Archive for the ‘Nature’ Category

A Woodpecker in the House

Monday, October 11th, 2010

A young woodpecker clings to my ceiling beam at midnight

By Marcia E. Gawecki

At midnight, I came home to find a bird hanging from the inside curtain of my front door. Since it’s so close to Halloween, I was afraid to open it.

I had also seen too many horror movies in my day. The ax murder finds something or someone that you hold dear, such as your family pet or best friend, and then kills it to psychologically destroy you. Who could ever forget the bunny boiling scene in “Fatal Attraction?”

Did someone kill a bird to get to me? My mind was racing. After someone had put sugar in my gas tank recently  (which nearly killed my car’s engine) I’ve been on edge. Was this the next step in my own psycho-nightmare?

I didn’t want to see a dead bird. I absolutely love all kinds of birds!  Every day, I work hard to keep them hanging around my Idyllwild home. I regularly change the sugar water in my hummingbird feeder. I put out pellets and bread crusts out for the birds, but it’s the bluejays who get most of them. Three years ago, I planted a Fuji apple tree, which finally bore seven apples this year, and didn’t say a word when the bluejays poked holes in all of them.

But with four cats, there’s no way I could have a domestic bird. Remarkably, my cats are also tender-hearted because the birds, mice and lizards they bring to me as “gifts” are still very much alive. They are scared, ruffled and shaken, but still alive. Then it’s up to me to capture them and put them back outside where they belong.

I turned the key, opened the door slowly, and quickly flipped on the light.

The junior woodpecker, as it turns out, was still alive!  He flew from the curtain to the ceiling beam (where I couldn’t resist taking his picture). He was beautiful, with a bright red crown, and white and black markings on his feathers.

Now, how do you get a scared bird out of your house at midnight?

After putting the four cats in the bedroom, I opened up all of the windows and doors. But the little guy didn’t budge.

He just looked at me, as if to say, “Don’t you know I can’t fly at night? Only bats can do that!”

So I started toward the kitchen to unpack my groceries, absent-mindedly turning on more lights. That’s when Woody Jr. took flight. But it was painful to watch. He flew towards the back door, bumping his head on the ceiling four or five times.

I wanted to shout, “Don’t go up, go ooooooout!”

The young woodpecker lost a feather

He ended up behind my refrigerator, scared to death. So I unplugged it, and risked ruining a few things. But the refrigerator buzzing annoys even me, so I can’t imagine how a young woodpecker could stand it all night. So I shut the windows and doors, and went to bed.

Laying in the dark, I remembered an old wives tale: “If a robin flies into your home through an open window, death will soon follow.”

I shook off the death notion. It was a woodpecker, after all. And it was likely dragged in through the window by one of my cats.

The next morning, while I was making toast, I saw him again–clinging to a wine bottle that had colored wax dripped all over it.

“Does the wax resemble tree bark to him?” I wondered.

He kept nervously darting his head back and forth from behind the bottle. So I opened up all of the windows and doors again, warning him to watch the ceiling this time.

Again, he didn’t budge.

So I got out my camera to take another picture, and he flew towards the ceiling. He landed on a picnic basket on the top shelf.

So that’s where I left him to go run errands. I figured my presence was making him nervous, but I was also taking a risk leaving my house open during a recession.

“Come on, in and take whatever you’d like, just make sure you leave the doors open so the woodpecker can get out!”

When I returned, Woody Jr. was gone.  I missed his farewell flight, but was glad that he was back to his normal life in Idyllwild.

He left me a memento, though. A small feather that dislodged during his overnight stay.

Copyright 2010 Idyllwild Me. All rights reserved.

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Dolphin Pressure from 8,342 Miles Away

Monday, September 27th, 2010

In September, Jeffrey Taylor hung this dolphin banner outside Green Cafe

By Marcia E. Gawecki

Taiji, Japan is 8,342 miles from Idyllwild, California.  Yet, the distance is not stopping one Idyllwild resident from doing his part to pressure the Taiji government to stop their 20,000 annual dolphin slaughter.

It all began in March when Jeffrey Taylor, from Green Cafe, showed “The Cove,” this year’s Academy Award winning documentary, to about 25 residents, which included professors, scientists and animal activists. It was part of his weekly “Cafe Cinema” series that he’s held in Idyllwild for 10 years.  Many of his friends couldn’t bear to see dolphins killed onscreen, yet, those who went said it wasn’t such a graphic portrayal, and getting out the message was key.

