Archive for the ‘Nature’ Category

Lost: Family Cat in Idyllwild

December 2, 2011

Peanut, my 8-year-old cat, has been missing for one week, since Thanksgiving Day.

She was last seen outside the family home at 53530 Marion View Drive (near McMahon) in Idyllwild.

She is all black with yellow eyes and weighs about 10 pounds. She has tiny paws. There was no collar or ID tags.

There were many visitors around town Thanksgiving weekend, and it’s possible that Peanut may have “hitched” an unlikely ride home. On several occasions, Peanut  would jump into people’s cars. Sometimes they’d drive off not knowing she was there until they heard her cries.

Or, Peanut may have gotten locked into a shed or garage. You know how curious cats can be!

If you live near Marion View Drive, Country Club, or McMahon, and saw Peanut around your home Thanksgiving weekend, please call me. It’s possible that she may still be alive, and just trapped somewhere. It is my only hope! My heart is breaking!

Reward: $100 for Peanut’s safe return

Please call Marcia Gawecki at (951) 265-6755

Thank you!



Chinese Pearls Are Now Affordable, but Inhumane

August 5, 2011

By Marcia E. Gawecki

The CBS Morning News segment on Thursday, August 4th, started out with an image from “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.” A young Audrey Hepburn wrapped in pearls was peering into Tiffany’s window eating a croissant. They also showed First Lady Jackie Kennedy and her young son, John, playing with her strand of pearls.

Once a jewel of the rich and famous, pearls are now affordable, thanks to China.

The news segment showcased colored pearls in red, blue, and green. Before that, most people only knew about black, gray and pink pearls from Tahiti and Japan. The new, bold colors will likely appeal to the younger set at the affordable price of $4 to $8 each. About the same price as a cup of Starbuck’s.

The Chinese claim that their freshwater pearls rival the more expensive and coveted saltwater pearls from Tahiti and Japan. In a side-by-side test, it was difficult to tell the difference.

Yet, one nagging question remains. What about the oysters?

In the segment, the reporter mentioned that the Chinese pearl makers have found a way to plant not one grain of sand, but 21 pieces of tissue into the oyster. That means, if they’re lucky, there will be 21 perfect pearls from each oyster.

For those who don’t know how oysters make pearls, here’s a quick summary: An irritant, such as a grain of sand, gets into the oyster’s soft underbelly. It’s like you getting a splinter on your finger. Because it’s threatened, the oyster then adds layers and layers of nacre (or calcium carbonate) deposits to cover the piece of sand, eventually turning it into a pearl. This process can take up to several years to complete. When the pearl is ready, the oyster is cracked open and dies.

When one grain of sand is an irritant, can you imagine how 21 irritants would be? Ask Octomom what it was like having eight children at once. On a smaller level, how about 21 splinters on your finger for a year?

Just because an oyster cannot complain, scream or cry at this abuse, doesn’t mean it doesn’t feel pain. With 21 irritants at once, what kind of life does that oyster have? It will not have a moment’s peace until it dies.

It doesn’t matter, you might say, because look at this beautiful pearl necklace that I’m wearing! Doesn’t it make it all worthwhile?

From what Nature has taught me while living in Idyllwild, there will be consequences for this “pearl factory.” Oysters are part of the overall food chain, and even though they will likely be farmed separately, there will be a fallout. Since the oysters will be in a constant state of irritation, they won’t be thinking about growing or reproducing. An entire line of freshwater oysters could become extinct.

That’s ridiculous, you say, you’re a spoilsport. But whenever an animal has to suffer needlessly for my gain, especially when it’s not for basic needs, then I’m not going to be part of it.

As a teenager, I remember peering into a Mikimoto store window in Paris. It was night time and raining, but I was in heaven. Like Audrey Hepburn looking into Tiffany’s store window, I found comfort in those strands of Mikimoto pearls.

“I will own a black strand someday,” I promised myself.

That seemed like the ultimate gift of elegance. Now that China has made freshwater pearls affordable, I don’t want any. Trees and oysters cannot cry out when they’re being exploited and in pain. But it doesn’t make it less real.

If we continue to abuse nature for our own selfish benefit, there will be consequences. Perhaps oysters will cease to exist. Nature created them as food for other sea life, not as a ready pearl factory for us. That’s not how it works.

Copyright 2011 Idyllwild Me. All rights reserved.



