Our house has six terraria. Most of the time they are empty except for the living diorama in the three facing south, of meadow, middle distance oaks and the distant ridge-line of Sulphur Mountain; and in the three facing north, of the deer weed bowl, oaks to the east and west and the distant Topa Topas holding up the sky.

A few weeks ago we had a specimen - a tarantula (Aphonopelma eutylenum) - in the middle north terrarium. Then a similar creature in the middle south and yesterday, a four foot long, fat, rattle snake (Crotalus viridis). Each terrarium is formed by our floor to ceiling inset glazing that provides a three-sided view of the concrete porches that are their floors. Initially draped along the east (short) wall of glazing the rattler then moved to the south west terrarium - lured perhaps by the smell of my running shoes - and then repulsed, returned to the middle bay. There the snake coiled itself neatly on the doormat taking no more room than a dinner plate, tight against the glass door, where it snoozed. We locked the door from the inside and let it be.

I went into Ojai and when I returned later in the afternoon, Lorrie told me that the snake had slithered off down the gravel precinct and returned to the meadow. Now is the time of maximum activity for snakes, it is a little cooler and they need to stock up on rodents before they become torpid in the colder months. In Southern California they do not truly hibernate.

Our specimen had 11 rattles and was of a size to handle a small rabbit. Rabbits are very susceptible little creatures and I imagine a short rattle from this venerable snake could put a bunny into paralytic shock - no venom necessary. There is no shortage of rabbit meat roaming the front meadow. We escaped a return visit from the Fire Department so our bunch grass remains longer than VCFD regulation - and the rabbits (Sylvilagus audubonii) are now systematically felling the dried stalks and discarding them after a nibble or two. Having been brought up on Beatrix Potter's  The Tale of Peter Rabbit, Frederick Warne & Co., London, 1902 and then living through the Myxomatosis holocaust in England I am willing to give them a pass.

Myxomatosis is a disease first identified in South America and introduced into Australia in 1950 in an attempt to control the six hundred million European rabbits whose ancestors were introduced as game animals in the mid-nineteenth century. Although the disease wiped out 99% of the population, the remaining six million developed resistance and by the late 1950's their numbers had rebounded somewhat. The disease spread to England and the Surrey countryside was littered, during my childhood, with dead and dying rabbits.The cotton-tail of the American south west like the original host of the disease the South American forest rabbit or tapiti (Sylvilagus brasiliensis) is immune, but only their bunny hop can save them from rattlers.

The disease was, from the point of view of Australian farmers, a highly successful government intervention and it remains one of the few examples of successful biological control of a pest animal. It happened at a time when there was a greater acceptance of the benefits of Government science, technology and infrastructure - whether it was the development of the hydrogen bomb (in which Australia was complicit by providing test ranges for the program); neurosurgery (State mental hospitals were veritable production lines of 'ice-pick' frontal lobotomies until the mid-1950's) or the building of the interstate freeway system - which cut through ancient wildlife corridors and continues to threaten the wildlands by turning them into a mosaic of wildlife islands. (Chaparral Mantra 2010-8-11).

There is a tangle of freeway overpasses that run above Riverside Drive on the edge of Frog Town just east of Echo Park in Los Angeles where Algerian ivy (Hedera canariensis) has envined the supporting columns, reached up into the freeway side-rails 40 feet in the air and now cascades down so that it trails over vehicles passing below on the surface street. Such heroic vegetal striving has always inspired in me the hope that nature would somehow re-colonize the concrete freeways, crack, rend and turn them into a sort of chunky vermiculite to mix with the native soils below.

Thus it is I am very conflicted by a blizzard of reports lately about solar roads. Do we really want to further utilize an interstate network that balkanizes our states and partitions our country? The greatest transportation success story in America is the private car; next perhaps, the air-lines, then the interstate trucking business and on down through the railroads, buses and light rail. In any kind of green future all, with the exception perhaps, of light rail, are due for a profound overhaul. It seems to me that some of the 1.7% of the continental land mass devoted to roads could be better utilized as high-speed rail - that could then replace interstate vehicular traffic and most domestic air routes.

We denizens of the wildlife/urban interface are the outliers of the twenty first century. The planet is moving towards greater urban density, not increased numbers of fringe-dwellers in the mildlands. In such a world, narrow rail corridors (with appropriate wildlife underpasses) can link widely dispersed, but supremely dense centers of urban life. Within cities, light rail, electric buses, taxis, share cars (Zipcar) and bicycles can prevail.

The appeal of solar roads lies, I think, in the pleasing paradox of the solution. It's like a vaccine - you manipulate the virus and create a substance that instead of promoting sickness generates antibodies and confers immunity. The great evil that has soaked up a trillion barrels of oil now becomes benign and powers America. Except that you are left with the infrastructure of the disease - you are left with the roads and by implication the (electric) cars that run (still quite slowly) on them, thus air travel remains an appealing alternative. Ah, you say, we can still have high-speed rail (France's Train à Grande Vitesse top speed is 357m.p.h.). Keep dreaming: political reality says that any great leap forward is highly contingent, and a multi-directional leap virtually impossible.

PV embedded in roads would also represent a diffuse grid - with much of the power generated needing to travel great distances to its end-users. California is blessed with vast solar (sun and wind ) resources and centralized production is now located reasonably close to population centers.

Just 100 miles from Los Angeles, Tehachapi represents the world's largest aggregation of wind farms. The wind turbines were originally installed in the area thirty years ago. I remember first seeing wind turbines in the San Gorgonio Pass in the early eighties just beyond Hadley’s on the ten and just before our destination at Two Bunch Palms in Desert Hot Springs (Where Native Meadows Come From 2010-04-14).  Road trips to San Francisco in that same era were enlivened by the sulptural presence of Altamont’s wind farm in the Diablo Range between the Central and Livermore valleys. Tracy, the closest town, has a special place in my memory as the issuing precinct for a speeding ticket I received one very wet night while driving our Mercury Sable wagon to a conference in San Francisco.

But of the three major Californian sites Tehachapi is considered the best and is one of the windiest places in the world. Todays turbines stand about 400-500 feet tall and produce about 1-2.4 megawatts each. The Tehachapi Renewable Transmission Project (TRTP) now under construction and slated for completion in 2012, will result in a high-voltage transmission system delivering 4,500 MW of clean energy into Los Angeles drawing power from 50 square miles of wind-farms in the Tehachapi area. Inevitably, there is an environmental cost and the recent success of the California condor (Gymnogyps californianus) breeding program has resulted in concerns about this endangered species expanding into the Tehachapi Wind Resource Area. Although larger turbines that produce more energy means fewer machines per acre and fewer access roads per MW, the threat remains and such projects will likely push deeper into the Mojave.

But perhaps these environmental threats can be offset. How long I wonder, would it take the desert sands, the sidewinders (Crotalus cerastes) and desert tortoises (Gopherus agassizi) to re-colonize the interstate? And, with the abandonment of our 1950's infrastructure the blight of the strip development along its flanks would melt away and the steel armature stubbornly resisting oxidization in the dry desert air would provide perches for the Condor.

You can dream: but it is I think, useful to dream the right dream.

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