Tag Archives: San Diego

Bird Park, San Diego

BY KIMBERLY MAYER

I remember my uncle’s visit in Southern California. We were living in Laguna Beach at the time, and, recently widowed, he was traveling to New Zealand from New England. We were a half-way resting place and ever so happy to have him.

My uncle looked upon it all incredulously. From Connecticut to California it must have been like landing on the moon. Main Beach is to Laguna Beach what “The Town Green” is to New England. In Laguna, a well-tended lifeguard tower stood in lieu of a white gazebo. And sand and surf where there was usually a lawn. Main Beach bustled with people, tan, fit, and half-clad.

I was seeing all this through my uncle’s eyes.

“Everyone’s in motion, aren’t they?” I asked. He could only nod.

Today our daughter lives across from Bird Park in San Diego. Bird Park is a part of Balboa Park, the famed legacy of Kate Sessions. Balboa Park may be to San Diego what Central Park is to New York City.

There is something so timeless about this scene from our daughter’s front door: a child and a swing, families picnicking. Strollers, bikes, rollerblades, scooters. Stretching routines and soccer practice.

Constructed in the shape of an enormous bird, Pershing Drive is the “branch” on which the “bird” stands. Employing native plantings to attract local birds, Bird Park is the brainchild of San Diego artists Robin Brailsford and Wick Alexander.

I raised my children not far from here in this climate when they were very young. Out every day, all day, is how I remember our time together. We were card-carrying members, regulars at The Wild Animal Park, now Safari Park. Strolling The Kilimanjaro Trail, lunching at picnic tables, napping in a double stroller while still moving.

A short jog off The Kilimanjaro Trial, we liked to cut through an Australian Rain Forest exhibit for the girls were fond of wallaby’s and kookaburras—as amused by the names as much as the animals. For me it was the vegetation, a green respite from the dry brown heat of the African-based trail. In the shelter of the rain forest I pointed out bronze signs in braille to two little girls who were learning to read English at the time. Their fingers running over and over the raised dots in each sign.

Sometimes you are all of one place. The climate became us. The park, wildlife, and horticulture, became us. I could see my daughters in khaki uniforms one day working summer jobs there. But then we moved. How did we ever move to the desert when San Diego was desert enough? I ask myself this now.

I live on an island now, and I have become it. I hear from friends that the bulbs are pushing up, and I must return.

Life moves in mysterious ways. Sometimes in circles, sometimes in avian shapes. But never in a straight line.

 

Perching birds of San Diego, in no particular order: Black-chinned sparrow, California towhee, Common yellowthroat, Horned lark, Western wood-peewee, Vermilion flycatcher, Western bluebird, Barn swallow, Blue grosbeak, Yellow warbler, Savannah sparrow, Loggerhead shrike, Northern rough-winged swallow, Red-breasted nuthatch, Rufous-crowned sparrow, Gray vireo, Marsh wren, Fox sparrow, California thrasher, Lark sparrow, Black phoebe, Tree swallow, Dusky flycatcher, Sage sparrow, LeConte’s thrasher, Lawrence’s goldfinch, California gnatcatcher, Tricolored blackbird, Say’s Phoebe, Wrentit, Bell’s vireo, Yellow-breasted chat, Red-winged blackbird, Lucy’s warbler, Chipping sparrow, Western tanager, Spotted towhee, Dark-eyed junco, Hooded oriole, Song sparrow, Brown-headed cowbird, Rock wren, Olive-sided flycatcher, Yellow-rumped warbler, Black-tailed gnatcatcher, Bushtit, Verdin, American robin, Lesser goldfinch, Green-tailed towhee, Black-headed Grosbeak, Western kingbird, Violet-green swallow, Cassin’s kingbird, Black-throated sparrow, Phainopepha, Cactus wren, Purple finch, Scrub jay, Bullock’s oriole, Grasshopper sparrow,  Scott’s oriole, American goldfinch, Purple martin, Pacific-slope flycatcher, Lazuli bunting, Western meadowlark, Ash-throated flycatcher, Great-tailed crackle, Blue-grey gnatcatcher, Orange-crowned warbler, Brewer’s blackbird, Willow flycatcher, White-breasted nuthatch, Hutton’s vireo, Canyon wren, Crissal thrasher, Steller’s jay, Plain titmouse, Northern mockingbird, Bewick’s wren, Warbling vireo, Pygmy nuthatch, Bendire’s thrasher, Warbling vireo, Pygmy nuthatch, Bendire’s thrasher, American crow, Brown creeper, Mountain chickadee, and Common raven

