Four Seasons at the Port

Last week – on Twelfth Night, a day we Shakespeare lovers always observe – we took one of our favorite urban walks at the Port of Los Angeles. After a bout of puffer coat and gloves weather, it was good to be out on a mild winter evening with beautiful light. Also, refreshing to leave behind for a while the disturbing U.S. political events of the day.  

I’d just finished reading Anthony Doerr’s fine memoir, Four Seasons in Rome, which catalyzed the realization that here we were in our fourth season of Covid-19 LA. Living in another fascinating city, but unlike Doerr in Rome, restricted by the pandemic from freely exploring its attractions, or even escaping to the natural world of our coastal environment with its fabulous beaches, trails and walks by the ocean.

As the months went by and Covid cases burgeoned, our radius shrank: Parks, trails and beaches closed, and when they reopened, crowds returned, many people failing to wear masks or observe social distancing. We stopped taking many of our usual walks and hikes, and the port became our primary getaway –– a reliable, sparsely frequented safe haven of solitude and space.

Even before Covid, we regularly walked there, forging various interesting routes, enjoying the colorful industrial landscape and constant hum of maritime activity. Fortunately, we like finding new things in familiar places, and our regular rambles at the port during the pandemic have not disappointed.

There’s so much to explore and photograph in our vast harbor landscape. Here is a mini tour of the routes we’ve taken through the changing seasons of the pandemic.

We’ll start with this peaceful, tree-lined city park with its spacious promenade, the scene of our Twelfth Night walk last week. It’s one of those quiet retreats you find in every city; once inside its leafy seclusion, you scarcely notice the busy thoroughfare that runs right next to it.

We’ve walked here so many times in the past year that we’re among the regulars who recognize each other despite the masks and exchange a friendly greeting, a few words, a wave, in Covid camaraderie.

Keep going past the shady benches, stone chess tables and a now dormant fountain, where children jump and squeal in the spray during a normal summer. On your left, you’ll come to the City of LA fireboat station, where you can sometimes catch sight of that big sophisticated boat at rest. You might even hear a loudspeaker staff alert that fresh cookies are available in the station kitchen.

Our final stop on this route is the small pier just past the fireboat station, dwarfed by a massive container ship in the photo below. Notice the people, similarly dwarfed, getting a very close-up look at the ship.

The pier offers great views of sea and sky, the port’s extensive shipping operations and the fascinating movement of maritime traffic.

Moored nearby are the tugboats that maneuver the giant cargo ships entering and leaving the port. Behind the tugs (below) is the 1,500-foot-long Vincent Thomas suspension bridge that crosses Los Angeles Harbor.

From this small pier with big views, you can see historic Warehouse No. 1, completed in 1917. Its distinctive tower, with a welcome greeting in many languages, is visible from miles away. The landmark building and its environs are the next route on our tour.

As the port’s only bonded warehouse, Warehouse No. 1 played a crucial role in LA’s entry into international trade. It’s a striking old structure with its many balconies, lion gargoyles and layers of grunge.

Here is a close-up of one of the lion gargoyles on the side of the warehouse in the photo above.

I like industrial landscapes and find art in them, so I always enjoy walking in this area and photographing interesting buildings and details. On one of our 2020 rambles, this sculptural outdoor warehouse equipment and its textural setting, like the gargoyles, appealed to me.

Walking this familiar route through three seasons of the coronavirus pandemic has not been without its elements of surprise. In spring, we encountered these companion flags, torn and battered, flying in the wind. They struck a chord as an apt symbol for a country in the midst of a deadly worldwide pandemic. With the rise of Covid cases and deaths, and our socio-political turmoil, the symbolism still feels apt.

On another spring walk, I found this bright explosion of California poppies at the curb of a drab industrial building. A cheering burst of color on an overcast day.

One summer afternoon, a whimsical “art installation” appeared on our route.

Who knows what we’ll find in this fourth season?

Copyright M. Vincent 2021

Port of Los Angeles tugboats at golden hour photo and Warehouse No. 1 photo copyright Brad Nixon 2021. Used with kind permission.

All other photographs copyright M. Vincent 2019-2021.

U.S. Naval Hospital Ship Mercy Arrives at the Port of LA

USN Ship Mercy Banner-BN

U.S. Naval Hospital Ship Mercy arrived at the Port of Los Angeles this past weekend, bringing welcome aid to our city in its fight against the coronavirus. It was a moving experience to be there on site as the massive ship appeared and to watch it sailing through the channel to its berth (where it appears above).

