Sunday, April 21, 2013

Fire or Ice? A film review of To Earth with Love Film Festival: Chasing Ice, Happy People, Seeds of Hope, A Fierce Green Fire

Fire or Ice? Climate change may have us reeling, but these beautiful films help remind us what we’re fighting for BY DON WALLACE | APR 17, 2013 In a way it’s sad that “To Earth With Love,” the annual green film festival at the Doris Duke Theatre at the Honolulu Museum of Art, is of such high quality this year–because the better the movie, it seems, the more dire the problem. Fortunately for our spirits, these are also extraordinarily beautiful films. No festival is complete without a Werner Herzog entry, of course. The kickoff-with-reception screener is Happy People: A Year in the Taiga, co-directed with Dmitry Vasyukov. It’s worthy of the wild man of cinema’s late-in-life canon, following as it does some of the most self-sufficient people you’ve ever seen. As opposed to those gun-nut, gold-bug, climate change-denying Doomsday Preppers on the National Geographic Channel, the indigenous people and Siberians we meet here are virtuosos of the axe, able to master their enormous frozen forest domain because they act as its servants. (April 19, 7:30 p.m., reception 6–7:30 p.m.) Chasing Ice stars James Balog, a craggy rock-climbing photographer. When National Geographic hired him to shoot the loss of the Arctic ice sheet, Balog was a climate agnostic; if anything he belonged to the school of Great Big Temperature Swings. But after his 2005 assignment, he began tinkering with time-lapse cameras that could sustain a year’s worth of subzero temperatures and hurricane-force winds. The first batch, which Balog installed on cliff faces and rocky overlooks above glaciers, indeed produced remarkable images of ice shrinkage. But their true shock value comes when he (and we) see how formerly snowy white surroundings are now miles-long fields of stones and grit. Balog has since dedicated his life to recording ice all over the globe, enlisting volunteers and installing cameras in as many icy places as possible. The film is glorious, visually; the story gripping, due both to the appalling now-and-then shots and the risks the teams take to get them. (April 28, 1, 4 and 7:30 p.m.; April 30, 1 and 7:30 p.m.) A Fierce Green Fire is a dazzling and taut history of the environmental movement–the whole damn enchilada from Teddy Roosevelt to this newspaper you’re holding. With big-name help (Robert Redford, Ashley Judd, Van Jones, Isabel Allende and Meryl Streep narrate) we relive in five acts the birth and growth of conservation, pollution awareness, alternative ecology, global connectivity and climate change. It’s like a relay race; at the end you’ll be reaching out to take the baton. (April 20, 1, 4 and 7:30 p.m.; April 23, 1 and 7:30 p.m.) Na Kupu Manaolana (Seeds of Hope) is that baton, a film about our very own Hawaii sustainable food movement, featuring our farmers, activists, educators and everyday folks talking about the history of our food security and what they’re doing to save it. Director Danny Miller will be at the 7:30 p.m. screening and panel discussion April 24; it also screens at 1 p.m., and on April 25 at 1 and 7:30 p.m. See Calendar for other films.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

What's Eating Strawberry Creek? The battle over a scenic gem heats up -- again

[Summary: For years private owners have quietly taken control of Idyllwild’s most visitor-friendly feature, its sylvan creek that meanders through town. Now, in a move that mirrors global struggles over the world’s most precious resource, they’ve begun to aggressively deny visitors and locals alike access to this community gem. The author's family cabin in Idyllwild was built by his grandfather in 1939.]

There was water, water everywhere, in Idyllwild this past weekend. I’ve never seen the creek running this fresh and full in July. And the foliage was so tall and so green down in the lush bed of Strawberry Creek I could hardly make my way down from our family cabin to town, a traditional 15 minute walk on normal – that is to say, drier – years.

At about the half-way mark, however, the trail got worse. In fact, it vanished. And as I paused, I also noted a disturbing and recurrent, if not new, violation of the streambed. It came at a point about a half-mile south of Town Hall. Suddenly about three-quarters of the water in Strawberry Creek, the babbling brook that runs down the southern side of Idyllwild and historically has given the town its bucolic backbone, was diverted past a fence into a property marked with “No Trespassing” signs.

“Ah, they’re back,” I said to my wife. “Those stream thieves, they never give up.”