 

 

 

 

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Flip Flops in January: Three Girls and a Truck at Village Nurseries, San Diego

photo credit: Jackie Mayer Blum

 

BY KIMBERLY MAYER

We are wintering in San Diego, living on a mattress with a small bistro table, a couple folding chairs, and two bright Hawaiian printed Tommy Bahama beach chairs in an otherwise empty house. The house is a job site. Our daughter and her husband purchased a new home in North Park, San Diego. A remodel, and we are here to help.

While the men are at home swinging hammers, we are on a landscape mission. My daughter is commandeering a pickup truck, bouncing over dirt roads and splashing through puddles at Village Nurseries Wholesale Plant and Tree Grower. Thirteen acres of planted bliss, a Disneyland to me. No lines, no crowds (to-the-trade only), and free of all the commercialization.

The bed of our truck is brimming with potted plants: 5 tall Barbara Karst bougainvillea, Mister Lincoln white rose shrubs, “bartenders choice” Mexican Lime Tree, a 15 gallon Strelitzia retinae Bird of Paradise shrub, and enormous agave plants anchoring them all. Clean and new at the U Haul lot, the truck will be returning with all the mud and markings of having taken the Indiana Jones ride at Adventureland.

You had to know my mother would be on board; she must have slipped onto the bench seat. It wasn’t until we turned into the nursery that we realized she was with us. https://alittleelbowroom.com/2017/12/05/my-imaginary-mother-in-winter/ Her breath, like ours, was taken away with the vastness and the serenity of the place.

Rounding Succulents and Drought Tolerant plants, I am back in the gray/greens with Mediterranean plants. Heaven for me once, for at one time I lived in Southern California. Today I recognize some full well, yet can’t recall their names. Other names I know, but can’t picture. My daughter is reintroducing me to some old friends.

Discombobulated I fumble forward. A Master Gardener from Climate Zone 4 (San Juan Island, WA) in Zone 24 (San Diego, CA), I try to be helpful. “Seasonal amnesia,” is there such a thing? All I know is that in a rush I just mailed a Valentine’s Day card–one month early. I recall that when living here: waking and having to orient myself with the season, with the month, before stepping out of bed.

Left to our own devises mom and I might have gone crazy, but my daughter was specific. A wall of her courtyard would be draped in bougainvillea. She knew the color. A lime tree would round out their citrus collection. And white roses and giant Blue Glow agave look exquisite together. Who knew?

And who knew about my daughter’s newfound passion for plants, and in the same place where I first got the bug? Her grandmother may have been the only one to have seen that coming.

 

 

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At Last

muse-goddess-thalia Neighbors of ours for a number of years in Seattle recently moved to another home, another neighborhood across the lake. When they first moved in they were a newly married couple. Now they’re a family of four, and their search was predicated around proximity to a choice preschool and high ranking public school system. As I watched the moving van roll off with the contents of their home, I felt an abiding sadness.

I wanted to be in their shoes, for I knew what to do then too.

Our first baby hadn’t taken her first step yet in San Diego, when I whisked my family off to take residence in the nationally recognized “Blue Ribbon” Poway School District. With children grown and gone now, it’s more difficult to know what to do.

Nevertheless, we’re trying. The house remodel on San Juan Island, I realize, is nothing less than a life remodel.

Perhaps because of the extensive area they cover, flooring and wall color took an inordinate amount of time. Good thing we called out hardwood floors throughout and one color for the walls. Initially my husband longed for a blond wood, while I was drawn to dark. What we wound up with is a wide boarded medley of grayed browns, reminiscent of weathered piers and docks. Both of us are at home on that.

Following floors, when the 9 1/2′ cut yew log went up as a mantle, the wall behind it cried out for rock. Until then we had been drawing up some sort of fireplace surround. It was our contractor, Shawn Kleine, who heard the cry. The entire wall should be faced with rock. It was, and it was good.

But I was in danger of being browned out.

If there is one thing I know about interiors, it is that a room should have a foot in both masculine and feminine worlds. By that I mean wood, rock, and steel, should be augmented by something light, soft and airy. So as wood planks went up on the cathedral ceiling, I whitewashed the boards. The cross beams were then painted out white. Benjamin Moore’s pure clean “Chantilly Lace White.”