With COVID-19 cases rapidly rising in California, and substantial impact projected for LA, our governor requested Mercy’s immediate deployment to help ensure that we have the medical facilities and assets needed here.

Mercy’s purpose is to alleviate the burden on LA-area hospitals as COVID-19 cases accelerate. It will handle other critical care cases, allowing our local hospitals to focus their resources on COVID-19 patients.

Chasing Mercy

My partner tracked Mercy’s schedule, and we planned to get to the port early to see the ship arrive. It was a perfect early spring day — mild, clear and sunny — and getting outdoors for a cheering event was a refreshing break from the fraught, quarantined life. The world seemed almost normal, except for the virtually empty Friday morning streets.

That changed when we arrived at our chosen viewing point. Nowhere to park and a crowd that made social distancing impossible. Not surprising. Fortunately we know the area well, and a short drive away, it was mostly quiet. It was easy to preserve my space, though I did have to shoot photos through a chain-link fence.

Here is a photo of U.S. Coast Guard ship “Halibut,” which led Mercy through the channel.

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Halibut is a Marine Protector Class patrol boat based in Marina del Rey, California. One of its functions is port security. Because it’s based so close to LA, the Halibut is known in the Coast Guard as “the Hollywood cutter” and is often used to represent the Coast Guard in broadcasts, television shows and movies.

Shortly after the Halibut passed by, Mercy sailed into view — a monumental presence 854 feet long and 106 feet wide.

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My partner got the best shot of the ship as it made its way to its berth in an area normally occupied by giant cruise ships.  You can get a sense of its magnitude from his photo below.

USN Ship Mercy sails in II-BN

Usually, we see one or two tugboats pushing or pulling the cruise ships into place. Four tugboats were present to assist the smaller, but less maneuverable Mercy.

As Mercy continued its journey, we headed home — or so we thought — following its path up the channel. Approaching the cruise-ship terminal, traffic was markedly different from what we’d experienced earlier that morning.

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We assumed the “No entrance” sign flashing ahead meant no public ingress to Mercy’s docking area, but fortuitously, the turnoff to the cruise ship terminal was open, and we swung in, found immediate parking, and joined the band of people heading across the street to welcome Mercy.

Celebrating a Historic Moment

Mercy’s berth was just a short walk away. As we approached the ship, we found a lively scene with a variety of people gathered, from members of the community like us, some with school-age children in tow, to professional newspeople and photographers.

Law enforcement and military circulated among the gathering. Everyone was courteous and tried to observe a reasonable amount of social distance.

A row of photographers hugged the fence in front of Mercy, tripods set up, intently focused. Others snapped away on their cell phones, waved at the Mercy team members on deck or just stood back to observe the scene and enjoy the bright, fresh morning.

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In the midst of the action, a newswoman and her cameraman prepared for filming.

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A bicyclist pedaling back and forth waving a large American flag exemplified the mood of quiet celebration I felt as we all converged to witness this moment in history.

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At this distressing time, Mercy’s arrival brings solace, cheer, and the hope that comes from additional readiness in the coronavirus fight. That is a mercy indeed.

Thank you to all who made Mercy’s rapid deployment to Los Angeles happen, from Governor Newsom to the U.S. Navy’s Military Sealift Command and everyone who worked to prepare the ship for this mission. Best wishes to the Mercy medical team and staff as they assume their life-saving duties.

Mercy’s Capabilities

Stationed in San Diego when not on active duty, Mercy has 1,000 hospital beds, 12 operating rooms and nearly 1,300 medical staff and crew on board.

You can see inside the USNS Mercy, view its additional facilities and learn some of its history here.

Local Stories Welcomed

What state or local COVID-19 preparedness/relief actions are happening in your community? Please share your news from around the world as we navigate this difficult time together.

Copyright M. Vincent 2020.

Mercy docking at its berth at the Port of LA and Mercy sailing into the port, copyright Brad Nixon 2020, used with kind permission. Etymology lovers, see his related post here. 

All other photos copyright M. Vincent 2020.