“The Cove is a stunning heist-like story that is half Jacques Cousteau and half James Bond,” said Taylor. “A ‘dream team’ of activists venture to Japan to expose the secretive work of fishermen who slaughter dolphins so they can sell the meat nationally and abroad.”

Ric O’Barry, who rose to popularity with “Flipper,” the popular TV show about dolphins in the 1960s, said that he became an activist when he saw that dolphins would rather die than be in captivity.

O’Barry collaborated with Louie Psihoyos in creating “The Cove” documentary to get the word out of the 20,000 dolphin slayings that are held each year from September to March in Taiji, Japan. In a small cove, 26 local fishermen herd dolphins in from the sea by forming a line of boats and making noises with metal poles. The process is known as “oikomi.”

“Dolphins are keenly sensitive to noise,” O’Barry said in the movie. “They are afraid of the noise and swim to the cove to get away from it. There, they are herded into nets and the bottle nosed dolphins are sent to marine parks like “Sea World,” while the other dolphins are slaughtered with spears.

Since showing 'The Cove,' Jeffrey Taylor has continued the fight

Since the showing, Taylor has not been quiet about the Taiji dolphin slaughter. He regularly visits web sites dedicated to dolphin preservation, and e-mails updates to his friends and customers. Among the information that he’s sent include news reports about the toxic levels of mercury in Taiji;  O’Barry’s recent trip to Toyko; a You Tube video account of a young woman who swam in the Taiji Cove; and a slide show by Leilani Munter, a dedicated volunteer.

All of the portrayals show worldwide support of the ban on the dolphin killings. When O’Barry visited Toyko (because nationalists threatened him in Taiji) with 100 other supporters, he had a list of 155,000 signatures from supporters all over the world.

Some of the supporters are from Idyllwild, and, like Taylor, are unwilling to give up the fight.

In September, the start of the dolphin killing season in Taiji, Taylor hung a banner outside his Green Cafe office in Idyllwild. It was a birthday present from his artist girlfriend. It depicts a torso of a smiling dolphin swimming in a sea of red with the text, “Stop the Slaughter, Taiji.”

Taylor hopes to pressure Taiji from killing 20,000 dolphins

“At first, I was worried about posting a political banner outside my business,” said Taylor. “But then I realized that most of my customers agree with the message.”

However, many Japanese do not know about what is going on in Taiji, and would likely not approve of it. In the documentary, tests prove that dolphin meat has toxic mercury levels, and is not good for human consumption. In fact, in the May 10th issue of the Japan Times (another article sent by Jeffrey Taylor), the National Institute of Minamata Disease (NIMD) stated that many Taiji residents have unusually high levels of mercury in their systems.

Even with mercury poisoning, Taiji’s 3,000 residents remain defiant. They say that killing dolphins is no different than killing cows or pigs, and people should mind their own business.

But the more people know, the more they want to help.

In the comment section after an article about O’Barry’s trip to Taiji, one woman wrote: “After watching ‘The Cove,’ like many others, we felt helpless about the dolphin killings in Taiji, Japan. My daughters asked me if we could sell all of our things and go to Taiji in support of the dolphins. I told them that we would sell what we could and send the money to the conservation groups.”

In one You Tube video, O’Barry was asked by a reporter, “What can people do to help?”

“Don’t buy a ticket to ‘Sea World’ or any other dolphin show,” O’Barry said. “It’s a 1.6 million dollar business, and its all about supply and demand. If people won’t pay to see the dolphin shows anymore, then the fishermen will stop capturing and killing them.”

In his blog dated Sunday, September 26, 2010, Ric O’ Barry wrote:

“It’s with a heavy heart that I write today’s post. Despite all our efforts and despite the worldwide condemnation of the cruel dolphin slaughter, the Japanese government remains defiant and has allowed the first dolphin kill of this season at Taiji.

“This defies all logic, both because of the brutal inhumane abuse of dolphins and because it is now proved that the dolphin meat is poison — containing dangerous levels of mercury.

“Throughout the first month of the season several captures have taken place with select dolphins retained for export to zoos and aquariums. The rest of the pod were released back into the wild. However, a few days ago one group of 15 Risso’s dolphins was brutally killed and taken to the slaughterhouse.

“I can’t tell you how angry this makes me. And I know it makes you angry, too. Many of you will be frustrated, but I don’t want you to lose hope. I also am more convinced than ever that our campaign to generate worldwide pressure for an end to the slaughter is right and must succeed.