Native Plants Class Traces Cahuilla Roots

July 13, 2011

Evan Mills looks closely at a rock painting in Idyllwild

By Marcia E. Gawecki

Students from the Native Plants class at Idyllwild Arts were going to look at rock paintings that were estimated to be 300 to 500 years old.

This is one of the many classes available during “Native American Arts Week” held July 10-16.

Daniel McCarthy, a Tribal Relations Manager from the U.S. Forest Service, stood next to a placard in the Idyllwild, CA, County Park, about 20 feet from a fenced-in boulder.

(from L) Abe Sanchez instructs how to "cull" chia seeds

One of the rock paintings in county park is difficult to reach because of the large fence

Students take pictures of the handprint rock painting

“This is an improvement from 40 years ago,” he said. “The fence will keep rock climbers out, but it prevents anyone from getting close.”

Daniel explained these rock paintings were not graffiti, but a sacred component of a coming-of-age ceremony by Cahuilla Indian girls.

They had created a variety of symbols with red paint, but it was difficult to determine what they all meant, but likely they were created over time.

“There may have been a ‘gap’ year or ten years,” Daniel said. “It all depended upon the acorn harvest.”

Near the rock, he pointed out several grinding stones.

The second rock painting featured two small handprints and no fence. Above, Daniel pointed out the white chalk marks.

“Here, rock climbers are practicing their skills, and below, there’s a 110-year-old rock drawing at risk,” he said.

He added that it was up to the County Parks Service employees to educate the public and warn climbers.

Abe Sanchez, their Native American co-teacher, discussed harvesting chia seeds.

“They’re high in protein, easier to digest than flax seeds, and could keep you from getting hungry,” he said.

Peg McClure, an Orange County firefighter, agreed.

“We were fighting the Laguna Fire, and didn’t have any food for about 36 hours,” Peg said. “So I chewed chia seeds and really wasn’t hungry.”

Originally, Peg admitted to taking the class for smoothies’ recipes, but has learned much more.

Even the young Cahuilla Indians were looking at native plants with new eyes.

“They’ve eaten our bad Western diet, and now have diabetes and heart disease,” said Evan Mills, another student. “Now they’re turning to their native plants for health benefits.”

The next day, the class had to cook a traditional Cahuilla meal, including sautéed nettles, acorn mush, pumpkin flowers, maze tortillas with elk sausage—and grasshoppers.

“They taste kind of nutty,” one student admitted.

The final rock painting was located three miles away in Fern Valley. The images were the most detailed and elaborate of the three, including red and black dyes.

The red dye came from hematite, an iron ore, which was ground into a powder.

“What were some of the bonding agents they could have used?” Daniel asked.

No one knew.

“Egg whites, blood, urine or any kind of animal protein,” Daniel said.

Some of the marks on the rock were more distinct, while others had faded.

“There is snow up here, so there’s natural erosion,” he said.

One time, Daniel found remnants of a campfire below the painting. He cleaned it up, and wiped the singe marks from the rock.

“Fire could cause stress to the rock, which would eventually erode the paintings,” he said.

There was no marker on this site, but Daniel said the neighbors knew about the paintings.

“With education and diligent caretaking, we can preserve this site’s cultural value for many years to come,” he said.

Copyright 2011 Idyllwild Me. All rights reserved.

Published on: Jul 13, 2011 @ 17:32

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No Stopping Biting Flies

July 4, 2011

There's no stopping the biting flies

By Marcia E. Gawecki

As summer settles in Idyllwild, there is one formidable nemesis. Actually billions of them: biting flies.

They can come upon you without warning, leaving red welts that sometimes itch for days. Instead of spraying insecticides, some Idyllwild locals are just staying inside.

“I was raking the yard and one bit me in the hand,” said Dan Carpenter, a local from Fern Valley. “It swelled into the size of a walnut for a couple of days.”

Others who are trying to abate their yards have changed their schedules to raking only in the early morning or at dusk, before the flies really became a nuisance.

“I’ve never seen the flies so bad,” said Lindsay, a counselor from San Francisco who has worked at the Idyllwild Arts Summer Program for the past three years.

During Family Camp this week, she said they’re moving a lot of activities inside because of the flies.

“We used to host dinners for the families under the canopy in the Holmes Ampitheater, but the flies are too annoying,” she said.

