Friday, December 30, 2011

Wild Wolf Sighted in California

Return of our Natural Heritage

For the first time since the 1920s, a wild wolf is patrolling the edges of California.  The report below from Cal Fish and Game ("DFG") details what has been released to the public so far.  This is great news, and exciting milestone in the recovery of persecuted species.


The image above is from The Art of Robert Bateman, and the plate is titled "Wolf Pack in Moonlight." 

After I initially posted this blog, I received in the mail a clipping from the LA Times which shows the wolf's progress southwards.  Here is that clipping from the newspaper:

Meanwhile, as posted previously, here is the press release about the California wolf.


California Department of Fish and Game News Release
December 29, 2011
Media Contacts: Mark Stopher, DFG Executive Office, (530) 225-2275
Jordan Traverso, DFG Communications, (916)

Wolf OR7 Enters California

The gray wolf that was wandering in southern Oregon has crossed the
California border. According to the Oregon Department of Fish and
Wildlife (ODFW) this animal is a 2 ½ year old male formerly from a pack
in northeast Oregon. Since the animal has been collared with a Global
Positioning System (GPS) device that periodically transmits its
location, biologists have been able to document its travels since it was
collared in February 2011. Based on the GPS data, he is now more than
300 miles from where his journey began.

His journey, in total, has been more than twice that far with many
changes in direction. Several times he has reversed direction and
returned to previous locations. Today, the California Department of Fish
and Game (DFG) learned that this wolf, designated OR7, crossed the state
line into northern Siskiyou County yesterday. Tracking data puts his
most recent location as a few miles south of the Oregon border. It is
not possible to predict his next movements which could include a return
to Oregon.

DFG continues to collaborate with ODFW and expects to receive daily
location data. This information is transmitted daily when atmospheric
conditions permit. DFG will be sharing only general location information
as this wolf, while in California, is protected as endangered under the
Federal Endangered Species Act.

"Whether one is for it or against it, the entry of this lone wolf into
California is an historic event and result of much work by the wildlife
agencies in the West," said DFG Director Charlton H. Bonham. “If the
gray wolf does establish a population in California, there will be much
more work to do here."

Any wild gray wolf that returns to California is protected as
endangered under the Federal Endangered Species Act, administered by the
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS).

DFG has been following the recovery and migration of gray wolves in
western states with the expectation that at some point they will likely
reach California. The last confirmed wild gray wolf in California was
killed in Lassen County in 1924. The available historic information on
wolves in California suggests that while they were widely distributed,
they were not abundant. DFG has been compiling historic records, life
history information, reviewing studies on wolf populations in other
western states, enhancing communication with other agencies and training
biologists on field techniques specific to wolves. This effort is to
ensure that DFG has all necessary information available when needed, it
is not a wolf management plan and DFG does not intend to reintroduce
wolves into California.

There are more than 1,600 wolves in the northern Rocky Mountains
following a federal reintroduction effort which occurred in the
mid-1990s. In 1999 a single wolf crossed into Oregon from Idaho, after
nearly a 60-year absence in that state. There are now at least 24 wolves
in Oregon in four reproducing packs. It has taken an additional 12 years
for the first wolf to now reach the California border. This particular
animal is exhibiting normal dispersal behavior for a young male and
there is no way to predict whether he will stay in California, return to
Oregon, or travel east into Nevada. Eventually, DFG expects that other
wolves will reach California. Whether this will lead to the
establishment of packs or simply transient individual animals is

Gray wolf recovery in other western states has been controversial,
particularly regarding impacts on prey populations, livestock
depredation and human safety. There have been instances where gray wolf
predation has contributed to declines in deer and elk populations,
however, in most cases, predation has had little effect. Some gray
wolves have killed livestock - mostly cattle and sheep - while others
rely entirely on wild prey. In other western states the impact of
depredation on livestock has been small, less than predation by coyotes
and mountain lions, although the effect on an individual livestock
producer can be important, particularly when sheep are killed.