“We must be vigilant and turn up the heat. The Japan government’s defiance must not be allowed to stand.

“Change does not happen overnight, and we have only just started to get the word out to the Japanese people.

“We are working to keep people on the ground in Taiji to monitor the Cove and report back to the world. Take a look at this video done by one of our dedicated volunteers, Leilani Münter.”

“Taiji will stop their annual dolphin slaughter only when world pressure hits them in the pocketbook,” Taylor added. “One thing we can do is stop buying Japanese products. If 10 percent of Americans stopped buying Japanese products, I’ll bet Taiji would stop killing dolphins.”

For more information, visit, and And if you want to receive Jeffrey Taylor’s dolphin updates, e-mail him at

Copyright 2010 Idyllwild Me. All Rights Reserved.

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Are Bark Beetles Back?

Tuesday, August 10th, 2010

A dying fir tree along Hwy. 243. Bark beetles may be the culprit.

By Marcia E. Gawecki

Driving up Hwy. 243 from Banning, you can see brown trees in the distance, where before there were only green ones. We had plenty of moisture in the spring, but now there are entire trees turning brown along the road side. Brown is a color that is too bold to ignore. Are the bark beetles back? Is Idyllwild going to lose thousands of trees like it did in 2003?

“It’s a natural process,” said Laura Verdugo, a visitors services information assistant, at the Idyllwild Ranger Station. “Trees die in the forest all the time from overcrowding or drought, but I don’t think what you’re seeing here is anything like what happened here in 2003.”

It's likely a Western Pine Beetle if the tree is dying halfway up (shown)

However, once she saw pictures of one tree that was brown in the middle, but green on top, she said that it could be a bark beetle causing its death. She motioned to a “Meet the Beetles” book on a nearby display.

“It’s for kids, but explains bark beetles pretty well,” Verdugo said.

The brightly-illustrated book only had five pages, but it was a wealth of information, even for adults.  For example, there are four different types of bark beetles in these parts, each with a different MO and preference for pines.

The four beetles covered in the book include: the pine engraver beetle, the red turpentine beetle, the western pine beetle and the jeffrey pine beetle. They show a close-up of the beetle, next to a tree that also shows the beetle’s markings.

The book is written for young adults with zippy language. Here’s an example of the red turpentine beetle:

Favorite food: Ponderosa Pine

Measurements: 3/8 inch at adulthood

Reddish pitch tubes left over on bark by a Red Turpentine Beetle

Colors: reddish brown

“I was here” tag: Reddish pitch tubes (small wads of resin on the tree trunk)

Special skill: Capable of flying more than 10 miles

After reading one particular page, Verdugo said that it looked like it was the Western Pine Beetle that was likely killing the Coulter Pines along Hwy. 243. This beetle’s “attack position” is usually midway up the tree trunk.

It’s “worst nightmares” (or predators) are  woodpeckers and checkered beetles, the book said.

The book shows a close-up of the bark beetle and the markings it leaves on the trees

“I didn’t know that certain beetles ate each other,” Verdugo said.

She added that many locals and visitors bring in bark beetles to the Ranger Station, to help identify them.

“But most of the beetles they bring in aren’t bark beetles,” she said. “They’re way too big. You can see them from across the room.”

More and more brown trees are appearing along Hwy. 243

She explained that bark beetles are incredibly small, measuring 1/8 to 3/8 of an inch.

“The beetle pictures are nice, but they should have put a beetle in its actual size,” she added.

Verdugo said that one of the employees at the Ranger Station put the book together, but she wasn’t sure if it was available online.


On Tuesday morning, August 10, there was road construction along Hwy. 243 from Idyllwild towards Banning near the Silent Valley Club. The highway is restricted to one lane, with an “escort” truck. There is a modest wait (about 15 minutes).

Several bulldozers and trucks are creating a new pullout space, and smoothing the road’s edge. If you plan on going down to Banning or Palm Springs today, you might consider adding some extra driving time.

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Sherman, the horse on Hwy. 243, is OK

Saturday, July 17th, 2010

Sherman, the horse on Hwy. 243 is just fine, says Joyce, his owner

Like hundreds of others before me, I was worried about the horse standing in the hot sun. Did he have enough water? And there was no shade trees around him, next to Hwy. 243. It must’ve been 90 degrees out there. I must help him!

So I ran home, got a bucket of water, and some carrots from the fridge, and drove back. I shimmied under the barbed wire fence, and gave him the bucket. Next to his massive head, it looked like a little Dixie cup. He immediately picked it up and dumped out the water!

