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Growing Up Wild in Beverly Hills!
My childhood immersion, in this seductive and fragrant remnant of the natural world, led (quite naturally!) to a lifetime theme and pursuit, which has provided 7 decades of continuing enjoyment and self-directed inquiry all at very little expense! That I happened to have been “planted” (in 1938) upon a wild and remote ridgetop, surrounded on every side by dense Chaparral, Sage Scrub, and Southern Oak Woodland (see Munz 1974: 4) yet only 5 road-miles north of Sunset Blvd., Beverly Hills was an unusual set of circumstances that, 6 decades later, has finally led to this website presentation! My primary intent here is to document exactly what has been lost in this unique locality, due to so-called "Development". The related sections are: 1B - Back Porch Moth Collection, AND the 1C - Habitat Photos containing botanical/habitat color slides. This first home was reached via a poorly maintained dirt fire-road, at 9601 Oak Pass Road (accessed via Hutton Dr., east off Benedict Canyon), on a ridge with a north-south orientation, at an elevation of 1,100 feet above sea-level, and was approximately 8 miles inland from the Pacific Ocean coastline at Santa Monica, within the summer fog-belt.
A black-&-white photograph taken by my father, Philip Douglas McFarland (architect), and later included in a 1965 publication of the Journal of Research on the Lepidoptera shows this locality exactly as it was during our earliest years of residence there (1938 to the mid 1940's)...
By the mid 1950's, it had finally begun to dawn upon me what a unique place this was, that I had merely “taken for granted” throughout childhood.... At that point, I became highly motivated to record as much as I could of the habitat on film, before “Development” (which we clearly saw heading our way) obliterated it all .... Total destruction and homogenization of the original habitat has now been VERY successfully attained, nearly throughout the district. (I'm sure the “developers” are ever-so-pleased with themselves....) Therefore, these photos are already historical, and perhaps beyond belief for today's residents, living amidst the mangled and manicured remnants of the upper Oak Pass hills.... Scenes of the original habitat are shown in Habitat Photos, Section 1C.
My experiences growing up around Beverly Hills in the 1940's had very little connection with its popular image the world of movie stars, tiresomely over-publicized brat-fights, and glitzy shoppes. “Home” (for our family) was far up a dirt fire-road, with a padlocked gate at its beginning (where Oak Pass Rd. branches off and steadily climbs to the east and south from Hutton Drive). “Shopping” was in Beverly Hills, as that was where the nearest shops were; and the nearest elementary schools were also there (Beverly Vista, for 1st thru 4th grades; Hawthorne, on Rexford Dr., for 5th thru 8th grades). Sumptious multi-course lunches, served at the school cafeteria, cost precisely 35 cents (my daily “lunch-money”, during the late 1940's)!!....Boy's haircuts, at Marvin Pierce's barbershop (on “Little” Santa Monica Blvd.), cost considerably less than one dollar! Gas, at Harold Massey's Richfield SERVICE Station, was in the vicinity of (+) 30 cents per gallon.... And this was a real service station, in every sense of that extinct concept. All the “services” (windows, tires, oil & water) were efficiently and cheerfully rendered by anyone on duty no vacant-faced zombies (unemployed “employees”) slouching in the background! Free road-maps were always readily available in abundance, and (as if this was not already enough), there were also the colorful “Richfield Wildflower Guides” (of which I still have some ancient copies), handed out free to anyone who had the curiosity to ask....(I collected them all!) This was how my earliest interests in plant taxonomy were “sparked” by those Richfield guides! They fueled an early desire to learn how to identify ALL of the native botanical wonders that grew in the hills along Oak Pass Road.
The first serious botanical text that I recall struggling with (because of its uniquely inscrutable keys) was by Carl Thurston (1936) Wildflowers of Southern California: Esto Publishing Co., Pasadena, CA. (412 pages) .... Specific identifications, accomplished via this first book, imparted a great sense of achievement! As there were no other botanists in the vicinity, this was a lonely (but highly rewarding) pursuit....Later, when the highschool biology teacher, Paul W. Colburn settled at 9626 (just down the road), I had found a mentor to whom I could run with all of my botanical questions! He owned a well-worn copy of the Jepson “bible”, from which even the most difficult identifications could usually be extracted. I learned about plant keying from the Jepson tome (1950's), and have enjoyed botanical studies ever since! I had a great teacher in Mr. Colburn, while still in my early 'teens. This established an interest in botany and plant taxonomy for life....
