Category: News from the Library
December 06, 2012
News from the Library
Carl Nicola: Remembrances
By Susan C. Eubank, Arboretum Librarian
Carl Nicola came to the Arboretum Library in 2007. Generally when I interview perspective volunteers we wander around the room and talk about possible tasks and projects and eventually scheduling. That’s all a blur about Carl, but I have a vague remembrance of his saying something about graphic design and me saying something about how I didn’t have anyone to repair my books. I arranged a “free” demonstration about book repair from a library supply company. I invited fellow librarians from the surrounding local public libraries and we had an expectant class ready to learn. The instructor forgot to bring her “DVD.” The class devolved into anecdotal chaos. I was embarrassed for the instructor and disappointed for the attendees. Carl, however, persevered. He read the materials the “class” distributed and slowly he started repairing the Arboretum Library books. Every Thursday afternoon for five years (with a few vacation and holiday exceptions) Carl came to the Arboretum Library and made it a better place. He sat at the library table with his canvas bag of tools (including his grandmother’s sewing shears) and supplies and gently made the books look better. The tattered spines were carefully removed and strengthened with book tape and the spines were carefully reinstalled with glue. The ripped pages were pieced together with acid-free tape. The dust jackets that were in pieces were fit together as a jigsaw puzzle and encased in plastic jackets. My other volunteers were often eager to handle some of these jobs while they were adding the library spine labels to the books. I always said, “No, let’s leave this one for Carl.” I said that because Carl had the hands and eyes of an artist and I watched as the books turned from something that looked very sad to a book lover to something that was again made whole. I knew the ones he repaired would last for the long term. In the Arboretum Library the books are here “forever” when they fit appropriately into the scope of the collection. We are collecting, maintaining and preserving for the future, the cumulative body of knowledge that it takes to know about plants in Southern California. It was an honor to watch him work and take part in his gentle humor as he carefully brought the books back to life.
Somewhere along the line, we cajoled Carl into participating in the Library’s Reading the Western Landscape Book Club. Thursdays are my busiest volunteer day and we are a pretty lively bunch and so we probably bantered about the books we were reading and eventually one drew him in. I can’t remember him participating in Louise Erdrich’s Tales of Burning Love (New York: HarperCollins, 1996) in February of 2011, but I do remember his sly comments in March of that year about how entomologist John Alcock’s In a Desert Garden (New York: W.W. Norton, 1997) was about “sex, sex, sex,” so he must have participated in the previous one, because it was sort of about that too. We all so enjoyed his participation. He created lists. They would vary from book to book and whim to whim of what he thought would be fun to concentrate on: birds for David Guterson’s East of the Mountains, (New York: Viking, 1985) plants in the Mary Austins’s Land of Little Rain (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, 1903). It focused our thinking. And he always would read aloud his favorite passage. I often liked to close the meeting with that, so we could all go home with the sounds of his voice reading the wonderful words and the thought of the passage in our heads. We read several books about southern California from earlier times; James Cain’s Mildred Pierce (New York : Knopf, 1941), M.F.K Fisher’s Among Friends, (New York: Knopf, 1971) the Mary Austin book, and even farther south with John Steinbeck’s Log from the Sea of Cortez (New York : Viking Press. 1951.) Carl went to Whittier and regaled us with his adventures in Ms. Fisher’s old neighborhood. He would send me topic related e-mails in his RSVP’s for the meeting such as he was “driving in from Laguna” to come to the Mildred Pierce meeting.
After we read, Keith Basso’s Wisdom Sits in Places (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1996) which is an anthropological study of how the Western Apache use landscape and place to tell their cultural histories and as stories to help with daily life, Carl said, “Susan, now I get it. I know why you are choosing the books you do and why you created this book club.” That was praise enough for me to persevere even though sometimes I feel it’s folly, because I don’t appear to be finding an audience for my endeavors. It all made sense for me when we started to learn about Cambria. Each week or at the monthly book meeting, I/we would learn a little more about that magical place and where it was in Carl’s heart: the view of the main street into town when he was young and the cemetery on the hill. His stories of Cambria have now made the town my own personal Shangri-La that I haven’t visited yet, because of his descriptions; a far off, lost time with the hills and the sea.