Concerns about human safety are largely based on folklore and are
unsubstantiated in North America. In recent years there was one human
mortality in Canada caused either by wolves or bears and one confirmed
human mortality in Alaska by wolves. Based on experience from states
where substantial wolf populations now exist, wolves pose little risk to
humans. However, DFG recommends that people never approach a wolf, or
otherwise tamper with or feed a wolf. More about how to avoid
human-wildlife interactions can be found on DFG’s website at

In the near future DFG expects to add information to its website
( to provide extensive information on wolves to the

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Little Nemo in (Christmas) Slumberland

Christmas Thoughts from the Best Comic Strip in the World

When professional cartoonists talk about the most recent best best best strips of modern times, it is a three-way tie between Doonesbury, The Farside, and Calvin and Hobbes.  (Usually Calvin and Hobbes comes out top-ranked, if people are forced to make a choice.)  In turn, if we move back to the start of it all, there is universal agreement on the granddaddy of best-ness, the series that even Bill Watterson acknowledges as his definition of a masterpiece.  That is Little Nemo in Slumberland, by Winsor McCay.  It ran primarily from 1905 to 1914, with a brief and still-copyrighted (and hence still out-of-print) revival in the 1920s.  And oh my friends, what a strange and magic time that must have been.

The premise is simple: in our dreams, we travel to far and strange lands.  There all of us meet glory and harm, threat and expectation.  The strip's title character, a boy of circa ten years old (age is not really important here), Nemo, is trying to reach the mythical kingdom of Slumberland, where the king needs his help.  Along the way he has more adventures than Tintin on acid, but often the sequence of events is ruined when Nemo wakes up, usually in a tangle of bedding in the last square of the narrative.

The art and design is exquisite, the pacing jump-cut swift, the dialogue baroque and marvelous.  If somehow we combined Dr. Seuss with Dennis Hopper's shrooming photojournalist in Apocalypse Now, we might end up with something like this.

Wikipedia will step in now, to summarize for us:

"Certain episodes of the strip are particularly famous. Any list of these would have to include the Night of the Living Houses (said to be the first comic strip to enter the collection of the Louvre) wherein Nemo and a friend are chased down a city street by a gang of tenement houses on legs; the Walking Bed, in which Nemo and Flip ride over the rooftops on the increasingly long limbs of Nemo's bed; and the Befuddle Hall sequence, wherein Nemo and his friends attempt to find their way out of a funhouse environment of a Beaux-Arts interior turned topsy-turvy. McCay's mastery of perspective, and the extreme elegance of his line work, make his visions graphically wondrous. The eccentric dialogue is delivered in a dreamy deadpan, and often appears to be hastily jammed into tiny word balloons that can scarcely contain it. A typical line: 'Whoever named this place Befuddle Hall knew his business! I am certainly befuddled.'"

Which brings us to Christmas.  In a set of entries from about 1910 or so, here are two episodes.  These are scans from the fabulous collection by Taschen brought out in 2007; the headnote essay is titled "The Greatest Strip that Ever Flopped."  (As with so much of great art, it went underappreciated in its own time.)  Here are some panels, along with transcribed dialogue.

The person in the grass skirt is the Imp, sort of a Shakespeare Fool character, often up to no good, while the clown with the cigar is a manifestation of Flip, also a helper / hinderer kind of Scaramouche figure.  The sign says (in case it's not legible on this website) "Christmas Festivities Postponed!  Gone to Hunt for Little Nemo."  It is signed by the King of Slumberland.  The dialogue in Panel 1 reads like this: "The fellow said, who ever finds us will get a million dollars.  I said, why don't you find us? But he was too sleepy."  Second clown (a disguised Nemo): "He didn't know us.  Ah! Say! Look! There isn't going to be any Christmas! See the sign, Flip?"

(I might mention that the reason Flip and Nemo look like over-filled water balloons is that they were lost in the palace in a previous episode and got so hungry they began to eat the letters and borders of the strip itself.  They are bloated on printer's ink.  Back to Christmas.)

Next panel.  "What do you think of that old Doctor Pill having a bed like that?" (Dr. Pill often saves or helps Nemo.)  The Imp remains silent but Nemo says, "I guess he takes pretty good care of himself.  But say, I am thinking about Christmas!"

We all know what happens if you leave children (or adults acting like children) alone with a big bed.  Time to start jumping up and down.  Note the extraordinary rendering of space and anatomy.  In the right hand side panel, Flip rolls through space as if in zero-G, long before we had any photographs like this.  What a wonderful imagination the artist has.

The Imp just babbles nonsense before joining in the fun.  Flip says, "Yip! Look at me! Whee! Say!     I don't believe in Santa Claus, do you?" Nemo answers hesitantly, wanting to be accepted by his companion but also unsure of himself. "Nah, eh: I mean, say --- someone is coming!"

And an off-camera voice says, "What!!! Nemo is lost? And there'll be no Christmas? This is a fine how de do!!! Where can he be? Huh!"