LA’s Landmark Phoenix Bakery, Chinatown

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Famous for its fresh strawberry whipped-cream cake, the Phoenix Bakery has been serving traditional Chinese pastries and an increasing variety of other sweets since 1938. We visited this venerable Los Angeles institution during last year’s Lunar New Year festivities and found that it has a fascinating history.

Earlier, I wrote about the Firecracker 5K/10K Run, an annual Chinatown New Year’s event. In 2019, we were spectators, not runners, cheering the participants, enjoying the entertainment and exploring the area at walking pace. That’s how we finally made it into the bakery.

We spotted the distinctive sign (above), a horde of customers headed for the door, and a crowd already inside. It was obviously the place to be, and we joined the happy throng.

An Abundance of Cakes and Pastries

When we got inside, the small storefront was bustling, with virtually every table taken and a steady line at the counter. The cases were filled with a variety of sweets as diverse as the Los Angeles community — from Chinese almond cookies and winter melon cakes to French croissants, eclairs, tres leches cake and other international selections.

In his pastry painting phase, Wayne Thiebaud would have loved this place. Regrettably, there was too much hustle and bustle for my food photography that day, but I did manage to snap these clever Year of the Pig cupcakes:

MV S3652-LR Yr of Pig Cupcakes-680

The counter staff were friendly and patiently answered our questions as we investigated the offerings on display. Our mission was to try some traditional Chinese pastries, so we left the other sweets for another time.  The pretty winter melon cake (on the left below) had a pleasing filling and inspired this “home studio” photo composition.

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A Longstanding Family Enterprise

One of Chinatown’s few remaining original shops, the Phoenix Bakery celebrated its 80th anniversary in 2018. Chinese immigrants F.C. Chan and his wife, Wai Hing, founded the business in 1938 when the Central Plaza was just opening.

The Chan’s original idea was to create a community gathering place, producing traditional Chinese pastries and cookies not locally available at the time. Beginning with Chinese almond cookies, winter melon pastries and seasonal moon cakes, they branched into a variety of other, culture-spanning sweets.

In the 1940s, Mr. Chan’s brother joined the business and created its signature fresh strawberry whipped-cream cake.  The cake gained a reputation, and in the 1970s, the company website notes, the bakery became famous throughout LA for making this “not so Chinese” cake.

After more than 80 years, the bakery is still owned and operated by the Chan family, with second and third generation family members in various roles.  It continues to enjoy a loyal following,  from generation to generation,  and to be the traditional “go-to” place for that special cake for birthdays, weddings and other celebrations.

MV S3651-LR LA Phoenix Bakery window-680

That Timeless Logo

There’s a story behind the Phoenix Bakery logo and mascot as well. Celebrated Chinese-American artist, Tyrus Wong,  designed the charming, shyly smiling boy with the red-ribboned package behind his back.

A highly skilled and versatile artist Wong had a long and varied career. Perhaps best known for his role as lead production illustrator for Disney’s 1942 film, Bambi, he continued to work in a variety of media well into his 90s.

Happy Lunar New Year to all! May 4718 be a sweet year for you.

Copyright M. Vincent 2020. Photos copyright M. Vincent 2019–2020.

Bakery history sources: and 2018 LAist article by Liz Ohanesian on the 80th anniversary of the business.

The Phoenix Bakery is located at 969 N. Broadway, Los Angeles 90012, adjacent to Chinatown’s Central Plaza.

Food/Photography Friday: Breakfast on the Road in Bishop, California

Bristlecone Pine Forest MV Hiking-2018

One of the joys of travel is finding fun local places to have breakfast. That’s a road trip focus my partner and I share — and when we’re starting out early for a day of trekking in the outdoors, robust morning coffee and a healthy, fortifying meal are a must. We found two gems for both in Bishop, when we made the town our base for exploring the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest and Old West ghost town, Bodie, last fall.

Waffles and Books at the Pupfish Café

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Named for a tiny, endangered Death Valley fish, this cozy, friendly café is located inside an attractive indie bookstore, a bonus for book lovers. The menu emphasizes locally sourced products, including eggs, bread, baked goods and artisan coffee from Black Sheep Coffee Roasters just down the street.

As you can see from the counter menu above, the coffee options are extensive. The cappuccino and the full-bodied house brew we tried were both excellent.

The cafe’s specialty is the Liège waffle, named for the city in Belgium. It’s made with a brioche dough and studded with chunky pearl sugar that caramelizes as the waffle cooks, producing a crisp exterior.