I gave him a few carrots, and was searching for a hose to fill the bucket again, when the owner walked up.

“Can I help you?” she asked. Which is very polite for someone messing with their horse on their property. The barbed wire fence should have been a clue.

“Oh, I was just trying to get some water for your horse,” I stammered.

“Well, the fountain that you’re pushing on is the same one he uses to get water,” Joyce Miller explained. “He just pushes this lever with his nose, and he can get as much water as he wants.”

Sherman's water fountain releases water when he pushes it with his nose

As it turns out, I am not alone in my concern for “Sherman,” the quarter horse. In any given weekend, at least three people will come up and ask about the horse. Their main concerns are: There is no shade and no water for the horse.

“When we lost that oak tree two years ago, then more people began stopping by, concerned,” Joyce said.

At least three of them have reported the Millers to Riverside County Animal Control.

“They have to come all the way from Riverside to see that Sherman is OK,” Joyce said.

She’s gone through two inspections, and one time they left a note of approval. First, they inspect the horse to make sure he’s not dehydrated or malnourished. Then they check to see if the area and stables are clean, and free of sharp objects. Each time, the Millers and Sherman got a clean bill of slate.

"People became concerned about Sherman when the oak tree (at L) died two years ago," Joyce said.

Joyce said that horses like the sunshine because it generates a lot of vitamin D, which is healthy for their bones. Sherman is 12 years old, and they’ve had him for seven years.

“When he’s at home in Orange County, there are trees on either end, and he still prefers standing out in the sunshine,” Bill Miller said.

Another roping horse of Bill’s was 32 years old when they finally had to put him down because of a disease.

“Our horses live a long time because we take care of them,” he said.

Sherman is obviously well taken care of. In fact, he has a little bit of a gut. During our visit, he urinated once (for a long time), which is not an indication of a dehydrated animal. There were no piles of manure anywhere, and the ground was raked clean. Nearby trash cans were rinsed and turned upside down. It was a pristine place. But, most importantly, Sherman’s water fountain was full and he had an unlimited supply of water.

However, if you looked closely, there were a few flies buzzing around his eyes and knees. Yet, whenever Joyce puts a hood on Sherman, she gets criticized for that too.

“Can he see through that hood?” one woman asked Joyce. “He might bump into things and hurt himself.”

Joyce explained that the hood, which keeps the flies away, is like looking through a screen door.

Sherman sticks his head through the fence to get pets from Joyce

Sherman started playing with the bucket that I brought, flipping it around like a toy. When Joyce stood next to him, he’d nuzzle her.

“When it’s cooler and less cars on the road, I ride Sherman to the Visitor’s Center,” Joyce said. “I used to ride him down to the stream, but now they have exercise equipment there.”

Twice a day, Sherman gets fed alfalfa cubes. They’re an easier way to feed horses with less waste, Joyce said.

Visitors and locals like to feed Sherman apples and carrots, which Joyce doesn’t mind. However, Bill would rather no one feed the horse, and stay on the other side of the fence.

“You just never know what people are feeding him,” Bill said. “And when we’re not here, we can’t control it.”

Joyce said that when horses get sick, they roll on the ground, trying to alleviate their discomfort. Sometimes, however, the rolling can disturb their organs, and they could die However, Sherman has never gotten sick from anything people have given him. And he’s eaten some pretty strange stuff.

“One time, a woman made Sherman a tossed salad,” Joyce said. “It had different kinds of lettuce, carrots and other good stuff in it. She grew up in a farm in the Midwest, and used to feed her horse salads too.”

Most people give Sherman apples and carrots. One guy tried to feed him a dusty miller, but he didn’t like it, Joyce said.

“One homeless guy was stripping bark off of a nearby tree and feeding it to him,” Bill said. “He may have eaten it and may have not, but it wasn’t good for the tree.”

“If you want to feed the horse, but didn’t bring anything, give him the weeds, like those over there,” Joyce said, as she pointed to a nearby lot.  “Horses love grass and weeds.”

One horse of Bill’s loved carrots, but hated apples.

“They used to give him medicine disguised in apples, so he grew not to like them,” Bill said.

Bill and Joyce Miller live on the same property (about 20 yards from Sherman) in a quaint cabin with lots of windows. Joyce’s parents built the cabin in 1923, and they’ve been living here during the summers since 1952. They’ll bring Sherman back to OC in September.