Although most Family Camp members at Idyllwild Arts have been coming back year after year, they won’t be disappointed at the change, Lindsay said.

“Bugs are part of the camp experience,” she said. “They understand that.”

When we asked those at the Idyllwild Ranger Station about the flies, they didn’t have any new answers.

“We had a wet spring, so that’s why there’s more flies around,” said one of the volunteers at the front desk. “We just put on Off!”

The flies bite dogs and cats too

Insect repellants like Off! only work for a short time, claimed another local.

“On fly bit me right through my shirt,” he said, exposing a red welt that looked like chicken pox.

Domestic pets are not immune to the biting flies either. They swarm, biting their backs and causing them to jump. Sherman, the horse on Hwy. 243, has had a hood on every day.

One woman who was out raking her yard with her two cats tried to offer them some relief. She didn’t want to put Off! (made for humans) onto their fur, but sprayed on cat tick repellant instead.

“But that only worked for a short time until the cats rolled into the dirt and licked it off,” she said.

Yet, the Rotary’s Fourth of July Parade on Monday morning will have some respite.

Weather conditions are calling for cloudy skies with a chance of thunderstorms, said Sue Westphal, as she walked her dog, Sam.

Copyright 2011 Idyllwild Me. All rights reserved.

Published on: Jul 4, 2011 @ 16:58

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Poaching Manzanitas Near Idyllwild?

June 13, 2011

A gray truck with wooden sides had many full-sized trees inside

By Marcia E. Gawecki

On Monday, June 13, at 12:40 p.m., two men, one in full camelflage gear, were seen attempting to cross a busy section of Hwy. 74, about a mile from Mountain Center near Idyllwild. Parked to the left in a pullout was their gray work truck full of trees. The ones on top looked like manzanitas.

What were these two men in military gear doing in our national forest? Were they stealing trees?

They crossed the road and went up a rough embankment, but didn’t appear to have any shovels or trimming equipment with them.  Locals know that legitimate tree trimmers come in caravans and have lots of signs and equipment with them.

I doubled back around, and took a picture of the truck from the back and side. I couldn’t see where the men went, so I took a picture of the area where they entered. But, as soon as I snapped my picture, I saw one of them close up. He was in full green camelflage jacket and pants, and had a cap with a flap on the back (to shield the sun). The other guy was younger,  in a grey long sleeved polo shirt and jeans. Both men were wearing light colored canvas gloves. But nothing was in their hands.

The dispatch operator said it was illegal to take trees from a national forest

When I got to Mountain Center, I called the Riverside County Sheriff’s non-emergency line. Kerie, the dispatch operator, took my information and said she’d send out a sheriff’s deputy to investigate.

I gave her the nearest cross street (McGaugh Road near Mountain Center) and the mile marker, 74:58:00. She asked about the color and description of the truck. I was able to enlarge my photos to give her more detail. Alas, there was no license plate.

She also asked about the nationality of the two men (Mexican), their height and weight and what they were wearing. When I had taken the picture, I was so close that I could see that one had a moustache.

Kerie said that she thought it was illegal to take trees from the national forest.

One of the two in military gear was seen coming out of the rocky terrain about 1 mile from Mountain Center

“Even if you live on national forest property, I don’t think you can pull out any trees from your yard,” she said.

About 15 minutes later, she called back to verify the location.

It’s tough times for everyone, and manzanitas and other full-sized trees probably fetch a good price. My mother’s neighbor in Sun City sold two full-sized Queen Palms for $2,000 each. It had taken them 10 years to grow, but they needed the money and someone was willing to pay.

Were these two men digging up and selling our manzanitas? The ones that were protected for all of us to enjoy? If they’re gutsy enough to take them in broad daylight, how many more have they taken?

Although it’s not illegal to purchase live manzanitas, they’re difficult to find. Internet searches came up with only a few native plant nurseries in San Marcos, Las Pelitas, San Fernando Valley and San Juan Capistrano. However, dead manzanita branches are used mostly as decorative centerpieces, and cost plenty online.

Homeowners are selling Queen Palms for $2,000 each

Its hardness, rich color and unique shapes make manzanitas ideal for designers and store owners. Their branches are used for wedding centerpiece arrangements, floral arrangements, jewelry holders and even as bird perches by pet store owners.