I’ve been fighting this particular diversion since around 1962, when my cousin Chris and I came scrambling down the Creek, headed to town for our usual midday chocolate-covered frozen banana, only to find a backhoe digging a new channel and piling up a levee that blocked the old. The rest of the summer we tore down at night what they threw up during the day. But when the end of August came and we had to go to school, the bastards won. They claimed the Creek.

But out battle had an effect. We got into a wrangle one day toward the end of summer with the owner and his backhoe operator, who became furious at our ten-year-old’s eloquence and moral inflexibility. They made threats, which we duly reported to our fathers. Other land owners downstream got involved once they discovered they no longer lived alongside a stream but a dry ravine. Half the flow of the Creek was re-directed.

As the years went by, I’ve watched with pleasure as Nature completed the job we started: silting in the south branch, returning to the natural northern channel. Until today. It was my first visit in a year and a half, and the Stream Thief had done a lot of damage. Peeking through his barbed-wire topped chainlink fence, I could see he had a fancy upscale resort thing going on with our stolen Strawberry Creek. I could see chaise lounges, fairy lights, a bridge that would not have looked out of place in a Jane Austen novel. I could also see permanent intake hoses running into the Creek and what looked like an irrigation system hooked to a pump.

And so, here we go again.

It’s always about the water in Idyllwild, and it always has been. If they wish, Californians with a good memory or else a love of classic film can reference the movie “Chinatown” – about the theft of water from Northern California to fuel land development in the San Fernando Valley – or else recall the James Bond film with Daniel Craig, “The Quantum of Solace,” thinly based on the World Bank’s disastrous attempt to privatize the water supplies of Bolivia. Wherever you go in the world these days, it seems people’s water supplies are under siege from commercial interests.

Idyllwild shouldn’t be in a position to lose its Creek. It’s a mountain town blessed with a stubborn and proud community spirit, most recently tested in the 2005 Esperanza Fire that killed five local firemen. Since its shift from logging and cattle to tourism in 1901, it has kept a sense of itself as a place where nature is the main draw, unlike frantic Lake Arrowhead and tourist-strip Big Bear to the north, across the Cabazon Pass. Without a nearby lake to call its own, a big part of that draw is Strawberry Creek. You’d think they’d take better care of it.

Unfortunately, Idyllwild doesn’t own its Creek. As late as December 2008, in fact, Idyllwild couldn’t even be sure it had any right to its water – which was the source for every house and business inside the Idyllwild Water District. The IWD had to admit that no copies could be found of the initial 1900 agreement and the State of California had to admit it didn’t have any record, either. Since then the IWD has been drilling like crazy. Lucky they’ve been blessed by three of the wettest winters on record.

Thanks in part to this loose oversight over its most precious bodily fluid, Idyllwild has drawn national attention as a flashpoint in the “water wars,” what Alex Prud’homme calls the most important environmental struggle we face today in his new bestselling book, The Ripple Effect: The Fate of Freshwater in the Twenty-First Century.

Back in 2002, Idyllwild woke up in the middle of the worst drought in 70 years to find that a single land owner, Paul Black, had set up a pump and hose and was simply draining the Creek as part of a bottled water scheme. The resulting water war drew reporters from The Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, and my own wife, Mindy Pennybacker, who got there first in The Green Guide. (Mindy wrote an account of her experience in these pages: April 8, 2010: “How Idyllwild’s Water Wars Made Me See Green” Until he fell afoul of the State, which stopped his pirate enterprise, Black enjoyed nearly ten years of seeming immunity from Idyllwild’s leaders, even as he was turning the town into a desert.

Now, right after seeing my Creek diverted, I stumbled into the next front in the water wars: private owners blocking access to walkers. The trail that had been there for at least 75 years simply vanished. As we thrashed through brambles and thorn bushes where the trail had been, we came to a wooden deck with a picnic table. And here was an obliging welcome sign. Not for us, but for guests of the resort up above us, on the top of the Creek valley. For us, the way down to town was effectively blocked.

This right-of-way grab was pretty recent. I’ve been walking up and down Strawberry Creek since 1958, and though there’ve been cases of new landowner who didn’t get the word and tried to throw a fence across the trail, it’s always stayed clear and open, well-maintained, and in constant use. It’s the closest most visitors will get to a nature experience in Idyllwild.

