Jackson Heights gardens in the snow

Chad's phone photos from the morning. The snow keeps coming. As of this posting, it has been snowing for over 27 hours.

Have you been to the Channel Islands?

Inspiration point on Anacapa Island looking towards Santa Cruz Island

If you've driven up Highway 101 from Los Angeles to Santa Barbara you've probably seen the dark shadowy shapes hugging the horizon offshore. These are the Channel Islands: Anacapa, Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa, San Miguel, and Santa Barbara. For years my friend Barbara has been suggesting a visit. Last weekend we finally made it.

These beautiful remote islands are one of the least visited of the National Parks. Surprisingly, not one of the several Los Angelenos to whom I mentioned the islands had ever been. A few of my LA friends even asked, "what are the Channel Islands?"... (I started to write something snarky here but thought I shouldn't get too harsh and NYC on their sunshine-soaked brains.)

We took the daylong trip with Islandpackers out of Venture Harbor. Anacapa Island (above) is about an hour's boat ride away with frequent stops along the way to look at dolphins and two grey whales. The islands are currently uninhabited except by park rangers. According to archeological evidence, the Chumash Indians lived on the island for thousands of years.

A 13,000 year old skeleton named the Arlington Man was found on Santa Rosa Island in 1959 by Philip Orr(!), curator of anthropology and natural history at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History. These remains are the earliest dated human remains to be found in North or South America. Orr also discovered skeletons of pygmy mammoths that were endemic to the islands during the Pleistocene era.

East Anacapa Island is about a mile long and 1/4 mile wide, flat on top and ringed by cliffs. From the lighthouse you can see from one end to the other at Inspiration point. The other Anacapa islets aren't usually visited since they hold the nesting grounds of endangered California brown pelicans who will reportedly abandon their nests when humans intrude.

Kelp beds at the bottom of the sea cliffs

Many of the island's plants such as the wild cucumber or man-root (Marah macrocarpus) and the giant coreopsis (Coreopsis giantea) are native or endemic to the Channel Islands.

Western gulls nest all over the island, often in the top of the giant coreopsis

With only seven people, our tour felt like an episode of Gilligan's Island. We had the entire place to ourselves. Once you climb the metal stairs from the boat up to the treeless plateau, the 1 1/2 miles of trails are flat and easy.

Introduced African ice plant (above) is an scourge up and down the California coastline. Here it is being bagged for removal on Anacapa. There is so much of it blanketing the ground that it must feel like a losing battle.

A collection of native wildflowers: Blue dick or wild hyacinth (Dichelostemma pulchellum), poisonous death camas (Zigadenus venenosus) and the mission mallow (Lavatera assurgentiflora) which is thought to originate from the Channel Islands but now has naturalized through coastal California.

Two members of our party scan the ocean for grey whales

The ground-hugging leaves of gumplant (Grindelia camporum v. bracteosum) are covered in a sticky substance

A picnic on top of Inspiration Point on Anacapa Island

The steep cliffs are covered with lichens and coreopsis

At another cove, you could see and hear sea lions on the small rocky beach on the left

The only access to the island is from this stairway and boat dock

Looking south, there is no land between this cliff edge and Antarctica

Garden arcana

As I was browsing through the ancient herbal section of my bookshelf the other day, I came across a forgotten title, the odd Arzneipflanzenbuch (Medicinal Herb Book) of 1520 - 1530.

Just kidding I found these images on BibliOdyssey, one of my favorite bibliophile blogs. Go see more images of these eccentric anthro- and zoomorphic hybrids here with a link to the scanned work in the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek in Munich.

The frozen lake, carnivorous plants and an abandoned summer camp

The other day we went for a nature walk on the frozen lake at the weekend house. Don't worry. It's perfectly safe. We wait until we see the Russian fisherman driving out to setup their huts before we go on the ice every year. These photographs are my humble homage to my hero Harry Callahan. (Click photos to enlarge)

We live on three lakes that are connected: White Lake, Kauneonga Lake and Amber Lake. I wanted to take the 30-45 minute walk over to the bog forest on Amber Lake where we canoe to see the carnivorous pitcher plants in the summertime, especially since I had never checked on them in the winter. Even in summertime Amber Lake is a quietly mysterious place, in winter it is even more so. There is some interesting history on White Lake here.

Animal footprints surround a watering hole in the bog forest (above). It was hard to spot the pitcher plants among all the dead leaves (below).

These American pitcher plants (Sarracenia purpurea) are about five-inches tall and live on mossy islands in the bog. They had a frozen block of ice in their throats and downward-facing hairs that help keep insects from climbing back out over the lip. In the summertime they are more conspicuous when they send up tall flowers.

The bog is a series of small moss islands surrounded by channels. In the summertime we canoe in between the islands where the water is very deep, dark and tannic. Once I fell in trying to see a pitcher plant and was covered in incredibly smelly black anaerobic mud. I had a hard time convincing Chad to let me back in the canoe while he kept me out with his oar. He would have survived the Titanic I feel sure.

Kauneonga Lake

Amber Lake with a stunted hemlock tree in the bog.

A partially frozen ice fishing hole. The ice looks to be about 10-12 inches thick.

Next year's bud are already on the trees.

Chad walks on frozen White Lake.

Ice feathers down by the shoreline.

In the woods on the far edge of Amber Lake and Kauneonga Lake, we came across a derelict summer camp hidden in the woods. I know from a friend who went there in the 1960s that it was called Camp Hi-Li (Hebrew Institute of Long Island). There is a facebook group that shows photographs of this camp in its heyday.

One of the abandoned Hi-Li buildings with a tree growing out of its middle.

The place had an eerie feel to it in the snow. This looks like it was one of the main buildings.

A small wooden hut is the only structure visible from the lake.

It's unclear to me why they would have wanted a swimming pool when the beach on the lake and is 100 feet away.

I understand that most of the structures burnt down in the 1990s. Oddly there are groves of white birches growing out of the site of every cabin, in among the stone pilings. Since there aren't many birches around otherwise, it almost looks like a art installation.

I've turned in my book!

Ruth Gordon writing in Martha's Vineyard, July 4, 1975, Photographed by Alfred Eisenstaedt

You can expect blog postings on a more regular basis now.