“Just tell people that Sherman is doing just fine,” Joyce said.

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Speaking of Lemon Lillies …

Wednesday, July 14th, 2010

This Friday night, Cafe Cinema/Green Cafe will feature a film and discussion about wildflowers, including the Lemon Lily

As one of the sponsors of this weekend’s “Lemon Lily Festival,” Jeffrey Taylor, from Green Cafe/Cafe Cinema, will show a film this Friday that examines the ecology and biodiversity of the earth.

Taylor chose an episode from the stunning 1984 BBC documentary, “The Living Earth,” in which David Attenborough predicts the fate of the world, if the current pace of industrialization continues.

Before the film, Ina Lengyel, San Jacinto State Park Ranger Aide, (and wife of Richard, who retired from the post office), will give a brief presentation of our native wildflowers, including the Lemon Lily.

“She really loves to talk about wildflowers,” Taylor said. “And she has a bunch of Lemon Lillies growing on her property.”

Main sponsors of this weekend’s “Lemon Lily Festival” plan to plant Lemon Lillies along Strawberry Creek’s bed to help preserve them. Part of Friday’s film presentation and lecture will emphasize the importance of protecting the Lemon Lily’s habitat.

Yesterday, Tucker McIntyre, head of Transportation at Idyllwild Arts, took a hike with his wife, Megan, up by the switchbacks, and found a single Lemon Lily growing by a creek bed.  McIntyre took several pictures of it on his cell phone, but left the flower intact.

“It was the only one out there,” McIntyre said, as he showed off the pictures of the vibrantly colored, yet delicate looking flower. “We found it at about 6,000 feet.”

“The Living Earth” documentary and Lengyel’s talk starts at 7:30 p.m. this Friday, July 16, at the Green Cafe office, located at 26364 Saunders Meadow Road (next to Mile High Cafe) in Idyllwild.

Food, beverages and admission is free. For more information on Cafe Cinema’s weekly film series, visit And for more information on the “Lemon Lily Festival,” held July 16-18 in Idyllwild, visit

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Those Pesky Steller’s Jays

Tuesday, June 22nd, 2010

Idyllwild's Stellar Jay's are intelligent, curious and loud

Mention “Steller’s jays” to any Idyllwild resident this time of year, and you’ll likely hear a big groan.

“Oh, them,” they’d say. “They’re sure noisy and aggressive.”

No mention about how smart they are, or how spectacular  their comb and coat can be. Up here in the mountains, Steller’s jays are about as common as pigeons in New York City. They’re bold, inquisitive, loud and territorial—especially in the spring when they’re nesting.

Joel, who lives on Marion View in Idyllwild, said that he cannot even walk out onto his lower deck anymore because there’s a nest of Steller’s jays there.

“There’s about six of them in the nest, but all you can see is their wide open beaks,” he said.

But neither he nor his rather large Labradoodle cannot get anywhere close to the nest, or the parents will start squawking at the top of their lungs, and swooping down, trying to distract them from the nest.

“The dog knew, and turned his tail and ran,” said Joel. “We just don’t go over there anymore.”

Although they prefer peanuts or acorns, Stellar Jay's will eat dry cat food

Louise, another Idyllwild neighbor, feeds the Steller’s jays peanuts in the shell. She’s only lived in Idyllwild a short while.

“They really love them,” she said. “And so do the squirrels.”

Well, everything’s just great, as long as she’s shelling out the peanuts. However, she left for a couple of days, and her neighbor, Martha, got the brunt of it.

“They screeched at me through my open window, and followed me onto my back porch,” Martha said. “They were adamant about getting fed.”

She didn’t have any peanuts, so she gave them bread with peanut butter on it. And when the bread ran out, the blue jays went for her cat kibble.

“I was wondering what happened to the dry cat food,” said Martha, who has four cats, and puts out a bowl of dry food every day. She sets it on the porch ledge, to keep the neighbor’s dog away.

“The neighbor’s dog cannot jump up, but the blue jays can sure swoop down,” she said.

One swooped down like a stealth bomber and took the cat kibble, even while Martha was painting her deck.

“I was close enough to touch him,” she said. “But in an instant, he was gone.”

Steller’s jays “hog” the bird feeder, and get away with it because of their unusual cry. It can imitate the cry of a Red-tailed Hawk, and clear any feeding area quickly.

Their telltale “squawking” also lets Martha know where her cats are in the yard.