Later, my wife and I turned around and headed back up the Creek, toward Fern Valley. Here, too, the path vanished, submerged in a vast gooseberry patch and hemmed in on the town side by a barbed-wire fence. If we hadn’t recalled the location of the path in winter we’d have been forced to turn back.

All this may sound like a tempest in a streambed, but as the headlines over beach right-of-way battles last week down in Malibu attest, local vigilance is all that stands between us and our own wet feet.

That’s why I went to the Ranger Station in town and asked the resident Smokey the Bear the $64,000 question: “Who owns Strawberry Creek?” His pleasant expression stiffened. I knew he was going to duck and he did, putting in a call to the de facto, i.e., unofficial and not-to-be-quoted spokesperson. I wasn’t surprised or put off by this, knowing how punitive bureaucracies can be to those who don’t have every word cleared from above.

Next I went to the local mountaineering store, and the guy there was more direct. “Who owns Strawberry Creek?” I asked.

“Well, down at The Grotto it’s the meth-head decadent types,” he replied. “Higher up it’s more professional people, so you don’t see as much trouble.”

Not quite the answer I expected, but not unhelpful.

What I gleaned over the next day was what that the Strawberry Creek watershed is less a crazy quilt than a sleeping bag, with the National Forest Service owning the top and the bottom of the drainage and Creek, which leaves the big chunk in the middle, where all the people and houses are, privately held. However, it’s not all left to the moods and whims of owners and flatlanders, because the water is part of the water districts of downstream counties and cities. Santa Ana, San Diego, Riverside: all these have a say in Strawberry Creek’s fate, or, if they don’t, would like one. Arizona and California fought a war over the Colorado River, you might recall, back at the turn of the century. Guns and dynamite! The aftermath gave us the Salton Sea.

The Creek also is subject to environmental oversight, mostly by the State Department of Fish & Game, which considers the effect of any changes or diversions on wildlife and habitat. That’s comforting to know, or would be if all our state bureaucracies weren’t so underfunded and understaffed.

There comes a point, obligatory in thoughtful narrative journalism today, when the writer admits he shares some of the qualities of those he is criticizing. It’s sort of the Copenhagen Syndrome, where the hostages sympathize with their captors and forget to escape. My moment, my sticking of the toe into this river, came as I photographed the streambed and its blockages and diversions. As the photos show, hopefully, the Creek is just gorgeous this year, a true forest primeval. And I have to admit that’s the effect of having the trail blockaded. I also have to admit that I could get used to this, doing without the usual midsummer sight of all the plants and rushes battered down and dead, defeated by the heat but even more by the daily wear and tear inflicted by a couple of hundred tourist walkers and their dogs and children.

There’s only one problem with this vision. The privatizers don’t care if nobody ever walks or even sees Strawberry Creek again. They don’t own the creek, yet they’re taking it away, anyway, piece by piece. And if we don’t raise a ruckus and stop them, one day all we’ll have of Strawberry Creek will be photos like these.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

How to Date a Milkshake: The Orange Inn and Me

Back when the Pacific Coast Highway was a long narrow strand of paradise running between tawny yellow hills on one side and the sparkling ocean on the other, the only stops of any note between Long Beach and Dana Point were funky, weather-beaten "shacks" of all kinds: bars, liquor stores, fish joints, crab cookers, boat chandleries, dive shops, the world's first surf shop (Kanvas By Katin) and, best of all, Shake Shacks.

Shake Shacks were also part of an agricultural tradition that defined early California. The palm groves, the fruit orchards, the orange groves, all funneled their produce to the shack, which often was run by the family who owned or worked the fruited plain and hill behind it. You could count on them being there all over the state, on 99 running up the Central Valley, in the desert behind Palm Springs, even in Hollywood at the base of the canyons. The mystic vegetarian-yoga-Buddhist-etc religious fads that have come and gone in the Golden State were all served up with a sprout sandwich and a date milkshake.

On the way to and from Laguna Beach there used to be two, the Shake Shack on the bluff overlooking Scotsman's Cove, and the Orange Inn on the inland side a couple of miles north of it. So you stopped at one if you were going south and the other if you were going north. It was a perfect ecosystem.

We used to argue about which shack was better. A perfect exercise in teenage connoisseurship. As we got older, we tended to favor the view at the Shake Shack, but never doubted that the Orange Inn made the superior product, Southern California's most emblematic product, for me anyway: the date milkshake.