What I wouldn't have given in the 1950's, for the two superbly color-illustrated wildflower guides to the Santa Monica Mts. flora, that were published nearly side-by-side about 3 decades later long after I had left the region!! (McAuley in 1985 and Dale in 1986). Looking back, I now realize that I was lucky to have had access only to the two “keying-guides” early on (Thurston and Jepson), which forced me to learn the descriptive basics of botany before all the color photos came along having to drive “stick-shift”before the mindless simplicity of automatic”!!....Excellent color photos, of many of the moth foodplants as mentioned in the “Backporch Moth Collection” entries (1B), can be found in the McAuley and Dale field guides.
Starting in the late 1940's I began attempting to transplant and grow some of the various local butterfly foodplants, in my designated “private corner” of our home garden, before any interest in “keying” evolved. So I was already familiar with many of the native plants growing in the surrounding hills and ravines, but I had to invent my own common names for them, in the earliest years!.... Likewise for the local moths: Ctenucha brunnea for example, was dubbed the “red-headed moth”. These were super-abundant diurnal visitors to the 8 large clumps of lantana plants (lavender fls.), well established on the west-facing bank of our front garden....I spent most of my spring and summer days lurking around the lantana-bank, stalking the many insects that were attracted. Our garden was the only such “floral smorgasbord” for miles around, so it was very well attended! Even the "larval" Emmel brothers (Tom, now of FL. & John, now of CA.) attended came for a few visits! ..... And, so did Rick Westcott (now of Salem, OR.), who was already an avid beetle-collector by the mid-1950's; he was attending University High School (W. Los Angeles) at the same time as I was enrolled there.
Diurnal clearwing sphinx moths, Hemaris diffinis, consistently came in large numbers to the lantana (March to August). Their local foodplant (Lonicera subspicata) grew abundantly throughout the chaparral and oak thickets immediately around our house, as did giant rye grass (Elymus condensatus), the foodplant of Ctenucha brunnea. Caterpillars of the latter kept me occupied for many hours during early childhood, as they were quite a challenge for a small person to reach, where they were hiding within the large Elymus clumps! By day, most of the larvae would be quietly at rest on the dead leaves, which they matched superbly with their predominantly pale gray-tan hair colors. (These are densely hairy larvae, of typical “woolly-bear” appearance.) A unique behavioral trait, of these (and other) Ctenucha larvae, is their inclination to literally snap into a curled posture, when touched or otherwise disturbed, instantly tumbling down into the clump well out of reach a simple escape-mechanism, which is ideally suited to the structure of this particular plant....Our (invented) childhood name for Elymus was “cutting-grass”, due to its skin-cutting leaf margins. Learning to respect the native foodplant of my favorite backyard moth came very early in life!....
Thankfully, “weed-eaters” had not yet been invented, so there was no peer-driven (or advertising-driven) “need” for homeowners to be seen and heard outside, noisily mowing down the native vegetation....Of course, cutting “the brush” was always mandated for fire safety, but this was typically carried to extremes by normal residents, who had no interest (whatsoever) in getting to know anything about the native flora “ justabunchabrush”! The “brush” would (invariably) be rooted out and “replaced” with a painfully small and boring/predictable selection of high-water-use exotics, over which all properly indoctrinated homeowners would burble and fuss, unendingly....(So, we often wondered, why didn't they just stay down in the city!???)....
The real answer to this question is deeply embedded in the “western” psyche a driving "need" to subdue or control every conceivable aspect of the natural world. Nothing can just be left alone and appreciated ....Moving from the city to a property in the countryside, and immediately chopping down (or hacking at) everything found to be already growing there naturally, provides the perfect outlet for these relentless urges. The land (wherever it happens to be) can then be referred to as “improved”. And those who “improved ” it are generally viewed as fine, hard-working, admirable members of the neighborhood quite in contrast to the lazy layabouts who (tsk-tsk!!) permit native plants (“ brush &rdquo!!) to grow anywhere near their structures, and are never to be seen 'bizzilly' at work chopping them down! In the Chaparral/Sage Scrub habitats, there is, of course, always the convenient (and legitimate) excuse of “fire-hazard” not to mention (eeeek!) snakes!
H.D Thoreau long ago recorded several observations that succinctly sum up this mindless reflexive behavior:
“We seem to think that the earth must go through the ordeal of sheep-pasturage before it can be habitable by man”.
The Maine Woods,
“For the one that comes with a pencil to sketch or write [i.e., to observe and learn], thousands come with axe or rifle”.
The Maine Woods,
“If some are prosecuted for abusing children, others deserve to be prosecuted for maltreating the face of Nature commited to their care”.