The last time I saw Carl in the hospital, a Sunday, I told him I had brought contraband. I was hoping most people were sneaking in chocolates or milk shakes or something he really liked to eat, because I’m sure we all wanted to make sure he was eating things he enjoyed or things that would help him recover more quickly. He had said when I talked to him, earlier, over the telephone that he didn’t want any reading material, that he didn’t want any distractions, no IPad…. The contraband I had brought was Wendell Berry’s A Timbered Choir: The Sabbath Poems 1979-1997. He is one of my favorite “landscape” authors, a poet, novelist and essayist who lives and farms in Kentucky. A Timbered Choir was Berry’s Sunday work. I can’t throw him into a book club selection, because Kentucky isn’t in the West, but his work is a wonderful voice for the land and how people relate to it. Carl brightened and smiled when I gave it to him. I said the poems weren’t too long and he could easily skip the ones that weren’t to his taste. Thank you, Carl, for your continued graciousness in letting me believe that Wendell Berry’s work could be something that would help you in the hospital. Thank you, Carl, for all your gifts to my work at the Arboretum Library. We shall carry on and our lives are so much richer for having you a part of them.
The sky bright after summer-ending rain,
I sat against an oak half up the climb,
The sun was low; the woods was hushed in shadow;
Now the long shimmer of the crickets’ song
Had stopped. I looked up to the westward ridge
And saw the ripe October light again,
Shining through leaves still green yet turning gold.
Those glowing leaves made of the light a place
That time and leaf would leave. The wind came cool,
And then I knew that I was present in
The long age of the passing world, in which
I once was not, now am, and will not be,
And in that time, beneath the changing tree,
I rested in a keeping not my own.
From A Timbered Choir: The Sabbath Poems 1979-1997 by Wendell Berry. Washington, D.C.: Counterpoint, 1998
And by Pamela Wolken, Arboretum Library volunteer chairperson
Carl and I shared our Arboretum Library assignment interview in the early Spring of 2007. He was quiet, underassertive, and had a devilish gleam in his eye. We started on Thursdays together and while he worked his magic on injured books at the table, I was listing seemingly endless cartons of magazines for inventory. In short order, we were talking about everything from movies, Netflix subscriptions, the critters in his kitchen to his overgrown yard and his attack of weeds. Carl kept up a demographic study of sorts in his self-appointed role of Arboretum cigarette butt cop: he would take long walks every week picking up cigarette butts specifically, and could tell the sorts of activities that had gone on from his findings. I came to look forward to his reports.
Carl had a talent for finding common ground with everyone. He would talk birding with the interested volunteers, symphony with others. While he saw the world from a unique perspective I enjoyed from some of his vacation pictures, it was never imposed; we always discovered it in new ways with Carl.
Some days, he would sit as if watching paint dry. He would be planning his attack of the next repair problem, occasionally sharing the details. Not very long ago he admitted some embarrassment at his earliest efforts; his book repair skills had matured in his own eye and he was always looking for new ways to improve his skills. Occasionally I would ask for his expertise on a magazine and was never disappointed.
While his work was focused on Thursday afternoon, I came to look forward to his visits on Friday to check on something he left in the book press. The attention to detail and meticulous care he took clearly was key to his success. Anyone who had deigned to try storing other stuff among his book repair supplies on "his" shelf was in for a severe (albeit silent) rebuke. After each of his sessions, certainly in the early years, Carl would be entering in his notebook the volumes he had fixed and what he had done.
Along came Reading the Western Landscape Book Club and Carl's humor had a chance to shine. He always brought out a viewpoint and opinion that struck me as totally unrevealed until Carl voiced it; part of reading was looking forward to what Carl thought. He would list how often an author used a particular word, and on occasion take himself to experience the landscape the author described. Carl seemed to know more about the work than the author. I will miss that. He taught me how to read all over again.
The last time I saw Carl was November 12, 2012, in hospital where he was being treated for pneumonia. The room was inordinately bleak and daunting since it was specially set up for clean air flow and extra infection protections. From behind a mask, I saw the figure in the bed: oxygen mask like on an airplane (two masked volunteers!), scruffy beard, tubes everywhere, and Carl's gleaming eyes that came to life as we visited and talked about him getting on his feet. He did remark that getting home would mean he'd rely on "the kindness of strangers" in a Blanche DuBois reference, and he asserted being "energized" by a visit.
The Carl I remember is the man who returned from Europe a few months ago: it was his first trip and he'd booked a classical music tour of Germany, Austria and Czech Republic. He was ready to go again and spend more time in some areas, less in others, and study German before he went to better enjoy the experience. That animated face of pure pleasure and contentment is how I remember Carl.