Then the cold-hearted thieves on the board of the Irvine Land Trust sued their own selves in order to break up all that open space and turn it into cookie-cutter developments. A chapter in criminal malfeasance, if nothing new. The thousands of homes added killed off most of the aquatic life and made water quality testing a part of every swimmer's routine. And traffic. The traffic became murderous, demanding more and more lanes and toll roads for the affluent and there you have it: our American Achilles Heel: we love to death what we love best.

The Irvine developers were determined to get rid of the Shake Shacks, of course. There was a battle. People rallied. They liked the idea of a little shack standing up to the big guys. They just didn't care to stop the original re-zoning of open space.

The Shake Shack on the ocean side of PCH was saved. The Orange Inn was forced to move, and found a home on PCH just south of Main Street in Laguna Beach. The orange groves and fruit orchards vanished, and houses took their place.

Private enterprise having done its worst, it was now time for government to step in. The Shake Shack sat on state land, donated by Irvine, like a dollar tip thrown on the table after a feast at a five-star restaurant. When Scotsman's Cove was turned into Crystal Cove State Park, the bureaucrats had their revenge on the owners of the Shake Shack. Their 50-year-old lease was put out to bid and Ruby Tuesday's took over the operations. You can imagine the depth of soul of the operation now, although they try to fake a date shake and a sprout sandwich -- the same way these places put doo-wop vinyl 45s on the wall and pictures of Elvis on the menu.

The Orange Inn, however, has hung in there, and not only has it survived, it is thriving. It's the most soulful place in Laguna Beach, which in the love-of-all-things-retro mood of the world, is keeping them in business. They serve home-made soups and turkey-avocado sprout sandwiches -- the surfer classic -- and a dozen other things, all terrific. The ambiance is sublime, the photos of old Laguna and the Original Orange Inn worth pondering.

Best of all, they make a date shake that is straight out of 1930. But it's not on the menu. You've got to ask for it. Although the proprietor, John, knows his clientele so well that when we walked in the door yesterday he took one look at our sunscreen-streaked faces and salty hair and said, "Date shakes? Four?"

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Do One Green Thing's Mindy Pennybacker: "N0 MORE SHARK FIN SOUP!"

At the Honolulu Book Festival, author Mindy Pennybacker, aka My Green Goddess, got a chance to strut her stuff. Shark fin fisheries kicked off the riff, but there's a nice overview of the power of the consumer to drive green change.

As we all know, for years big pompous people said that small people didn't make a difference. The Green Man even heard a few big pompous green people -- Bill McKibben and Michael Pollan, anyone? -- turn up their noses at the idea of consumers making a difference. Look at the titles of their recent books and you'll see they've changed their tunes. Great writers, both men, but they got caught up in their own hype.

Keep drivin' the change, folks. Everytime someone tells you that conserving water, gas, air or resources is a waste of time (and let's all go nuclear instead!) look them in the eye and say: "You're the problem. I'm the solution. Now get out of our way while we change the world."

Yeah, the Green Man used to be a rabble-rouser in his youth. He still is. Young, that is.

Friday, April 8, 2011

The Return of the Green Man: A Recipe for Fiery Hawaiian Lamb

The Green Man began his blog and viral life in concrete canyon Manhattan. It was a world full of foodies and a great Greenmarket at Union Square and as a cook and a home-style chef it was a nice place to spend 26 years.

Now this Green Man lives in Hawaii. The home of The Green Goddess, need we add? In the interim she has done well with her book, Do One Green Thing, and we found a Farmer's Market up on the backside of Diamond Head at KCC. I shop there every Saturday and spend about $60 to fill two large recyclable sacks with produce, bread, sustainable red veal, wild-caught fish, and fruits of all kinds.

Mindy, aka The Green Goddess, keeps asking when I'll put on my green leaf mask again and hit the chitlin circuit. It's coming, darling. For now, I'll just drop in a photo and a recipe now and then.