Perhaps the sheriff’s deputy arrived too late, and the manzanita perpetrators were long gone. But we, as locals from Mountain Center and Idyllwild, can still protect our national forest from tree poachers. If you see anyone like these two men acting suspicious, report them to the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department immediately. Write down the truck’s description and if you know the mile marker or nearest cross street, to help the sheriff find their location. The non-emergency phone number for the Idyllwild area is (800) 950-2444.

Copyright 2011 Idyllwild Me. All rights reserved.

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Idyllwild Dog Park: Now Parched & Barren

June 12, 2011

LeRoy strolls by an open area in the dog park that once had many trees

By Marcia E. Gawecki

Two things you’ll notice immediately about the Idyllwild Dog Park this week. Many of the ornamental trees have been cut down, and there’s no water available.

The dog park is located inside a fence on the Idyllwild Pines Camp property. The camp donated the land to ICRC, which maintains the dog park for the Idyllwild community.

Manzanitas, oaks, and pines have been cut to stumps. The bushes camelflaging the front gate are gone. Only the tall cedars and pines remain, along with a smattering of trees. Now the sun beats down on the dirt, but dog owners say there hasn’t been any drinking water available for weeks.

The park is divided into two parts, separated by another fence. Each part had its own water spigot in the back with dog bowls underneath. But this week, the bowls remain dry.

When contacted this weekend, ICRC Chairperson John Simpson said, “Idyllwild Pines Camp maintains their property according to their needs.”

Idyllwild Pines Camp, which houses the dog park, is making some changes

He added that ICRC doesn’t pay the water bill; Idyllwild Pines Camp does. But Town Hall is in charge of maintaining the dog park.

“I hate to see anyone cut down live trees,” said Barb, an dog sitter from Idyllwild, who was at the park with her friend, Lori, and their four dogs. The dogs were panting under one shade tree.

Barb pointed to a barren area in the park where only a stump remained.

“There was a beautiful pine tree here just last week,” Barb said. “My dog used to dig underneath it, and now it’s gone.”

She said that perfectly good oak, manzanita and pine trees were cut down to stumps.

“Why would they cut down live trees in a dog park?” she asked. “We need them for shade and our dogs need them to pee on, right?”

"Why would you cut down live trees in a dog park?" asks Barb, a local dog sitter

When asked about the trees, Cindy, from the Idyllwild Pines Camp, said that they’re changing things and moving things around. They’ve cut trees and bushes and plan to add natural plants to the front of the camp.

“We’ve really been needing it for a long time,” Cindy said.

Cindy didn’t know why the water in the dog park had been turned off, but said she’d look into it.

“We wouldn’t shut off the water intentionally,” she said.

Barb said that she called a friend on the ICRC board to ask about the water shut-off.

“Another lady who was just here said that it’s been off for one month,” Barb said. “You’ve gotta have water in a dog park!”

Barb added that she didn’t think that ICRC knew about the cut trees.

No one seems to know why the water in the park has been shut off for weeks

“The camp donated the land, but you’d think they’d let ICRC know what was going on,” she said.

Then Barb smiled for the first time during the conversation.

“Maybe we can plant some more trees here,” she said. “I have a fast-growing pine tree that I just got from the Home Depot.”

Copyright 2011 Idyllwild Me. All rights reserved.

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Walks with LeRoy: Wildlife Along Strawberry Creek

June 11, 2011

Big, black and hairy, LeRoy the Newfoundland, is often mistaken for a bear

By Marcia E. Gawecki

When they see him along the hiking trail, they stop dead in their tracks. They think he’s a black bear.

LeRoy, the friendly Newfoundland, stands waist high to an average man and weighs 150 pounds. His muzzle looks like a St. Bernard, large and expressive. And with his long, black hair, well, he looks a little like a black bear.

“He’s really friendly!” I shout when coming upon a frozen hiker on the trail. “Look at his tail! It’s wagging!”

I scramble to put on his leash, and they usually look relieved.

“I thought he was a bear,” they often exclaim.

Locals know there’s no black bears in Idyllwild. They like certain berries, and there’s none up here for them. However, there used to be grizzlies in the San Jacinto Mountains many years ago, said David Roy, the chainsaw artist. You can find his impressive artwork along Hwy. 243 in Idyllwild or on If he’s around, he might tell you about the grizzlies.

Because of this, LeRoy and I walk along secluded trails along Strawberry Creek.

“Can I ride him?” one teenager asked, as we passed him. They can’t resist petting him.