MV C3699 LR Pupfish waffle and coffee-640

When I saw this waffle in my pre-trip restaurant research, I was hooked. At the cafe, I promptly ordered one for us to share with our coffee while perusing the rest of the menu. Intended to be eaten by hand, it arrived warm and fragrant in its paper package –– a sweet, crunchy, dense and chewy delight. Don’t leave the Pupfish without trying one.

After our rich “starter,” we moved on to the Eggs on Avocado, which came with a choice of Kalamata olives, red pepper flakes or fresh basil. The dish came nicely plated, with the scrambled eggs on a perfectly ripe sliced avocado, the basil garden-fresh.

We enjoyed the food and ambience so much, we returned and were again impressed. I had the Paleo Breakfast: two poached eggs cooked to order, topped with a house-made cilantro-caper spread, and served on mixed greens tossed with a zippy vinaigrette. A satisfying choice for vegetarians like me, as well as Paleo diet followers. My partner enjoyed the Egg and Cheese Panini, served on a ciabatta roll.

In sum, for a variety of healthy, flavorful breakfast choices, served in a relaxed modern setting, up with contemporary food trends, but not pretentious and pricey, head to the Pupfish Café.

Pupfish Café Location: 124 S. Main Street (U.S. Hwy 395), Bishop, CA. The entrance to the cafe is from the free parking lot behind Spellbinder Books. To check current hours and menu:

A Passion for Baking at Great Basin Bakery 

Sometimes you just want a great pastry and coffee for breakfast, and wherever we travel, I’m on the lookout for the best local bakeries. In Bishop, Great Basin Bakery caught my attention as a real community place versus the town’s ultra-hyped tourist destination. It’s a small shop with a friendly vibe and a large selection of fresh, high quality breads and pastries.

I love cinnamon rolls, but hate those flavorless bombs drowned in an avalanche of icing. Great Basin’s are bright with cinnamon and not too sweet, with a pleasing texture and just a light glaze on top. I prefer mine served warm, which they’ll gladly do if you ask.

We also tried the buttermilk scone with orange zest and dark chocolate chips, a winner paired with their Black Sheep Coffee Roasters brew.

The morning we visited, the place was bustling with hikers, bikers, locals grabbing their morning coffee …  At peak hours, seating can be challenging with the limited space, but it’s worth the wait –– and ours wasn’t long. Counter staff were welcoming, and patient with our newcomers’ questions, service attentive.

Other things to like about this place: Like the Pupfish Café, Great Basin uses local ingredients and products and highlights fresh, healthy eating. They offer mini cinnamon rolls, scones and muffins, great for sampling or for those who just want a small sweet bite with their coffee. (More bakeries should do this.) Their lunches, snacks and grab-and-go items include vegetarian and vegan options.

Did I mention the varied selection of great-looking bread? We chose the multigrain sandwich loaf for its healthy, all-wholegrain ingredients, including wheat bran, oats and rye flakes. For flavor and texture, you can’t go wrong with this one for sandwiches and toast. Maybe next time, the sourdough rye.

Great Basin was started by two partners who dreamed of pursuing their passion for baking. You can find the inspiring story here. After more than 15 years in business, that passion is still evident.

Great Basin Bakery Location:  275 S. Main Street, Bishop, CA. To check current hours and menu:

What is one of your favorite coffee and breakfast finds on your travels?

Copyright M. Vincent 2019

Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest hiking photo copyright Brad Nixon, used with kind permission

Pupfish Café photos copyright M. Vincent 2019

Great Basin Bakery photos copyright Great Basin Bakery, used with kind permission

Santiago Oaks Revisited: The Resurgence of Nature

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On New Year’s Day, my partner and I set out for a hike at one of our local Southern California parks. Nature lovers that we are, it’s our traditional way to start a new year, setting an uplifting tone for the days to come.  

It was a bright, beautiful morning, with a clarity and energy that beckoned, despite the blast of surprisingly icy air that hit me when I first opened the door. (Yes, it can get rather cold here.)

Our destination: Santiago Oaks Regional Park in the city of Orange, about a 40-minute drive from our coastal community.  We like its varied network of trails and the peaceful, removed feeling it maintains, although it borders a residential neighborhood not far from busy urban areas. 