When Netflix delivers Jeeves and Wooster, Carl's favorite, I will miss him even more.
August 28, 2012
News from the Library
By Susan C. Eubank, Arboretum Librarian
The Kinds of Wildlife at the Arboretum
Even though the Arboretum’s official name, Los Angeles County Arboretum & Botanic Garden, doesn’t say anything about features other than plants, we are an official wildlife sanctuary and have been declared one from the beginning of the Arboretum’s history. Anyone who visits instantly knows that and is often enchanted by the peacocks, peahens, peachicks, Eastern Grey Squirrels, and a myriad of waterfowl, both native and non-native.
We do seem to have “primordial ooze” here. It has been seen over and over in the various movies and television show such as Anaconda, Tarzan, etc. These movies try to scare their audiences. Our aquatic environment actually contains exotic fish, exotic turtles and the small aquatic life that supports the larger aquatic animals.
The Arboretum has lots of insects too. European honeybees thrive in southern California and when they swarm out of maintained hives, sometimes they develop a home in a hollow trees or an irrigation box. Careful observation and watchful walking will keep you from interacting in a negative manner with the bees. The honey bees not only give us honey, but are pollinators that are extremely important in providing humans with food, essentially, pollinating the plants that become fruit. Without them our lives would certainly be less luscious. When I lived in Colorado watching the bees on my penstemon flowers I would go into the same zen state that I enjoy when I’m watching the waves at the ocean. Colorado doesn’t have an ocean, so that was my replacement. The bees’ calm, methodical movements, gently flying from flower to flower, encouraged that zen-like state. There are also mosquitos here which have been tested and declared to be West Nile Virus carriers. There currently is no quarantine, however mosquitos are most active at dawn and dusk and it is recommended that during those times, you wear insect repellant. The Arboretum is usually closed during those hours, although some events take place in the evening.
Our superintendent, Tim Phillips, tells of a time when he first came here 11 years ago that perplexed him. The Arboretum grounds didn’t appear to have any reptiles, such as lizards. He created an initiative to use less herbicide and now we have a thriving lizard population. That wasn’t his original intent, but it is a sign of the return of a complex ecosystem. He had never seen a snake here until my daughter pointed out a native California kingsnake to him during one of our Garden Shows. Lizards are fun to watch and are fairly benign around humans although I wouldn’t want to pick up an alligator lizard, because their jaw grip is pretty strong and hard to disengage. Some people are afraid of snakes, but kingsnakes are as benign as lizards. Their great benefit is that they eliminate rodents.
Our rodent population here is “thriving,” especially around the buildings. I struggle, daily, to protect the Arboretum Library book and magazine collection from the rats’ and mice’s desire to have a warm nest out of the elements. I have transformed from a librarian who was easy going about food in the Library to one who is rather stern about a “pack it in, pack it out” theory of food in the library. We can never leave edible items in our wastepaper baskets without creating a great risk for the books. I have to especially keep the rodents away from our rare books. The Library has a book from the 1598. I am responsible for that books persisting into the future; to protect it from rodents. The vegetarians outside include rabbits. The rabbits wreak havoc on our plant collections. You will notice cages in the African section preventing the rabbits from eating the newly planted palms to the ground.
There are 250 kinds of birds on the birdlist for the Arboretum. Southern California is privileged to be a birding hotspot and because of our water and open space we are a hotspot within a hotspot. From 60 migrating Swainson’s hawks, which are members of a dark morph, staring at the Arboretum employees on an early morning foray to Tallac Knoll after a stormy night, to migrating and resident native and non-native waterfowl, to feral parrots and peacocks, to “rare in the U.S.” non-native bulbuls (eagerly sought after by birder life listers), to rare, native Red-naped Sapsuckers and the ubiquitous peafowls, the birds are the most evident and beloved wildlife here. The peafowl and waterfowl are so beloved they have legions of fans who want to feed them to have them come closer even to let their 3 year old child pose by or pet. They are considered benign when they are not. Peacocks in breeding season have a proportionally equivalent amount of testosterone coursing through them as a bull eyeing a female cow during the cow’s breeding season. If you think about the effort the peacocks go to display to attract females, you can start to understand why they are not benign. They are protecting a territory against other males and are engaged in mating behavior. I would never let my daughter near a male peacock in that state. Look at their feet and bill and you will know they can do damage to something that they perceive as a threat to their mating activity. I’m tall enough at 5’ 2” to have the peacock feel that it wouldn’t be wise to attack me, but a toddler is not. The Canada Geese are even more territorial than the peacocks when they are preparing to nest and are more aggressive. Watch your children and yourself with them too.
