appear rather invisible, or even inconsistent. For example, a set of segregated waste and recyclable receptacles are located near the food court area of the terminal, but standard trash bins are placed in all other locations. Even more importantly, practices like the use of renewable energy sources and wastewater treatment and re-usage are not addressed in the new building.
The recent Bradley Terminal update is just part of a larger, $4.1 billion investment toward the overall modernization of LAX, which will include renovations to its domestic terminals as well as a second international terminal located across the tarmac to the west, which will be accessed by a large pedestrian and peoplemover bridge.
It would be even more impressive for a true 21st century, world class facility like a newly-renovated LAX to include solar power generation, with panels placed over open-air parking lots and structures, or even integrated into the roofs of buildings. Or treated wastewater to be used for non-potable uses like landscape irrigation and aircraft washing.
A facility with the size and scope of LAX has not just the obligation to be more sustainable, but the unique opportunity to literally demonstrate to the world how sustainable it, and the city and country it represents, can be, and how individuals can be inspired to take up some of those practices in their own daily lives.
Airports are places where journeys both begin and end. The journey to sustainability is now taking flight, so hopefully the upcoming renovated elements of LAX can make it soar to even higher heights.
Legislation that would greatly increase logging on public land in the Pacific Northwest is on a list of this week's priorities released by U.S. House Republican leaders, and it could have far-reaching effects for California. The bill, HR 1526, includes several options to cut more timber to make money for economically-depressed rural counties, primarily in Oregon.
However, according to Noah Matson, vice president for Climate Change and Natural Resources Adaptation at the group Defenders of Wildlife, it sets a dangerous precedent by making timber sales the goal and exempting large portions of public land from such federal environmental laws as the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act.
Matson points out that clear-cutting and its effects on the environment and wildlife are what prompted limits on logging 20 years ago. But sponsors of the bill say the land that would be logged in Oregon was meant for sustained timber yield when it was given to the state in the 1930s, and that today, the counties where the land is located desperately need the income.
Taking my usual walk out in the open desert I saw it crossing the trail ahead: a low black dot with an air of confidence. It made no attempt to hurry for cover despite standing out plainly against the light gravel.
That's unusual for small desert animals. Almost everyone out here is on the make, looking for bits of food and moisture, and a beetle the size of a raspberry would ordinarily draw lots of attention from passing birds, lizards, and mice.
This beetle didn't care. It took its time, walking in a casual straight line from point A to point B, until I caught up with it. It turned to face my boot, calm as you please.
It was the placid self-assuredness of an animal that knew it could make life miserable for anything that bothered it.
Southern California burns. That's a given.
What's not is how we respond to wildland flames that erupt on distant mountains or nearby foothills, scorching hundreds, even thousands of acres. Or, as is the case with Wednesday's 17-acre brush fire on the Robert J. Bernard Field Station, an outdoor research lab owned by the Claremont Colleges, to a relatively undeveloped piece of property that is surrounded by residential neighborhoods and the community's many educational institutions.
And what we say, what we demand, what we conclude about these fiery events says a great deal about our understanding of our place within this region's fire-adapted ecosystems.
That's why the particulars, the details matter. This two-alarm fire -- dubbed the Foothill Fire -- erupted quickly and moved fast.
Its point of ignition, eyewitnesses noted, and L.A. County Fire investigators have confirmed, was the result of a crew from Golden State Water Company employing a chop saw and torch while fixing an aboveground water pipe. Its shower of sparks kicked off the blaze (and even as flames swept east, these men continued to cut pipe on Foothill Boulevard, which delineates the field station's southern border, shooting more sparks into the air). This news will certainly shape any potential legal ramifications and more generally how some will interpret this fire's significance.
What's the timeline for forgetting an event we swore we'd always remember? Flipping through the Los Angeles Times this morning, I found no mention of 9-11, so maybe twelve years is the expiration date.
For me, it was a bit earlier. In 2008, while driving north from Cape Cod to Boston, I followed a small white truck adorned with a single, one-word bumper sticker: "Remember." It took more than twenty miles trailing behind that vehicle, shifting lanes and freeways, and slipping beneath a series of bridges bedecked with American flags and Styrofoam cups wedged into the chain-link fences above, many of which spelled out "Never Forget," before I recalled the impending anniversary.
Before I could summon up the moment when I first heard the news of the brutal assault on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon, and of a plane that crashed into a Pennsylvania field. I was shocked at how easily those terrifying days had slipped from my memory.
And staggered, because I had flown into New York hours earlier for a set of meetings the next day at Grey Towers National Historic Site; located in northeastern Pennsylvania, it was maybe fifty miles from Wall Street. No sooner had I arrived at the former home of Gifford Pinchot, founding chief of the U.S. Forest Service, than word spread of the attack. Almost instantly, like all federal installations, the site went on full alert, its gates closed and staff sequestered.
In Southern California's urban communities, a war is being waged against the prevalence of food deserts -- communities which lack access to fresh, healthy food due to socioeconomic and geographic conditions. Common strategies to winning this war include opening certified farmer's markets, creating community gardens, and propagating health and nutrition education.
But food deserts are not exclusive to the urban setting of the congested, polluted concrete jungle. Even in rural areas, the glut of fast-food restaurants, the dearth of fresh produce, and a sustainable means to grow them locally are just as problematic to the community.
In the Owens Valley town of Lone Pine, some 200 miles north of Los Angeles, where the Great Basin Desert meets the Sierra Nevada mountains, a similar war against the food desert is also being waged, and in 2010, a group of local growers and residents decided to get ready for battle by growing food locally for both personal consumption and for the community.
"We were concerned about the lack of fresh nutritious produce and few healthy food choices in general in southern Inyo county," said Jane McDonald, a food grower, baker, and board member of the Owens Valley Growers Cooperative, which was established in 2012. "We formed the co-op in order to support increased local production and markets, developing a local sustainable foodshed, supporting development of our local economy."