We had last visited during California’s 2017 wildflower season “super bloom,” which I wrote about here.  On that early April day, Santiago’s verdant trails looked like this with a profusion of wildflowers everywhere, including scores of these bright yellow blossoms and the elegant mariposa lily: 

Several months later, in October 2017, a fire swept through four Orange County parks, damaging more than 7,000 acres. Santiago Oaks was one of them. In footage on the TV news, the lush landscape we’d hiked looked like a charred wasteland.

Happily, Santiago was able to reopen in December 2017, although several trails were closed for fire recovery. We were eager to see what it looked like now, more than a year after the reopening. How was the rehabilitation going? And what was the park like in winter?

An Impressive Renewal Underway

We enjoy Santiago’s hilly terrain, lush natural scenery and views, and our New Year’s Day visit was cheering. As we hiked familiar trails and explored some new ones, we saw many roped-off areas like this one where fire recovery continues:  

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In all of them, there was significant new green growth, side by side with the lingering signs of the fire’s destruction: trees crowned with blackened leaves, charred bushes and branches, the scorched remains of cactus plants.

We saw nothing resembling the burnt wasteland of months ago. Nature had made an impressive comeback, and everywhere we looked its work was ongoing. This abundant landscape is an example:   

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Even trees that bear the marks of fire have healthy green leaves or autumn color, and around them the ground is thick with green.

With their vibrant greenery, some parts of the park seemed virtually untouched by the fire.  Only the telltale signs of charred branches, or leaves blackened and crumpled from the intense heat testify to its passing. 

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About the Natural Recovery Process

Fire is a natural and essential component of Southern California ecosystems. Historically, natural and human-caused fires have helped to select types of vegetation that depend on periodic fires for their existence. Plants in these ecosystems have developed adaptions that allow them to survive and reestablish themselves after a fire.

As Santiago Oaks park information explains, periodic fires can provide the opportunity for native seeds and new plant growth to receive sun, water and nutrients.   

Though burned landscapes may appear lifeless, the information points out, natural recovery is already underway. By the time of our visit the strength of that recovery process was evident.

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Charred cactus pads and healthy new growth were juxtaposed along the trails, and those yellow blossoms, so prolific during the super bloom, were springing up in considerable masses amid the fire-blackened branches of other plants.

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The Park in Winter

Previously, we’d visited Santiago in the intense heat of summer or the temperate spring.  Hiking the park in winter we experienced that California phenomenon of living in multiple seasons at once.  Winter and Spring were dancing together in that quality of light that can be so challenging to describe.

California light always has a clarity like nowhere else, but in winter it seems to be more intense, with a hard edge, a glassy, diamond-like brilliance. The park looked wonderful in that light, with the sun making the trees sparkle, turning the leaves of fresh new plants translucent, enhancing the green of the hills, the blue of the sky.

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When we set out, the cold was piercing. As we walked the trails in the warmth of the sun, it felt pleasingly fresh and enlivening. I wanted to shed some of those layers I was wearing. I stuffed my useless gloves in my pockets – no more frozen fingers fumbling with the camera.

This was not the barren, dormant landscape that generally characterizes winter. The natural world was full of life. California sunflowers were beginning to appear as if it were early spring, and that red-tipped shrub that began this post stood out as a colorful symbol of renewal.

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For us, in this season of rain and rejuvenation, the signs of nature’s welcome resurgence were everywhere, the happy dance of Winter and Spring quickened by the ongoing effects of the fire.

Have you observed natural renewal after a fire or been part of the recovery effort? What is your favorite local or regional park? Please leave a comment.

Trip Planning

See the Santiago Oaks Regional Park website for more information.

Copyright M. Vincent 2019.  All photos copyright M. Vincent.

Window Gazing Wednesday: Ghost Town Sighting

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Today we’re in Old West ghost town, Bodie, California, an ideal place for photographers, history buffs and, of course, window gazers. There’s one in the photo above, peering into the side window of the James Stuart Cain residence, with its extensive antique bottle collection.

Bodie was a gold rush boom town that had its brief and wild heyday from 1877–1881. At that time, the town had 30 different mines, nine stamp mills for crushing the ore, and a bustling population of 7,000–8,000 miners, merchants, miscreants and families. As unsuccessful mines began to close, its population dwindled, though mining and habitation continued until 1942.