Journal, 28 Sep. 1857
The underlying motivations for the above rant can be traced back to a vividly remembered and happy childhood, of total immersion in this once very real (not “virtual”!!) and untouched “face of Nature“....all-too-soon to be followed (in later childhood and early teenage years) by having to stand by watching helplessly, as that beautiful wonderland was bulldozed and flattened, all around us on every side....(ooops!, I meant “improved” gotta stay politically-correct here). “PROGRESS” (a.k.a. The "Developers") HAD ARRIVED.... We sold out and left in 1957.
An essay, entitled “The Abstract Wild” by Jack Turner, neatly sums up what I have been driving at above. Please give this piece the attentive hearing that it deserves before jumping to any conclusions.... The original source for this essay is chap. 2 (pp.19-37) of Turner's book, The Abstract Wild (1996) ISBN 0-8165-1699-5; an “Internet version” (reproduced here as it was sent to me), had been slightly altered from the original chapter in the book, either by the author himself or possibly by someone else(??)....See also 9 related essays by the late FRANK T. HOVORE different observer, same topics, very similar conclusions....
A refreshingly contrarian take on so-called “ development ”:
The Western model of “development” is drastically and mistakenly undercutting the integrity and richness of culture in the so-called “Third World” nations. In an in-depth cross-cultural probe, into the relationship between material knowledge and spiritual values, the bilingual journal (French and English), Interculture, takes a look at the nature of the (so-called) “good life”, and other popular misleading terminology - e.g., “First” and “Third” Worlds; “developed” and “developing”. A subtler form of exported mono-culture is explored in “Colonizing the Mind”, in Anima (Fall 1983), and in “Death by Anesthesia”, by a Yecuana Indian of Venezuela, in Cultural Survival Quarterly (Fall 1983). A story in World Paper (January 1984) captures the essence of the “development ” issue :
A visitor from a “developed” country has arrived in a (so-called) “Third World” country, and approaches a man resting pleasantly under a shade tree. “Hello”, says the visitor, “you have a beautiful country!” “So what?” “So, you should try to DEVELOP it.” “Okay. How?” “Well, you should clear the land, build roads, organize farms, dam the rivers.” “Then what?” “Then you should get some basic industries: textiles, metals, concrete. And then you should build cities.” “Then what?” “Then you can relax.” “WHAT DO YOU THINK I AM DOING NOW?!!”
Growing Up Wild in Beverly Hills!
EARLY DAYS on OAK PASS Rd. (1937-1945) and HOW the ROAD GOT ITS NAME
- (A) Botanical Highlights
-- Historical Remarks on Oaks
-- EARLY EVOLUTIONARY STAGES of the "SMOG-DENIAL SYNDROME"!
-- OAK PASS NATIVE PLANTS TODAY (??)
-- Echos From the Past!
-- A Bit of SUMMERTIME FOGBANK-BOTANY
- (B) LOCAL BUTTERFLY HIGHLIGHTS
- (C) LOCAL BIRDS REMEMBERED
- (D) LOCAL MAMMALS REMEMBERED
- (E) REPTILES & AMPHIBIANS REMEMBERED
DESSERT (Purely for Amusement!)
THE HONEY-SNOB'S CORNER
A five-year study (1953-1957) documenting the occurrence of 283 macro-moth species on one acre of woodland habitat at 9601 Oak Pass Rd., 5 road-miles north of Sunset Blvd., Beverly Hills (a mixture of undisturbed Southern Oak Woodland / Chaparral / Coastal Sage Scrub habitat, at 1100 ft. elevation).
WHAT TO EXPECT AT THIS CALIFORNIA SITE
ABOUT THE BACKYARD CONCEPT
BACKGROUND & INTRODUCTION
About the Moth Studies at 9601 Oak Pass Road
BEATING or SWEEPING for LARVAE - A MOST PRODUCTIVE COLLECTING TECHNIQUE
The OLD BEVERLY HILLS (OAK PASS ROAD) MOTH STUDY COMPARED WITH THREE OTHER (MORE RECENT) SURVEYS IN COASTAL SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA
OBSERVED DIFFERENCES IN THE MACRO-MOTH FAUNAS OF THE ABOVE THREE OTHER SURVEYED COASTAL CALIFORNIAN LOCALITIES
HISTORICAL PHOTOS and A PLEA for FUTURE STUDIES in the SAME REGION
FRANK SALA'S CORNER
FRANK HOVORE'S CORNER
1C - HABITAT PHOTOS (1957-1964)
Copyright ©2005-2011 Noel McFarland. All Rights Reserved.