The Green Man's Fiery Hawaiian Lamb with Green Greens

2 lb boneless leg of lamb
fresh ginger, cut in slivers
fresh garlic, cut in slivers
white onion, chopped
fresh jalapeno pepper, chopped
some powdered cumin
some powdered garlic
some coarse black pepper
a half cup soy sauce
fresh or dry thyme, preferably picked from a neighbor's bush above dog-piss level

insert the ginger and garlic slivers in the lamb
dust with dry spices and rub
pour in soy sauce and bath the lamb like a baby in a tiny tub

cook at 375 for 15 minutes, then 25 minutes at 350

Serve with steamed baby bok choy and Chinese mustard cabbage

Brown rice, a nice red like a Douro, and a lightly dressed green salad.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

How Obama Won the War Against BP and England

Time for a recap of the fun of the last few days.... But first, remember all the criticism of Obama for his strangely passive speech and all of its "inappropriate" war metaphors? Turns out they weren't metaphors. We went to war, briefly, virally, against the United Kingdom and won. In less than a week we started collecting $20 Billion in reparations.

Here's the timeline:

1. GOP and Tea Party demand less regulation, plus chant with Sarah Palin: "Drill Baby Drill!"

2. BP rig blows. Sarah blames it on regulation.

3. Turns out Minerals Management Dept has been indicted during Bush administration for partying with oil lobbyists: sex, cocaine, porn, payoffs.

4. Turns out MM Dept invited BP and 4 major oil companies to "write the regulations." Good enuff for ya, Sarah?

5. Turns out Obama is to blame for the BP blowout, according to conspiracy theorists Beck, Limbaugh.

6. Obama and govt let BP try to fix what they caused: i.e., as Ronald Reagan said, "let govt get out of the way."

7. BP fails to fix, fails to cap, fails to report correct spill amount (off by 90%), tries to arrest reporters photographing oil spill damage. That's the private sector, right?

8. Obama appoints Coast Guard Adm to oversight.

9. Led by Louisiana Gov Bobby Jindal, aka Mr Private Sector, Tea Partier Extraordinaire, the GOP and Tea Party attacks Obama for not stepping in immediately and taking over for private sector sooner. It's government's job!

10. Democrats attack Obama, too. Everybody into the pool!

11. Obama points out we, the people, and the government, are not in the oil business, thus have no experience or expertise in capping 5,000 deep offshore oil geysers. Best we can do is hold BP's feet to the fire.

12. Haley Barbour, gov of Alabama and former head of GOP, says there is "no oil spill."

13. Sarah says it's all a plot to deny deepwater drilling in Alaska.

14. Major crude pipeline in Alaska's North Slope breaks. No fix in sight.

15. Cap is revealed on damage payouts for oil companies--$750 million, no matter how much damage BP does. The law was passed immediately after Exxon Valdez disaster.

16. Turns out Exxon never paid its fine or damages in Exxon Valdez disaster. 20 years later, their court appeals won in the Bush Supreme Court: any damage and payments to fishermen, businesses, and environment was "excessive." Nobody got anything. The 20 years delay meant everyone slimed by Exxon was ruined.

17. BP announces it will pay billions in share dividends to shareholders.

18. Obama says wait a minute. Don't do that.

19. British Govt complains of US interference in British Petroleum, a valued company in the UK. It is revealed that the British Govt holds 12% of its wealth in BP shares.

20. Obama holds Oval Office press conference, speaks in generalities about making BP pay.

21. GOP, Tea Party, Dems all roundly criticise speech.

22. Next day, Obama meets with BP CEO and gets $20 Billion damage payout guarantee, with no lawyers or appeals process to string it along. This agreement is unprecedented and BP did NOT have to agree to it, as their offshore rig was flagged as a ship from the Marshall Islands.

23. Today, the Gulf Coast people who are suffering an almost complete economic shutdown are lining up to receive emergency payments.

24. Today, all the GOP and Tea Partiers have "no comment." Except for head of the GOP, Boehner, who says the "US, not BP, should shoulder the burden for the cleanup," and GOP Rep Joe Barton who says Obama making BP pay up is "illegal and wrong."

25. Tomorrow--a prediction--the GOP and Tea Party will be too busy having sex with interns and little boys to answer any questions about the Oil Crisis.

26. Day after Tomorrow--a prediction--GOP and Tea Party will take credit for everything Obama did, and blame him for making Boehner and Barton speak out, claiming he is a Satanic ventriloqist.

Friday, April 9, 2010

A handsome young fan of the book

while visiting a Barnes & Noble NYC

did find Do One Green Thing

bursting out with the Spring

and let out a scream: Take a look!

--thanks to Thomas Hutchinson (and his sharp eyes)