Now a California State Park, Bodie is located in the Bodie Hills, a beautiful, remote high-desert setting east of the Sierra Nevada mountains, elevation over 8,000 feet. Here is a view of the landscape:

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Bodie’s several layers of history make it a fascinating place to visit. Its abandoned houses and buildings — like the leaning structures above — are preserved in a state of “arrested decay” (repaired and stabilized, but not restored). They contain many things left behind when people packed up and moved away. Those dust-covered objects of everyday life tell Bodie’s changing human story.

Some buildings with these abandoned furnishings are open, but for most, window gazing is your gateway to the past — and there’s a lot to see.

In the Lions’ Den

I took several photos through Bodie’s windows. Today’s featured window-gazing find is from the late 1920s Wheaton and Hollis hotel and boardinghouse on Main Street:

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This massive antique billiard table, solidly grounded on fanciful lion feet, instantly captured my attention. It sits in a capacious room between a long dining table on the left and a large bar on the right, the setting leaving ample space for hotel patrons to move about freely.   

I loved those weighty, yet mobile lions and the table’s decorative, yet simple design. Who made it? And how did it get to Bodie? I was curious to know more about this – I have to say it – bodacious piece. 

It conjured images of lively social evenings with hotel diners, drinkers and billiard players happily circulating, warmed in the icy winters by the heating stove and their chosen libations from the bar.

The Monarch Billiard Table

Whether the Wheaten and Hollis Hotel brought the table to Bodie, or it dates from the earlier boom town days when Bodie had both a rough and an elegant side, I can’t say. Information from Bodie historians is welcomed.

My research did disclose what appears to be the table’s origin: It looks just like a restored lion-foot billiard table I found on eBay, identified as the J.M. Brunswick Manufacturing Company’s “Monarch” design.

Checking the Brunswick Billiards website, I learned that Brunswick introduced the Monarch, nicknamed “the King of Tables,” in 1875. The site describes its several design innovations and the various inlaid woods that form its Victorian marquetry.

The story is that Brunswick produced its first billiard table in 1845, after company founder, John Moses Brunswick, was taken with the game and a beautifully made table at a lavish dinner party that year. Before that, carriage making was the main business of this enterprising Swiss immigrant to the U.S.

After 170 years, Brunswick remains a global leader in billiards and other recreational products. For more about Brunswick and the Monarch:

Have you been to Bodie or another historic ghost town? What interesting things did you discover looking into the windows?

Copyright M. Vincent 2018

Photos copyright M. Vincent 2018

Window Gazing Wednesday: Monumental Night Encounter

Welcome to Window Gazing Wednesday. Wherever I travel, and even in my home territory, I’m a dedicated scanner of shop windows, often stopping for a closer look and finding something interesting to enjoy, learn about or photograph.

Certain windows are always a draw: bakeries, antique stores, food shops, book stores. Beautiful ceramics, stationery and fashion displays also get my attention –– and of course, artful presentation, whatever the objects might be.

Surprising, amusing, thought-provoking, irresistible –– what’s behind the glass can be all of these and more. Pay attention to the windows as you walk through a place, and you’re likely to discover something remarkable, even delicious (like that enticing Italian pastry you’re staring at).

Looking over my photos recently, I found quite a few window scenes and decided to make them a series of vignettes for some weekly My Eclectic Café fun.

The Series Begins

I’ll start with an arresting sight that stopped me in my tracks as my partner and I strolled through downtown Bishop, California one night, exploring the small Eastern Sierra town after dinner.

This towering, 600-pound bear suddenly appeared in the window of a small antique shop, standing at full height, head nearly touching the ceiling:

M. Vincent 3694-LR_Night bear-680

Mouth open, arms gesturing, intelligent face, he looked like an orator in the midst of a speaking engagement. So full of life, I imagined him turning to start a conversation or leaping out the window, grabbing our hands and leading us into a surreal night of adventure.

Anthropomorphic imaginings and hunting records aside, it was fascinating to see this magnificent, skillfully preserved animal close-up. Upon later research, I was happy to learn that no black bears are currently threatened or endangered under the U.S. Endangered Species Act.

About California Black Bears

Don’t confuse this bear with the one on California’s state flag. Our official state animal, the California grizzly –– a subspecies of the massive North American brown bear –– was hunted to extinction by 1924. The state’s black bears have fared much better.