We all know the magic that has been evoked.  You can't say in a movie or a cartoon, "Tigers? There aren't any tigers around here!"  As soon as you say that, you have tempted fate, and the speaker is doomed to turn around and find an escaped zoo tiger staring him in the face.  Never, EVER say there is no such thing as Santa Claus.

The web format here doesn't do the majesty of this justice.  (The Wikipedia entry is very thorough and clear, but it too has format problems.)  You really need to buy the book.  But until then, let's wrap this up.  Left to right, the dialogue zips along as follows:

Flip: "Blamed if that isn't Santa Claus! I always heard there was no Santa Claus."
Nemo: "Here I am! Here I am! Santa Claus, hey! Here I am!"

Santa says, "I'll find him! I'll find him and there will be a Christmas. I'll find him!"

Why is Santa driving a big blue car?  It's a dream, why not, and in dreams, cars drive through bedrooms all the time.  How modern our Santa is, with the latest miracle, the automobile.  That will be a plot point in a moment.

The noise and commotion wake the real Nemo up, who looks in confusion at the Christmas tree (much larger and grander than most of the era).  He says, "Oh! I was dreaming! Oh! I'm glad it was a dream! Um Merry Christmas."

The tree's presence may be part of the magic of the moment.  When my mother was a child in the 1930s, there was no tree when she went to bed on Christmas Eve.  Her parents bought it after she went to sleep, installed it in the middle of the night, and my mother woke up not just to a present (such an an orange, a rare treat) but to a decorated tree.  Santa supposedly brought not just gifts, but the Christmas tree as well.

But what happens?  Does Santa find Nemo and return to his Christmas duties?  Here is Part 2.

Santa's car is leaving a wake of lost presents behind as Flip, Imp, and Nemo race to catch up.

Panel 1:
"Santa Claus didn't know us.  Now he's gone to hunt for us.  We --- "
"We'll get him! He's just down the hall. Come on! Oh! We'll catch him!"

Panel 2:
"My! But he's excited! He's scattering his Christmas presents everywhere!"
"Keep a-runnin. I smell the gasoline from his automobile. We're gaining!"

Panel 3:
"I'm too fat to run very much faster! He will be surprised to know we were here, won't he?"
"Yes! If we don't catch up with him, he'll hunt for us 'til next Christmas!"

Panel 4:
"We are getting pretty close to him now. Let's holler to him."
"He can't hear us for the noise his auto makes! I see him! I see him!"

At the time this was published, other than a preliminary form of bus, most readers had not ridden in a car yet, though they had been assaulted by the noise of a passing vehicle and had smelled the unfiltered exhaust.  This marks the end of the horse-drawn era.  Note too the amazing parade of presents along the bottom edge of the panel, which work visually as a foreground but which also document what was then a fantasy assemblage of extravagant (and tossed-aside) gifts.  Many kids reading this would say, "pick up the toys!  Nemo, slow down, pick up the toys!"

The smoke increases with each panel; note too the "trendy" bike in Panel 5.  No velocipeds here: this is indeed the modern era.  The dialogue, in case the web version is not clear....

Panel 5:
"Hey! Hey! Santa Claus! Hey! Hey!"
"There he goes! Hey! Stop! Here we are! Hey old man! Stop. Here we are!

Racing along with his exhaust billowing out, Santa says, "I'll find Little Nemo. I don't care how big Slumberland is! If he's here, I'll find him! Sure!"

In Panel 6, Santa, apparently a Sunday driver, has hit something, making an explosion that knocks his hat off.  (Apparently Santa is bald.  Who knew?)  The jack in the box springs out and Imp is thrown off his feet.

Panel 7 takes up most of the page.  The camera has shifted (how this so deliciously pre-dates and yet predicts the conventions of cinema!), and Flip says, "That settles him for a while.  He's done for."  Nemo worries about the consequences of what he has started, and so says, "That's too bad!  He's mad!  We'd better get away. Come on!"

Santa ruefully says, "This is what I get for being up to date.  I'll use the reindeer after this."

Final panel shows a properly sized Nemo by his real-life bed.  Back to safe and drab reality.  Colors fade, perspective calms down, drama ends.  The dream is over.  Meanwhile his mother, usually kept off-camera (like the parents in Charlie Brown), scolds, "Nemo! If you expect Santa Claus to call here, you must stay in bed.  he'll not come if he sees you up, so go back to bed!"