“All I have to do is follow the noise,” she said. “And that’s where one of my cats will be.”

No chance of her cats catching any Steller’s jays, either. They are known for their quick flight and dart actions. And they’re going to do their best to keep the neighborhood cats, dogs and people away from their nests this spring.

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Bird Houses for the Boys

Tuesday, June 15th, 2010

Resident Peter Hopper shows off his birdhouse "mansion"

By Marcia E. Gawecki

Outside his Idyllwild home every weekend, Peter Hopper sets out tables, hardware shelves, beach umbrellas and the American flag. On display are his homemade bird houses, including single dwelling, three-room “condos,” and one unique gingerbread “mega mansion.” Stacked off to the side are flower boxes with flowers or geometrical designs on them. And around the corner is a massive bird feeder mounted on a nine-foot pole.

Although these are the work of a master craftsman, it more of his “calling card,” and an opportunity to teach his two young boys about his old world craft.

Hopper's bird houses include an Abe Lincoln log house style

“These bird houses are a friendly way to get to know people,” said Hopper, who has lived with his family in Idyllwild since 2000.

Hopper, is tall, clean-shaven (including his head), and speaks with a heavy Austrian accent. Although he looks like “Mr. Clean,” he is soft spoken and philosophical, especially when talking about his family.

“I’m working with my boys on weekends trying to teach them carpentry–like I learned from my father in 1976,” Hopper said.

“Idyllwild is a great place to be because there’s nature all around, not lots of traffic and people are friendly,” he added.

Behind him in the open garage are a plethora of table saws, drills, a planer and boxes of tools. Sawdust is all over the floor and tables.

Hopper uses a hand held saw to carve the designs onto the flower boxes

“As a carpenter, you need high quality equipment,” Hopper said. He mainly does commercial work that includes installing of hardwood floors, marble and porcelain tiles, restoration of antique furniture, and plumbing that includes sprinkler and drip systems.

One of his recent jobs in Idyllwild was on Country Club in which he built several small decks, and an ornate brick entryway. He’d like to do more local work, so he wouldn’t have to commute to Oceanside.

In the meantime, however, he’s content to teach his boys about carpentry on weekends.

His son, Liam, age 15, helps him create the bird houses and flower boxes, while Dylan, age 9, is the salesman. Dylan’s homemade sign reveals the prices: $35 for the single-dwelling bird houses, $45 for the stacked, three-room condos, $180 for the gingerbread mega mansion, and $85 for the bird feeder.

“Dylan doesn’t like the sawdust, so we made him the salesman,” Hopper explains. “He’s great at selling, but doesn’t always understand adult humor. Like when a customer offered to pay for a bird house with a credit card, Dylan was left speechless.”

“We lost the sale, but Dylan knows next time to tease them right back,” Hopper added. “We told him to say, ‘No, we don’t accept credit cards, but we’ll take your cash or a check.'”

All of the bird houses have a standard-sized opening, but Hopper will custom fit them with a smaller wooden insert, if you’d like. Bluebirds, for example, need smaller holes, to keep the larger bluejays out.

There are a variety of styles

There are primarily two styles Hopper sells, a plain one with a slanted roof, and a modified log cabin style (to match many of the homes in Idyllwild). The “condo,” bird house, coined by Dylan, has three rooms.

He created that style when he had seen a tree at his sister-in-law’s place that housed as many as 50 birds.

“Some birds are more social,” he said. “So you can mount two of these condos side-by-side on the tree and make a lot of birds happy.”

However, his latest bird house, the “mega mansion” (also coined by Dylan), shows off Hopper’s carpentry skills. There is great detail in the pitched roof with double chimneys, and the wrap-around porch. It looks like a gingerbread home you’d might find in Austria.

It takes some time for he and the boys to create this masterpiece, so the price is reasonable at $180. They sold two of them last year, with one customer mounting it on a pole, while the other hung it from a tree.

Although ornate, there is no paint or waterproof coating on the mansion–and the other bird houses as well. Hopper said that most of his customers prefer to paint, seal or decorate them themselves.

The flower boxes come in a variety of design styles

However, the flower boxes are decorated, stained and sealed with a waterproof coating.

The designs include flowers, geometric patterns, and more recently, children’s cartoon faces. Hopper pencils in the design on the box to start, then carves them with a hand-held router. Then he sands it off and finishes with a wood stain and a polyurethene coating.

You may have seen his handiwork outside the beauty shop in town, the Help Center, and Strawberry Creek Inn.  Adding a name to the flower box costs $15 more.