Like the grizzlies, black bears were once considered pests. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) notes that there were no restrictions on how, when or how many black bears could be killed until 1948. Since then, perception and treatment have evolved.

Today, these bears are valued, studied and protected. Close monitoring and management, including strict hunting restrictions, have enabled them to increase and thrive. The CDFW estimates that there are between 30,000 and 40,000 black bears statewide.

Black bears are omnivores, but mostly plant eaters, with a preference for nuts and berries. Typically, they’re smaller than grizzly bears and significantly less aggressive. Adult males generally weigh 150–350 pounds, so it’s clear why the 620-pound black bear in the window set a record.

What window displays draw your attention? Do you have a startling encounter to share? 

Copyright M. Vincent 2018

Black bear photo copyright M. Vincent 2018.

Black bear information derived from California Department of Fish and Wildlife website:

Sunday in the Park with Goats


Should my title bring to mind a famous French pointillist painting, this outing was nothing like Sunday in the park with Georges – Seurat, that is. No sedate stroll through an orderly green grove where other formally dressed weekenders placidly relax by the river, as in Monsieur Seurat’s A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte.

In our local park by the sea, the day was a riot of movement, activity and excitement as visitors met and mingled with a large herd of friendly goats:

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Parents, grandparents and kids of all ages, from toddlers to teens, enthusiastically turned out for the chance to feed, photograph and frolic with the energetic goats, who frequently led the crowd on a merry chase around their fenced field.

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MV 1709-Goat feeding (640x480)

With the herd’s sudden, quirky movements, and the mob of humans chasing after them, capturing the action on camera was a challenge. These curious, intelligent and playful creatures seemed to enjoy the encounter as much as we did, and it was fun to watch the interaction. 

However, the day’s frivolity aside, these were no frivolous goats, but a team of experienced vegetation management professionals.

Meet the Goats

The City of Rancho Palos Verdes, where we live, employs goats for natural brush clearance around the city. My partner and I have seen them at work munching brush in various locations – in residential areas, on hillsides, at our local nature preserves.

This year we took the opportunity to learn more about them at the annual Meet the Goats event held at Point Vicente Interpretive Center, a park and whale-watching station overlooking the ocean.

The City presents this fun, educational family event along with Fire Grazers Inc., the company that provides the goats. This year, there were about 100–150 goats. Here is the herd beginning one of its surges:

MV 1630-Herd of goats closeup (640x480)

So many interesting faces and personalities, from grown goats to charming kids. I loved capturing this blissful character (top middle below), with head up, eyes closed, sniffing the air as if transported. I call him “the nirvana goat.”

MV 1631-Nirvana Goat Vert Crop I (514x640)

The event organizers provided hay for visitors to hand feed the goats. Also on the day’s agenda was a goat herding demonstration.

Eco-friendly Wildfire Prevention

In California and other drought-prone areas of the western United States, goat grazing is not only an efficient, eco-friendly land clearing method, but a wildfire prevention strategy.

We learned that the Fire Grazers goats come to town every year before the hot, dry fire-risk season begins. This year they’ll be on brush control duty until mid-July.

As the company name implies, Fire Grazers specializes in vegetation management for fire hazard zones such as ours. To learn more about their approach and the benefits that goats provide, see their detailed website.  

An Impressive Goat Herding Demonstration 

The demo featured another hardworking animal, Duke the herd dog. Here he is with a member of the Fire Grazers team and a young friend, waiting for his cue to perform: 

MV1768-Dog Duke, handler & girl pre-demo (640x486)

The Fire Grazers’ goatherd entered the field, and the action began:

MV 1770-Goatherd & goats demo (640x477)

At the goatherd’s commands, delivered by speaking or signaling with his stick, Duke raced around the field, rounding up stray goats and uniting the herd. (Click on the photos below to enlarge.)

He also showed his skill by twice splitting the large herd in two, managing both groups, then bringing them all back together. After his vigorous labor in the hot afternoon sun, he took a well-deserved break in the water tub:

MV 1784-Dog Duke cools off in tub (640x491)

His handler told us that Duke is 9 years old and probably in his last year before retirement: the rapid acceleration-deceleration required for his job becomes too much for an aging body. At the end of his service Duke will enjoy a quieter life at the farm.