I was getting happier, but it was still not enough for this rugged room.

Then the skylights opened up and the quartz island top arrived, basically a white with a bit of gray/brown/black. A gender-neutral gray quartz went down like a runway on countertops. And above it, Carrera marble subway tiles, reaching to the ceiling. Like a crescendo.

This is where my heart stops.

It’s like watching Rome being built. No better, classical Greece. Light seems to pour through these tiles as if they were made of liquid or glass. I have never been as inspired to cook as I am now, standing before this marble. I could dance.

Maybe everything is going to be alright.

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A Circle of Six

6 Chairs

My husband and I are between homes and living on a boat in The San Juan Islands. Our home of the last seven years in Seattle is on the market. We left it looking picture perfect for a remodel project that we go to every day, on island. First we fell in love with the island, and then with the property: a sloping side of old growth forest on a quiet bay.

The house itself was hideous, but we knew we could do something with that. “There never has been a house so bad,” noted Elsie de Wolfe, “that it couldn’t be made over into something worthwhile.” Elsie was the woman who practically invented Interior Design.

But back to the land. Afterall, it’s all about the land and the sea. That’s what calls us here and holds us here. We reimagine our lives with each move.

My philosophy in moving–I’ve moved often enough in my life to have developed a philosophy–is to create a zone that I can go to initially, where everything is ideal. I can’t tell you how often these “rooms” have been outdoors.

In San Diego I found a shady spot out back under a trellis draped in grape vines where I contemplated growing everything in mossy, old world pots. It was my sanctuary.

And when all the house was covered with drop cloths in the tumult of renovation on Mercer Island, the deck was what pulled me through. Out there I saw how well the orchid plants were doing, resting on the rail overlooking the lake after their cross-country move in a truck. We had flown in, how could I complain?

Here, I created my zone by carrying up rocks from the beach and building a fire pit in a clearing. Around that I envisioned a circle of cedar Adirondack chairs. It was as simple as that and we built it.

So our pow wow is up and ready, long before the house. This is where I sit under the cathedral of trees and remember why I am here. I will learn the bird calls by day and find my way among the stars at night. And it will all be so clear.

Everyone has their own immigrant story, but at one time we were all indigenous people somewhere. Come, count yourself among us.

 

 

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Meditation for the Greatest Generation

“It’s difficult to think anything but pleasant thoughts while eating a homegrown tomato.” Lewis Grizzard

One day my mother phoned a number of her old, long-distance friends and every one of them was in some point of transition to a retirement home. One was already settled, a block from the water’s edge in Juno Beach, Florida.

“But how can this be?” she cried, “When just a few years ago I was only sixteen!”

My parents are presently caught up in their own such move. My mother is subject to purging moods where she would get rid of everything and run like her house was on fire. Whereas Dad would have it that they just not go, and fights it every step of the way.

I arrived on the scene and found a sofa missing and the living room rug rolled up but rug pad down, in a house that was still on the market. I was at a crossroads: assist them in packing or restage their house for showing? Or both.

It is important that family help. Mom and Dad had hired a lady, “a down-sizing expert” she called herself, who came and helped herself to things. She combed through their drawers and closets and went off with—well, they are not quite sure what she went off with or where it all went. A Cardinal Cushing Consignment Shop was mentioned, and I have every intention to go there to look for a silver salad utensil that I had expressed interest in. It was perfect for serving a dish we adore in my home, Insalata Caprese (sliced fresh buffalo mozzeralla, sliced fresh tomatoes, fresh basil, seasoned with salt, drizzled with extra-virgin olive oil or balsalmic vinegar or both).

My mother and I have done this dance before–she wanted a debutante and what she got was a hippie. There were visits home from college where my blue jeans would magically disappear in the laundry, after all the time invested to soften them, before manufacturers ever dreamed of stone-washing. So I became accustomed then to walking down to The Child and Family Services Thrift Shop in town, combing the racks for my blue jeans and buying them back. I would do this again for that silver utensil.

Which brings me to the tomato. I have a friend who just this week packed up all her belongings and moved from Seattle to San Diego for the tomatoes. Well, there were other factors on her list, but tomatoes, she tells me, were in the top three. I can understand that. I had an aunt who once said of the caprese salad, “I could live on this!” She was the one who introduced me to caprese, and I must say there has never been a more delicious, or more simple, salad since.