What I learned quickly about Newfoundlands is that you can’t keep them out of the water.  Apparently, they were bred in Newfoundland to help bring in the fishing nets. LeRoy also loves to carry plastic bottles and sticks and especially his leash in his mouth.

“Technically, he’s on his leash,” chides Mary, who owns him.

But then LeRoy likes to drop that leash into Strawberry Creek as he’s taking a drink or wading waist high to cool off. I go tumbling into the icy water after the leash.

“Can’t afford to lose another one,” I scold him.

You can't keep LeRoy out of Strawberry Creek

Together we’ve lost three leashes and recovered only one.

Strawberry Creek is not only a great cooling spot for LeRoy, but it’s beautiful sight to photograph. The creek changes from gushing waterfalls along large boulders, to small trickles meandering between low lying bushes. All along its bed are rocks of all sizes. Many times, their seemingly steady surface has failed me and I’ve fallen in.

LeRoy likes to cross Strawberry Creek close to his home. In the beginning, I’d comply, grabbing a long stick to help maneuver my way.  Invaribly, I’d lose my footing, and stumble forward into the water, trying not to get wet. Most times, I’d recover with just a wet shoe and pants leg, but once, I fell forward, shrieking loudly as I soaked my jacket, jeans and cell phone. The water was so cold, it had an instant numbing effect.

And where was “man’s best friend” when all of this was happening? Calmly wading through the waters, showing no concern for my icy bath. Now, I walk across a bridge a little further down the creek.

For all of his girth, LeRoy is surprisingly agile. He often takes off after birds and squirrels, but never catches them.

“They had a head start,” he’d say with a turn of his head.

Yet, I cannot thank him enough for flushing out an unusual bird the other day.

It was a crane, and it took off seconds before LeRoy reached him. His long legs lagging behind him. I’ve never seen a crane close up, let alone one in mid-flight right before me. That one was the size of a dog, but he took off like a 747.

Even after he disappeared behind some trees, my heart was still racing. But LeRoy was already lumbering along the trail, looking for more birds.

What was a crane doing along Strawberry Creek?

The beauty of this meadow is never accurately captured on film

“They just stocked a bunch of trout,” explained a guy who was fishing along the creek close to the bridge.

He was talking about the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

“I thought your dog was going to scare the fish away,” he said of LeRoy.

His pole was meager, but he looked earnest in his attempts.

“How big are the trout?” I asked.

“Six inches,” he said. “Big enough to eat.”

A little ways down the creek, we came across a beautiful mallard duck and his mate. They were swimming along a secluded part of the creek that was out of LeRoy’s reach. Like the crane and the fisherman, they were fishing for trout too. The didn’t try to fly away when they saw us. They seemed content just to cruise.

The trail took us away from Strawberry Creek and along a meadow that exposed a fantastic view of Tahquitz Peak. Many times, I’ve taken pictures of this scene, but its beauty never translates accurately onto film.

In the near distance, we could hear an ambulance siren. LeRoy’s long floppy ears perk up momentarily. The siren lasts for only a few seconds, but then I heard dogs howling. Several of them were howling and yipping in unison, so they had to be coyotes.

The ruckus was coming from the trees on the far side of the meadow. The coyotes were likely resting up for their night’s hunt, when that darn siren went off and woke them.

With its gushing water and rock formations, Strawberry Creek is beautiful to photograph

LeRoy seemed oblivious to the siren and coyotes in the distance. Yet, I had to stop and think for a moment.

What if they ever circled LeRoy? It wouldn’t be a fair fight. A happy-go-lucky Newfoundland and a middle-aged dog walker who believes in nonviolence. Without question, I’d fight for LeRoy like a mother bear protecting her cub.

A friend of mine had a coyote encounter a couple of years ago. It was at night and her boyfriend was walking her female dog who was taking medication for a bladder infection. He heard a tiny “snap” of a twig, and turned around. A coyote the same size as her dog was trying to bite her hind quarters and take her down.

“Anything is possible,” I said to myself, and kept looking behind us for any wayward coyotes.

So, in a single afternoon along Strawberry Creek, LeRoy and I had come across a crane, a pair of ducks, a fisherman and a pack of sleeping coyotes.

Copyright 2011 Idyllwild Me. All rights reserved.

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On the Raccoon’s Side

May 17, 2011

Yard sign outside Idyllwild home warning about squirrels, bunnies and deer.