The Old Goats Home

What happens to the goats when it’s time for them to retire? In my research on brush clearing goats, I came across a U.S. company with an admirable program. They’ve created what they call “The Old Goats Home,” where retired service animals from their herd can happily live out their days. The company seeks donations and goat sponsors to help support the animals’ care.  

I hope this program will thrive and to learn more about it. It would be great if all these industrious goats could enjoy the same reward for their service.   

Do you have vegetation management goats in your area? Please leave a comment.                               

Copyright M. Vincent 2018

Image of Georges Seurat’s A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte (1884-1886) is in the public domain. The painting is in the collection of the Art Institute of Chicago.

All Meet the Goats event photos copyright M. Vincent 2018.

Runners and Dragons and Dogs, Oh My!

Where do they all converge? No, it’s not in a new Hollywood movie caper, but it is in LA – at the 2018 Firecracker 5K/10K Run that begins in the heart of Chinatown. Opening ceremonies with a dragon dance.  A 100,000-firecracker start-off for runners.  And, for this Year of the Dog, a special event for our canine friends. The Firecracker Run has all of these and more.

If you’re visiting Los Angeles during the Lunar New Year celebration and want to experience something beyond the usual tourist attractions, consider this wonderfully colorful local run with an associated festival. If you live in greater LA or nearby and haven’t discovered it, it’s a fun and friendly run and opportunity for another new year celebration.

This year, the 5K, 10K and Kiddie runs all take place on Sunday, February 25. You can register onsite on race day if you decide to make it a spontaneous adventure. Dogs and bikers have their day on Saturday the 24th.  See details, course and registration for all events here:

Running shoes Brad Nixon 5537 (640x327)

Our 10K Run Experience

The Firecracker Run celebrates its 40th anniversary this year. I discovered it in 2003, the Year of the Ram, when my partner and I were looking for a local 10K. Who could resist the historic Chinatown setting, cultural festivities and promise of fabulous city views?

There was the matter of that steep climb to Angel’s Point Summit, but we welcomed the challenge and promptly signed up. We enjoyed the course and congenial atmosphere so much we vowed to return, and made it back in 2011 – the Year of the Rabbit. We couldn’t miss celebrating our mutual Chinese zodiac year or the race swag with the great rabbit design:

The T-shirts and medal designs are especially appealing this year too (click on photos for larger image):

The 10K course winds through lovely Elysian Park, with views of downtown and neighborhood areas that even Angelenos don’t commonly see. While views from the top were stunning, we also particularly enjoyed the course descent and running down the shady, tree-lined road toward the finish. It felt like flying after climbing the hill.

We found this a well-managed run, and one where runners and walkers could take their own pace without impeding each other. Participants spanned varied competitive levels; on the “rabbit run,” many stopped to gaze at the vistas, take a breath, or shoot a selfie before moving on.

The first year we ran, it was so cold I couldn’t stop shaking as I stood in my shorts waiting for the start, grateful to be wearing a timeworn hoodie to cast off before the gun. The next time, it was as mild as an early spring day. Both times, we had one of those clear, sunny, energizing LA winter mornings, perfect for a scenic run.

2018 Year of the Dog Paw’er Walk

A dog walk was added for this year, with T-shirts and goodie bags for doggy participants:

Firecracker Dog Walk (640x640)

It’s a leisurely walk through Chinatown with many historic and landmark sights. For details and online registration: (Be sure to scroll down to the website’s course description for what you’ll see.) Pet Fest features dog nutrition and wellness information.

The Firecracker Weekend Festival

The Firecracker Run is part of a two-day festival that includes live entertainment, vendors and special activities for Kiddie Run participants, in addition to the running and biking events. Event proceeds benefit local elementary schools and community nonprofits.

Beyond the Guidebooks

My partner and I have found on our travels that rising early to take a run is a great way to see more of a place when your visit is limited – and to connect with its human, neighborhood side. Our morning runs in Venice and Nice are unforgettable examples. If you’re visiting this vast metropolis where I live, perhaps this run/walk will provide a memorable LA experience for you.

Regrettably, after a vicious bout of bronchitis with lingering after-effects, I won’t be running the Firecracker this year, but I hope some of my readers will.

Have you run this race? Will you be doing it for the first time this year? Please leave a comment.


Copyright M. Vincent 2018. Firecracker Run photos copyright L.A. Chinatown Firecracker Run Committee 2018, used with permission. Running shoes photo copyright Brad Nixon 2018, used with permission.