I would like to tell my parents it’s not all about the big things in life, like the move, but rather, the little things, such as vine-ripened tomatoes.

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Rosemary for Remembrance

If I could live my life over again, I’d start gardening at an earlier age.

My first mentor in the gardening world was a woman we called “Mere.”  (My grandfather loved to work the land and grow things, but Mere was there when I was ready). And for all her horticultural knowledge and experience, she could not be accused of being a garden snob. I like to think I inherited that too.

Mere, or Marge Potter, was my grandmother’s friend, having grown up together in Connecticut. Marge recalled the day grandma’s father surprised his little girl with a pony in the kitchen on her birthday, as she was coming downstairs to breakfast. My grandmother lived her entire life in that enormous house, whereas Marge moved with her husband to Cleveland, and later, retired in San Diego. And that is where I was living at the time with my husband and our two young daughters. As a courtesy to my grandmother I went to call on her old friend, never guessing I would become so enamored with her too.

Marge is the one who threw me out of the house and down the garden path. She believed in herbs the way a witch or an old medicine man believes in them. Herbs had meaning and health benefits and a prominent place in her garden always. We spent many a late afternoon and early evening sitting on her terrace where a weathered, wooden St. Francis sculpture held court in the herb garden, my daughters tumbled about on the lawn, and the sun set over purple hills.

Today in Seattle, and everywhere we have lived since knowing her, I have made an herb garden of my own. My herbs grow in pots that have become wonderfully mossy and white, and perch upon a black wrought iron etegere that looks decidedly French. A St. Francis stands on my terrace as well. We use the herbs in cooking, enjoy the scent, and as much as an herb garden is a part of our lives now, it is also a memorial to Marge. I think of that every day I water.

Many of the herbs, such as the vigorous mint and oregano, hop around and seed themselves between pavers on the terrace. Marge would approve and say something like, “They know where they want to go.”

So I water them too.

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They Call Us Mossbacks

For years I wondered: where on earth do I feel most at home? We would move and I’d try various places, waiting to see if I could grow roots. Finally I took up gardening. In the garden I can make myself at home anywhere, but nowhere as easily as here, in the Pacific Northwest. Where everything grows on its own accord.

Moss_Covered_Old_Stone_Bridge_HD_Wallpaper-Vvallpaper.Net

Back in San Diego I used to paint my flowerpots with buttermilk, then roll them in dirt before potting. With regular watering over a course of time, the pots would whiten and grow the mossy green patina found on garden antiquity. All around me the homes were too new. Too many developments with roofs of clean bright orange terra cotta tile. Whereas the pots on my terrace gave the appearance of old. While developers were busy putting up “Mediterranean style” for the masses, I was looking for Old Spain, something evacuated from say, Seville.

Here in the Pacific Northwest we can save the buttermilk for baking. Moss grows up our steps, over walls, on all sides of trees, and onto rooftops. I have to laugh.

We love our moss. A friend told me the story of a time she hired a man to pressure-wash the brick patio, as it can get slippery, and stepped out of the house to find that he had gone on and taken care of the back wall as well “which was a treasure trove of happy lichens in yellow, orange and gold, plus fabulous swaths of moss.” She was heartbroken.

Not too long ago a neighbor from those days in San Diego, now living in Houston, came through Seattle on book tour. I had come into the kitchen in the morning, turned on KUOW, our local NPR, in the middle of an interview and recognized her voice immediately. That night I attended her reading at Third Place Books in Lake Forest. Harriet Halkyard is her name. One doesn’t forget a name like that. She and her husband, John, wrote 99 Days to Panama based on their travels there. After the reading I bought their book and we sat down for lattes and to get caught up.

I will admit I was surprised to hear how much they love living in Houston (“It’s the people; we’ve never been so socially engaged!”), but nothing could have prepared me for her next comment.

“I don’t know how you live here,” she cried.

“I mean,” Harriet went on, “when you’ve seen seen one pine tree you’ve seen them all.”

I smiled and realized it could be plants and trees and climates that determine where one feels most at home. In San Diego we both had the warmth, the sun, the desert landscape, the occasional palm tree and arid climate, and she chose to go get more of it in Texas. Whereas I sought to come home, if not to New England, to the Pacific Northwest. A place more exaggerated than New England ever dreamed.

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