By now you are are probably starting to think that our site is not the idyll you had expected with all those beautiful trees and flowers. As in all things and all places, caution and careful observation is necessary when you visit here.
Let’s write about predators now. The smaller fish eat microorganisms in the water. The big fish eat the little fish. The snapping turtles eat the fish. The raptors eat small rodents. The peacocks eat insects and lizards (as well as plants). What else eats rodents and peacocks? In the past we knew we had a bobcat. It was very elusive and seldom seen and the last photograph I saw of it shows a very elderly cat. I haven’t seen or heard of other people seeing it in over a year.
If you think rationally about the urban wildlife interface in Southern California, you will know that coyotes are here and will be here forever. Studies have shown that coyote populations are growing in urban/surburban areas and that they are adapting to a closer proximity to humans and that human-coyote encounters are more frequent. I’m sure that because of our permanent water here at the Arboretum coyotes have always been a permanent fixture here. The Tongva (the Arboretum’s first people) had stories that incorporated Tukupar Itar (Sky Coyote) into their pantheon of legends. The range of qualities explained through the coyote and their legends is as a trickster and a helper for humans.
Humans at the Arboretum are as much a part of the wildlife ecosystem here as the other wildlife. We preserved the open space here. We brought in the peacocks and other domestic and exotic birds. The snapping, red-eared sliders, and soft-shelled turtles were all brought here surreptitiously by customers. The Arboretum also has many customers who feed the wildlife even though it is not recommended by the staff. It is even illegal to feed peacocks in the city of Arcadia. These changes to the ecosystem affect the make-up of what wildlife thrives here. Because customers feed many of our prey animals, such as peacocks, ducks, squirrels, not only do they become habituated to being around people and potentially can be aggressive, their population also becomes artificially large. Then the predator population expands. Our abundance of prey for our predators becomes, sort of like, how you feel standing in line at a Mongolian buffet.
The spring season creates even more intensity in this dynamic. There is the testosterone of breeding season and the need of the predators to provide for their young. The coyotes need more meat and are determined to provide. Because of these very fierce drives the human spectator element is something the predators don’t think about. Mostly the humans are benign or, potentially, the little ones could be perceived by the predators as prey to feed the predators’ young. The severe consequences for the humans are that they may be injured (which hasn’t happened here yet) and the even more severe consequences for the coyotes is that they are shot and killed by the Los Angeles County Department of Agriculture as nuisance animals. The saddest wildlife sight I have seen here is dead coyote puppies, because their mother had been shot as a nuisance. There were two pups of the same litter which survived to early adulthood, but didn’t really know how to be coyotes and, I think, they eventually succumbed to mange.
How the Humans can Help the Wildlife at the Arboretum
1. Be observant and cautious as you would in any other environment.
This means also watching your children to make sure they are not within at least 3 feet of anything that could attack them as a wildlife defense mechanism or prey response. That is, peacocks, geese, squirrels, and bees (defense mechanism) or, coyotes and bobcat (prey response.)
2. Do not feed any wildlife.
Feeding prey wildlife artificially raises the prey population and attracts more predators. It is particularly a challenge around the buildings, because the food also attracts vermin rodents which damage items within the buildings and can be a health hazard. This is especially important around the Peacock Café, the Arboretum Library and the historic structures. The wildlife also becomes habituated to humans and in the case of squirrels and some peacocks, they become aggressive in their pursuit of food to the extent that they might bite or climb on the human.
3. If a predator or angry, prey animal approaches you, make yourself as large as possible, as loud as possible and, if necessary, throw something at the aggressor. Be sure to monitor and protect your children.
Now that we understand how complex the wildlife relations are here, we know there will be predators. The ecological niche of the top predator will never be empty here, because we have so much prey, so if you encounter a predator, either just observe it from a distance or make the predator realize you are not encouraging it to interact with you.
4. Enjoy the wildlife from a distance and enrich your relationship with all the living beings at the Arboretum.
Nature is the most complex phenomenon I know and the Arboretum is a microcosm of many of the processes that occur. It is truly a benefit that the plant life and the animal life here is so vibrant. Enjoy it!
Photo Credits: Frank McDonough; "Coyote in Bushes" by Ken McGrath.
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