By Marcia E. Gawecki

The other night, I was awakened by a loud crinkling sound coming from my kitchen. All three cats in my room were not alarmed, so I knew that it wasn’t a human prowler. It had to be a raccoon.

Awhile back, I researched raccoon behavior, and knew they were cheeky enough to come inside your house in search of food. They have nimble fingers that can turn knobs, open doors, and basically make a hefty mess. But they also will be very aggressive if you box them in.

I calmly walked down the stairs, turning on lights, and making lots of noise. The perpetrator met me at the corner of the kitchen. He stood up on his hind legs to look bigger than he was. Still, he was only two feet high. I’ve seen him outside on my porch many times eating birdseed and bread crusts that I’ve left out for the birds.

He must’ve come in through the open window. Since I was standing in the pathway of his only exit, I quickly backed off, and went upstairs. I could hear him noisily crawl over the couch and out the window. After a few minutes, I closed it and inspected the damage.

This small raccoon had been reaching inside my large, 15-pound bag of cat food that was left on the floor. He didn’t use his claws or teeth to tear the bag, but calmly reached into the small opening to grab handfuls of kibble at a time. It was all pretty tidy, with none spilled on the floor. However, the banana muffin that was in a plastic baggie on the table was gone, with crumbs were spread across my laptop. I breathed a sigh of relief. No cupboards open or trash overturned.

The little guy was out on the porch now, looking for more food. So I scooped out a couple of cups of Friskies onto a plate. When I opened the door, he backed away onto a nearby tree. I sat down in the dark and watched him eat through the screen door. He never took his eyes off of me once. He would blindly reach sideways and grab the kibble off the plate and bring it to his mouth to eat.

Raccoons are nocturnal and live in oak and pine trees in Idyllwild.

I’m sure this was the son of the blind mother raccoon who had come into my kitchen before through an open door (See blog post, “Blind Mother Raccoon Thrives,” posted June 9, 2010). It was hard to imagine that anyone would want to kill or hurt him.

Yet, people actually hunt raccoons for sport. My mother said that my grandfather (whom I never met) “hunted ‘coons” in Ohio. He and his friends would shine bright lights into the trees at night, and then blast them with their guns. I’m sure the pelts weren’t worth anything with large bullet holes in them, and the meat couldn’t be tasty either. It all seemed pretty barbaric and senseless.

I had forgotten all about it until I read a story in Rolling Stone magazine about Steven Tyler, the charismatic frontman from Aerosmith who is creating a sensation on “American Idol” these days. I love Tyler’s music, and appreciated his heartfelt comments about the Season 10 contestants, especially our own Casey Abrams.

However, when I read that he wears several raccoon teeth on a chain around his neck, my blood went cold. The article didn’t go into detail about the incident, only that Tyler hunted raccoons as a kid, but still wears the necklace. Was it some right of passage? Kill a raccoon, skin it, knock out his teeth and make a necklace?

It’s not like teeth from a bear or a shark that would have given him a fair fight.  Raccoons are not carnivores, Steven, they’re pine cone eaters. They “coo” to each other like birds, but will snarl like dogs if they’re cornered and fighting for their lives. I’m sure you haven’t forgotten that sound.

I’ve let out a string of profanity minutes before I thought I was going to die in a car crash. I was never so scared in all my life. And I’d be just as nasty looking down the barrel of a shotgun. That raccoon that Tyler killed likely was standing up, snarling, and bearing his teeth. But, he was likely cornered with no way out. Otherwise, he’d be over the fence and up the nearest tree.

Raccoon teeth are nothing to brag about, Steven.  It wasn’t a fair fight. You shined a bright light into the “home” of a pine-cone eating tree hugger, cornered, shot him, and took his teeth. I’m sure you tell a good story. That coon was acting as vicious as he could be.  After all, he was fighting for his life, and you were a kid hunting for sport. But it’s time to put away childhood things.

Granted, I’m annoyed when raccoons knock over my water cans, leave paw prints on my rugs and even tear my clothes off the line. But I  just shrug my shoulders and repeat what many folks in Idyllwild would say, “Well, they were here first.”

Copyright 2011 Idyllwild Me. All rights reserved.

