Last Sunday, we went to the final concert at the Ojai Music Festival and saw the preening George Benjamin conduct his own composition, At First Light, which represented, I thought, a tediously conventional view of the day's dawning: all squawks and squeaks of the avian dawn chorus and thunderous drum rolls announcing the rising of the sun accompanied by the mechanical cacophany of the waking industrial world. As an expert in first light - watching the sun rise most mornings on my run, the creeping luminescence of the dawn is at once profoundly lyrical and prosaic - the sun rarely rises, at least in this part of the world, with tympanic drama but more usually insinuates itself slowly washing away the darkness; the day is almost fully light before the sun bothers to actually drag itself out-of-bed and over the horizon. Its first rays may sometimes be worthy of a trumpet fanfare but usually, in the moist atmosphere of early morning its rising is quietly marked by a yellow cast over the heavy dawn grey. Benjamin I suspect, whose white hair frames a moon face, is a night owl - sleeping through mid-morning. The closing performance of Olivier Messiaen's Oiseaux exotiques was a considerably more successful metaphoric piece, and went some way in salvaging the concert.

Friday, the start of the Festival weekend, we attended a delightful pre-concert party given by Bruce and Marie Botnick. I finally met Pamela Burton, the Landscape Architect whom Lorrie had known a little in Santa Monica when she was our neighbor in the Canyon. We had been promising to visit each others houses in Ojai for six months or more and on Friday evening we agreed that she would visit, with Michael Webb, the architectural journalist, on Saturday morning. Michael checked out the house and pool while Pamela reviewed the natives that surround the house - it was gratifying to show the grounds to someone who fully understood what we were doing. Pamela has just finished her pool although she and Richard have had their weekend house on Grant for 25 years; while I have designed eight pools she, no doubt, has designed dozens and presumably her own, like ours, is a distillation of everything learnt over the years.

The bunch grasses on the tilted plane - the front lawn - are drying out. We have removed the erodium and clover which surrounded them. The sparse stands of needlegrass (Nassella Sp.) can still be provoked to wave in a heavy breeze, but absent wind the field has a bald look with dried plugs of bunch grasses and splotches of green and yellow - deer weed (Lotus scoparius) - looking like some punk dye-job. We still love it, for it is our child, but I do not expect a lot of respect from friends and neighbors - or the Fire Department.

The latter came by Wednesday arriving in a full-sized rig (the pick up truck, apparently, was otherwise engaged). I was in L.A., but Lorrie tells me they would like at least some of the grass clipped. Similarly they want the deer weed on the 'back bowl' to be thinned. We'll leave it all as-is until Lorrie's Birthday Party (the night of the full moon, the 26th) and then set to it. The thinning of the deer weed actually allows for individual plants to spread fountain-like and makes for a beautiful, lacey show. They seemed comfortable with the yellow and green splotches up front. The tarweed (Deinandra fasciculata) is spectacular right now, and is colonizing the edges of the 'lawn', even popping up in the shoulders of the chip-seal driveway. All in all, their suggestions were reasonable and we can accommodate them while retaining the 'big idea' of natural landscape bumping up to the gravel terraces.

This has been a difficult spring for brush clearance and weed control. The El Nino rains continued well into May and mustard, thistles and erodium are still emerging sprightly and green. We did not approach the 50 inches that Ojai received in the record El Nino years of 1997-1998 and 2004-2005; but according to the Ventura County Watershed district tally The Summit received 29 inches against an annual average of a little over 23" and last years abysmal (but ideal for building!) 13.65 inches. My experience of exceptionally wet winters in Ojai covers both the recent big storm years.

In the winter of 2004-2005, Casitas Dam and the city of Ojai received more than 50 inches of rain and Nordhoff Peak drenched in more than 80 inches. My most vivid memory of that winter, the first after we had purchased property on Koenigstein Road, was of driving up the PCH, with the family, including my eldest son Edward down from Vancouver to spend a few days with us between Christmas and New Year's, crossing over the Calleguas Creek bridge at Point Mugu and seeing the water almost level with the road lapping at the curb which supports the guard rail on the eastern edge as it rushed towards Mugu Lagoon and the Pacific Ocean. Onward we drove, despite Lorrie's deep misgivings (levels of testosterone were high in the cramped cockpit of the Audi allroad) up through Santa Paula before we were finally turned around by an Edison Emergency crew at the reservoir just north of Bridge Road who told us that the road had washed out beyond Steckel Park. (That would have been at St Thomas Aquinas where still you can see the tangled wreckage of a car that washed into the creek). That was also the year that I planted 50 acorns on the property - to no apparent effect. Flood damage to the 150 between Santa Paula and Ojai has, just this last month, finally been repaired.

Earlier, in 1998 my last year teaching at Oak Grove, I was driving up to Meiner's Oaks from Santa Monica Canyon three times a week in the Mercury Sable wagon that we had bought at the beginning of the decade to car-pool with. Alone in a seven seater (there was a rearward facing seat at the back of the cargo hold) sunk deeply into a velour seat that was sagging with age I battled the winter storms from January until May. That year the PCH was ravaged by the rain and high surf, crumbling at the edges in that deleriously winding section from County Line to Point Mugu. Sometimes it was closed. One morning I was turned back at Neptunes Net on others I followed Cal Trans as they cleared rock slides in front of me. Over the years since, the road has been serially improved and suffered no damage in the 2004-5 El Nino event.

The correlation of El Nino years to heavy winter rains is not a simple one. But certainly two of the recent strong El Nino's produced record rains. This winter's weak event bumped the average rainfall by 25% and significantly, perhaps, stretched the rainy season to a full seven and a half months. It started with a bang with well over five inches in October (12-15) and ended with a whimper, but by my calculation, still over an inch in May (26-28).

The Music Festival, as far as I know has always enjoyed fair weather. The fate of its re-building efforts however, as of this writing, has hit a stormy patch in the shape of Ojai City Council's intransigence. They are demanding further assurances that the funds are guaranteed despite the Festival Committee having secured pledges sufficient to cover the projected budget. As one of those pledging on a 'five year plan' I feel personally impugned by the council's refusal to OK the planned reconstruction of Ojai's signature Bowl!

1 comment:

  1. Your comments on dawn and its music make sense to me...dawn really does have an insinuating aspect not befitting drum rolls (methinks).

    Speaking of birthday parties...well, despite numerous invites this upcoming weekend I'm determined to get out and camp. Sorry to miss Lorrie's party, but !

    One upcoming event that might be of interest...a screening of the documentary film "Dirt" on Saturday in town. I hear it's all that it's claimed to be...