“People come to me with newspaper clippings and drawings, and ask me to duplicate the design,” Hopper said. “We are happy to accommodate  everyone.”

The flower box dimensions are approximately 33 inches long, by 8 3/4 inches wide and 7 1/2 inches high. Hopper recommends inserting plastic liners into the boxes so that there is protection between the dirt and wood. The liner also serves another purpose.

“At night, you can easily pick up the liner and bring your flowers into the house,” said Kelly, his wife. ” That way, you’ll keep them from freezing, or bothered by animals.”

Adding color to the flower boxes was his wife, Kelly's idea

It was also her idea to add color to the flowers on the flower boxes.

“We’re always looking for ways to improve,” she said.

The bird feeder that sits in front of their house is remarkable. It has a large roof to protect against rain and snow, with a large opening for several birds to feed at once. There is about a one-inch rim around the bottom to keep the seeds or peanuts inside.

Like the bird houses, Hopper recommends that people use a plastic liner for easy inserting and cleanup.

Worm's eye view of Hopper's $85 custom made bird feeder

It costs $85, but you can also purchase a nine-foot pole for $10 that can be mounted into a pipe into the ground. Some need help installing the bird feeder, and Hopper helps them for free.

It’s all about teaching, family togetherness, and not so much about the money. He doesn’t have to say it. His sales speak for themselves.

Last year, Hopper and his sons sold about 15 bird houses, and 25 flower boxes, but gave 50 of them away, mostly to schools and children.

He knows that he could beef up sales by opening up a shop in town, or selling online on eBay. None of these options appeals to him right now.

“My family is number one. Here, I have all of my tools and my boys to help me,” Hopper said. “If I have to make 100 bird houses, then it becomes work, and not so much fun.”

He’s been through all that, he said, 30 years ago when he worked 2o-hour days for someone else. Now, he’s just happy to do custom work and making a few bird houses with his boys.

To see the Hopper family bird houses, visit them at 53675 Tollgate Road in Idyllwild, or call (951) 659-5909.

Copyright 2010 Idyllwild Me. All rights reserved.

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Blind Mother Raccoon Thrives

Wednesday, June 9th, 2010

The blind mother raccoon's daughter (now grown) heads for the cat kibble.

By Marcia E. Gawecki

The first time that I saw her was at midnight in my kitchen. I had just returned from work and had forgotten to shut the back door. I have cats, and always leave kibble out for them. Apparently, the smell had attracted her.

I had written an article on raccoons before, so I knew to start making noise and turning on lights. They don’t like either one. She was headed for the back door, when she suddenly turned around. What was she doing? I got scared.

Then I could see the two little “kits” with her. They were the size of a baby cat, all cute and furry, but with that distinctive black band across their beady eyes. I went for the food drawer, and started getting out some kibble, and promised them more if they left.

I put it out in a pie tin and watched as each of them delicately lifted the food with their hands and ate it. All the while, they didn’t take their eyes off of me once, except for the mother.

I didn’t realize that something was wrong with her until several visits later when she came by herself. She was on the porch ledge eating the bread that I left out for the bluejays.

I put kibble out for her in the pan, and she didn’t step backwards, or run up the tree like her kittens did. In fact, when the food hit the pan, she came towards me immediately. I had no time to react, but kept my voice soft, “Here you go, honey, here’s some more food for you.”

She reached for the food, but missed the pan. She tried again and missed. The third time, she found the food and ate it. I could see in the porch light that her eyes weren’t quite right. Almost a little cross-eyed and tired. They didn’t shine like her kittens’ eyes.

“What are you doing?” my sister in Kansas asked me. “Did you know that they can reach up and open your screen door? If they come inside your kitchen, they can open up boxes and canisters. It would be a disaster!”

I didn’t tell her about the earlier visit.

“I heard that if raccoons, which are nocturnal, go out searching for food during the day, they can burn out their retinas,” some student told me.

“I’m not sure if that’s the case,” said the receptionist at the Idyllwild Ranger Station on upper Pine Crest. “She might have gotten into a fight with another raccoon. You know how sharp their claws are.”

“Isn’t there any raccoon glasses that we can give her?” I teased. I was concerned that if this mother raccoon couldn’t see me, then she couldn’t see any predators either.

(from R) The blind mother's daughter and grandson dine on my back porch.

“Coyotes may be able to sneak up on her if they can sense that she’s weak,” the receptionist said. “You really shouldn’t be feeding her. Like we always say, ‘A fed bear is a dead bear.'”