Honk! Save a Squirrel’s Life

November 28, 2010

Cookie, a wounded squirrel, recouped two days in my car before being set free

By Marcia E. Gawecki

In any given month in Idyllwild, CA, hundreds of squirrels run across Highway 243 and side streets and get hit. Locals know to honk their horns, and the squirrels will run back quickly. Their “stop and go” tactics might be able to divert natural predators, but they are no match for fast-moving cars and inattentive drivers.

That being said, squirrels don’t often die after being hit by cars. Barbara Hunt, a local realtor and animal lover, has nursed countless squirrels and birds back to life. She once told me, “Oftentimes, when a squirrel is hit, it’s only stunned, or temporarily dazed, but then the second car comes along and kills it.”

So when I saw the car in front of me, hit a squirrel I was hopeful when I drove by and saw that its head was still up. When squirrels die, they usually lie on their back or sides. Was it still alive?

I quickly pulled over and picked up a small basket from the back seat of my car, and a magazine. When I got to him, he was breathing heavily, but still alive. His back legs looked a little twisted, but otherwise he was OK. So I pushed him a little bit with the magazine to see if he would run off, but he winced in pain.

Just then, a guy drove by and shouted, “Hey! What are you, some kind of nut?!”

By this point, I realized that I was blocking traffic. It was 25 feet from a stop sign on Hwy. 243, so cars were slowing down naturally, but I was standing in the middle of the road. So when a friend of my boyfriend’s, drove up and asked nicely what was going on, I told her my intentions.

“So then get it out of the road,” she said, and I scooped him up without looking. He didn’t fight or try to run away. I think he was still dazed and likely in pain.

Just then, several young hikers walked by, and said that it was really cool at what I was doing, saving the squirrel and all. I was starting to get embarrassed about the whole affair.

I put the squirrel in the basket on the floor of the front seat and drove home about a mile away. He didn’t like the car’s motion, and crawled up under the dashboard. I was nervous that he might jump around or bite me in a panic, so I kept talking to him like I do my cats.

“Don’t worry, baby, everything’s going to be alright,” I cooed.

I left peanuts, water and a wool blanket, and Cookie left a mess

Speaking of cats, I have four of them, and I’m bringing a wounded squirrel home! They would dance on my head all night long if I brought him inside the bathroom.

Jeff, my boyfriend, suggested that I call Barbara Hunt to see if she’d take him off my hands. Her husband, Bud, answered the phone and said that she already had too many animals to take care of.

“So what should I do with the squirrel?” I asked, hoping for a few squirrel tips.

“Take it back to where you got it, and let it go,” Bud said. “Squirrels don’t like to be cooped up inside.”

My heart was racing. It was already dark and a wounded squirrel would be easy prey for a coyote. I decided he needed more time to rest.

“He may not live though the night,” Jeff said. “You’ve got to prepare yourself for that.”

Ever since I was young, I believed that I had a “gift” for saving the world.

His friend, Richard, who retired from the Idyllwild Post Office, gave me lots of peanuts and other squirrel food (His wife works for the U.S. Forest Service). He also told many great stories of how they have nursed bluejays, raccoons and even a bobcat back to health. They didn’t bring the bobcat inside, but brought her a medlee of raw chicken, beef and pork for weeks, until she was well enough to hunt on her own.

The hurt squirrel lived in the state park in Idyllwild

Many people in Idyllwild often go out of their way to help wounded animals. One woman I know has nursed a female coyote back to health, and another guy is nursing two baby raccoons. Seems like everyone in town has at least one story to tell.

“When it eats, then you know it’s OK to send him back,” Richard advised.

I put the peanuts, a bowl of water and a wool blanket inside the car for the squirrel. I cracked a back window for air and went to bed. After all the drama, I was exhausted.

Early the next morning, all four of my cats were sitting on top of my car, saying, “Please hurry! Let the wounded squirrel out!”

The squirrel was chirping and running around the car, but hadn’t eaten anything all night. It knocked over the water bowl and left some droppings.

But I didn’t take him home that day because he hadn’t eaten.

I worked all day, and returned home around 8 p.m. He was sleeping under one of the seats, so I set my alarm for 6 a.m. and prepared to return it to the state park the next day.

“That way, he’ll have all day to find its mother and get home,” Jeff said.

We were all quickly becoming squirrel experts.

The next morning, I witnessed him eating the peanuts and tried to get a few pictures, but he moved too quickly, or my camera was too slow.