True words, mom.  This blog entry is being posted on Christmas Eve, and so that all of us have the best possible chance of presents, we will stop chasing Santa in his new fine blue car, we will hope that he has indeed gone back to reindeer, and from AVC's family to yours, a Blessed Christmas, and to all, a good night.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Pit Bulls, Parolees, and Second Chances

a few notes on Christmas miracles

Although it's the holiday season, which is to say, it's the time of year when we are risking pepper spray with every visit to Wal-Mart, it is also that time of year when we have the chance to do right by the world --- to give a little extra to the Salvation Army folks outside the Post Office, or to add a second offering at church.  Yet as we look around, it is easy to be discouraged.  Does it do any good?  Maybe people are poor because they deserve to be, or maybe the people in jail are all hopeless losers.  They are just feral dogs, unfit to be let into the hearts (and classrooms) of mainstream society.

Then again, maybe not.  Enter Animal Planet.  This channel sponsors a show called "Pit Bulls and Parolees" and they filmed an episode last summer at AVC.  The show features an animal rescue group and the folks they hire --- ex-cons, who (like the dogs being rescued) have an unfair reputation as being without value.  One of the fellows involved with the rescue project is also a writer, so for the episode that was filmed at AVC, the producers set him up on a blind date with me and adjunct instructor Nicelle Davis, to do some unrehearsed, unscripted reality tv.  It was then that I met Deshaun Lavender.

He was, as the saying goes, an ex-con, and a pretty hardcore one at that.  Yet he also was a poet, a generous and kind soul, and a survivor.  Let me share his story in his own words.

"The early days of my life were scarred by tragedy.  My father was killed by the LAPD when I was just three months old.  As a single mother, my mom did her best, but she was killed by a drunk driver when I was 12 years old."  This sounds like the opening of a Charles Dickens novel, but I have worked with Deshaun, and it's a true story, and not all that uncommon.  In an autobiography that he wrote for the AVC Blog, he goes on to explain the almost inevitable consequences.

"Young and confused, I lost all direction in my life, and though I did not realize it then, I was headed for a life of self-destruction.  Even the moral principles and family values that had been instilled in me were not enough.  The place where pain exists without any excuses welcomed me as if I were a distant cousin.  At the age of 13 I was initiated into a turbulent lifestyle of gang violence and criminal activity.  My new tribe became the Four Trey Gangster Crips and I began to live my life by the rules of the street.  I lost the vision of my family expectations."

The usual outcomes followed.

"By 23, with two prison terms under my belt, I was arrested for attempted murder and robbery, and would spend the next 15 years of my life incarcerated."

Like Malcom-X and others before him, it was in prison he was able to use reading and writing as a tool for self-reflection.  He wrote poetry, he educated himself, he thought about where he had been and what it would take to get to someplace better.

"Finally the year 2011 arrived and I was released back into society with an understanding of the what it would take to maintain my freedom.  Through the guiding light of Higher Powers, I was led to a pit bull rescue center called Villalobos.  This is a place where not only pit bulls get a second chance at life, but so do parolees.  Here I found not only a job but a passion, and I was allowed to know the love of a cause --- the cause of rescuing and rehabilitating the most misunderstood breed of all dogs.  In the process, my own life has been changed forever.  I can identify with the stigma placed on these pit bulls because to society, I too am a pit bull, except I am a two-legged one.  If I deserve a second chance, so do they.  I have embraced the cause to fight for the most amazing dogs in the world."

During his summer poetry lesson with me and Instructor Davis, we were both impressed by his integrity, his sincerity, and his generosity.  With the help of Dr. Fisher and the AVC Foundation, Deshaun was able to enroll at AVC for fall term, and has been a solid presence in my English 101 night class all fall.  True, he still won't use italics correctly, and true, in his rough drafts he capitalizes nouns as randomly as if he's trying to mimic the first draft of the Declaration of Independence, but so what?  The main thing that counts is his spirit, his drive, and his willingness to improve.  He is like so many of my students, kicked around by life but trying to end up a better person in a better place.

He has been blessed with many gifts, and now is finding the courage to use them.  He has confided in me that he is becoming a father finally to a child he barely knows, which itself is a very brave thing to man up to.  Deshaun has been blessed too because he has been accepted by a new family, the ones centered around the rescue center's founder, Tia Torres.  As he says, "Tia has the biggest heart on any person I've ever encountered."  If it takes a village to raise a child, it also takes a village to keep a gang-banger out of jail.  "It's because of her," he says, "that I have been able to redirect my energies into something that I have come to believe in as deeply as I believe in myself.  Second chances are real, and of that, I am living proof."

Meeting him has made me ask of myself, What else --- who else --- around me deserves a second chance too?  It is the right time of year to go and find out.