I knew what she meant. She wasn’t talking about bears, but the danger of feeding wild animals. Not only for us, but for them. We could get bitten, and they could become dependent, and let their natural defenses down. But what about the blind mother raccoon? Would it be better to let her forage for her own food? It seemed a little cruel.

“Well, she’s teaching her babies that they can dine at your place sometimes,” said my mother.

“Cat food is pretty rich for raccoons,” offered Janice, another receptionist the next day. “They really like dog kibble. Perhaps you could feed them that.”

I had heard of a “Raccoon Lady,” in Idyllwild, who nurses baby raccoons back to health. She’s also a pretty good hairstylist. I plan on talking to her soon. Perhaps she could advise me on what to do next.

Copyright 2010 Idyllwild Me. All rights reserved.

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Wednesday, April 7th, 2010

Guerilla Art May Help Save Trees

Tuesday, April 6th, 2010

Trees in Idyllwild need our protection against motorists

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Guerilla art is unexpected, usually anonymous and sometimes illegal in its application. For instance, every year before St. Patrick’s Day, a gigantic green shamrock appears on the street in front of an Irish pub in Omaha. Coincidence or guerilla art?

It’s not legal to paint the streets with shamrocks on March 17th or any other day.

“But it’s fun and gets people celebrating,” said the owner, who swears she doesn’t know where the shamrock came from.

However, those guerilla artists had to spray paint the shamrock on a busy street late at night (when there was no traffic around), and hope that the cops didn’t show up. They also had to make sure that the green paint dried in time. Because if it smeared, it would be a mess, and not a shamrock.

Idyllwild Arts student Jacob G. remembers guerilla art appearing on a tree in his hometown in Alaska.

“One morning, in the middle of our town park, a wire was wrapped all the way up and around a large tree,” Jacob said. “Attached to the wire were hundreds of paper clips that glistened in the sun. And, at the bottom of the tree, there was a single poem attached to one clip.”

Soon, hundreds of poems appeared on that old tree, and it was a moving and beautiful sight, he said.

He thought the tree poem originator was a teenage girl at school.

“We all said that we were going over to the tree and add our poems,” Jacob said. “And she refused to go with us. I think hers was already up there.”

Guerilla red reflector appears on tree

That got me thinking about certain trees in Idyllwild, namely one large one on Tollgate Road. It appears close to the road, and at the base of the trunk, there’s a large section of bark that has been stripped away.

More than likely, cars have been hitting that tree. Either people can’t see very well because they’re old, inexperienced in mountain driving, or have imbibed in too much alcohol. Either way, the tree is getting the worst of it.

Yesterday, a blue dot was spray painted on the trunk at the base. Guerilla art? Nope. It’s likely Cal Trans has marked this tree for chopping. How is this possible? It’s a tall, healthy tree that could be 100 years old. It doesn’t deserve to die because of poor drivers.

It might be too little too late, but I put a red reflector on the tree next to the blue dot. I should have added the red reflector months ago. It costs about $2.50 at Forest Lumber, and the nails were already in my toolbox. So I put my mark on that tree too. Now, we can only hope those who drive too close to that tree will see the reflector and veer off.

Edison marks their poles well

Notice that Edison and other municipals mark their poles well—with red, blue and yellow dots, and even reflecting bands. They certainly don’t want anyone driving into their poles. And many of them are close to the road.

As homeowners and conservationists, we can learn from Edison and their reflector caution. No one should be running into our trees in Idyllwild– if there are red reflectors on them.

On another tree on Tollgate Road, someone had put three red reflectors. They were not put in a straight line, but are there to lovingly to save that tree. However, two more trees down the road are not as lucky. They have bark stripped away because cars couldn’t make the turn. Red reflectors are desperately needed there.

Three red reflectors protect this tree

Ralph Hoetcher on South Circle Drive has a large tree on his property that is also close to the road. He put a sign with three yellow reflectors in front of it, and no bark has been stripped away.

All around town are trees that have been damaged by cars bumping or running into them. Their bark has been stripped away, leaving the tree exposed to parasites and inclimate weather. These trees need our help. If Cal Trans deems them a nuisance for most drivers, then there will be one less tree in Idyllwild to give us shade and shelter.

Guerilla or not, I challenge you to buy some red reflectors and place them on these trees in jeopardy, especially if they’re on your property. After all, a tree stump is a sorry sight to behold.