So I drove to the park. It was a cold, sunny morning, and I had to smile. Growing up, one of my favorite movies was “Born Free.” My heart ached when Elsa was returned to the wild, but nearly starved to death because she didn’t know how to hunt. Although there were no parallels between a lioness and my baby squirrel, I felt a little sad about letting him go.

Actually, I decided he was a she, and called her “Cookie,” for being a “tough cookie” and surviving the car accident.

I opened up all four doors and waited. Cookie didn’t rush out. So I backed off to give her a little room. Well, after about 15 minutes, I was getting cold and a little bored. So I walked up to the back door and told her that I had things to do. As if on key, she jumped up on the back seat and paused for a second. I grabbed my camera and quickly snapped her picture.

Cookie (left of tree) was "Born Free"

Then Cookie took off, down the seat and out the door. She ran about 20 yards and stopped for a moment. I took another picture. Cookie was “Born Free.”

“Be careful!” I shouted, like a sympathetic idiot. “Stay away from the highway!”

As I drove away, I thought about how weird Cookie must feel, spending two nights in a car, and now being back home again. Would she remember me?

Tucker, my supervisor at work, thinks so. He lives next door to Barbara Hunt, and friendly squirrels often come to his door. Once, a bluejay landed in his hand.

I have to admit, I felt pretty good about giving Cookie another chance. I just hope that other motorists do too, and honk when they see squirrels crossing the road in Idyllwild or anywhere they live.

Copyright 2010 Idyllwild Me. All rights reserved.

Dolphin Demonstration in LA Today

October 14, 2010

Although the LA rally is miles away, there's support for Taiji dolphins in IdyllwildBy Marcia E. Gawecki

Today is the “International Save the Dolphins” Day. A peaceful demonstration will be held in front of the Japanese Consulate-General, located at 350 South Grand Avenue in Los Angeles from noon to 4 p.m. This is part of a worldwide rally that involves as many as 17 other U.S. cities and 25 countries.

Ric O’Barry, an activist from the Academy Award-winning documentary, “The Cove,” orchestrated the event that hopes to call worldwide attention to the dolphins’ plight.

Besides demonstrations in the U.S., Europe, Africa, Asia and the Middle East, there also will be a demonstration in Taiji, Japan, where the dolphin focus began. Starting in September each year, 20,000 dolphins are killed for meat that is riddled with mercury. A small portion of the dolphins are saved and sold to animal parks around the world.

“Most of the Japanese don’t know that this is going on,” said Ric O’Barry in his blog site,

The reason that the demonstrations are happening today, he said, is to let everyone know that the Japanese government will be handing out  23,000 permits to Japanese coastal communities who want to kill more dolphins.

Only a few dolphins are sold (at a great profit) to aquariums and swim-with-dolphins programs. The rest are slaughtered for meat that is inedible.

“The (dolphin) meat is contaminated with large amounts of mercury, which exceeds the Japanese government’s own health limits”, Ric wrote. “This is a human rights issue as much as an animal welfare issue.”

Julia Ramsey, who is leading the demonstration outside the Japanese Consulate-General in LA today, sent out instructions to demonstrators via e-mail and Facebook. Since the Japanese consulate is located on the 17th floor of the Deloitte-Touche high-rise, Julia suggested that demonstrators bring their signs and stand outside on the sidewalk.

“Free speech activities cannot take place on private property without advance consent from the owner, which we do not have,” Julia said in her memo. “So, I ask that we please stay on the sidewalk directly in front of the building.”

Blocking a city thoroughfare, sidewalk or street can result in a $250 fine.

Julia also instructed dolphin demonstrators to wear their “Save Japanese Dolphins” T-shirts and bring their own signs. However, she said that the language needs to be respectful.

“Although we are indeed angry about what is happening to the dolphins in Japan, we do not want to portray anger or hate,” Julia wrote. “We will not tolerate any “Anti-Japan/Japanese” or otherwise hateful banners, posters, signs, or comments from picketers. This is utterly disrespectful and is not at all the way to win the support and hearts of spectators.”

Idyllwild Me editor will attend the rally, along with her hand-painted “Save the Dolphins” T-shirt, sign and camera to capture the essence of the LA demonstration.

The LA “Save Japan’s Dolphins” rally will be held today from noon to 4 p.m. outside the Deloitte-Touche building located at 350 South Grand Avenue. For more information, contact Julia Ramsey at, or visit Ric O’Barry’s blog site,