More Backyard Trash Fires!

And the Beatles vs. the beetles

Art by Jim WashburnAre you looking back fondly at the June Gloom, now that the July Fry has begun? Less than two weeks ago I was in line at the Orange County Fairgrounds, checking some of the wife's efforts into a photo exhibit. It was a long line, so I struck up a conversation with the retirement-age gentleman behind me.

"How about this weather?" says I, nodding at the clouds.

"Yeah, so much for those global-warming kooks."

I usually let such comments ride; most old people have already endured enough in life that they don't need to hear now how wrong they are. But I'm on a new tack lately. Since the media no longer act like the media, it's crucial that citizens act like citizens, and talk with friends and strangers whenever possible about the dire things that aren't being addressed in our papers or legislative halls.

"Global warming doesn't work that way," I told him. "Scientists predict parts of the world will actually get colder, that weather patterns are being disrupted and that unusual storms and extremes in both hot and cold weather are expected. Meanwhile, the overall temperature of the globe is warming; polar ice caps are melting and glaciers are receding at alarming speed; and though it might be cloudy here, the western United States is experiencing a drought of historic proportions, with the worst fire seasons on record. And most scientists think human activities are a big contributing factor."

"They're just trying to scare us so they can charge us for their anti-smog devices," he said. "When I was a boy, we incinerated our trash in the yard, and it never caused a problem."

Hell, I don't know: maybe environmental scientists are heavily invested in muffler shops. Maybe we can bring Orange County back to the untroubled 1950s if all 3 million of us would only light more backyard trash fires.

It's times like these that I remember why I don't like talking politics with strangers in lines. Can you ever get through to them?

If you're interested in trying, the Green Party of Orange County has a booth at the fair this year, right in there with the D.A.R.E. folks and Vector Control. They're looking for volunteer Greens to pair up with experienced Greens in talking to fairgoers about the environment, genetically modified foods, the war and other issues. Bless 'em, good luck, and if you want to be one of them send an e-mail to Lynda Hernandez at


While I did point out to the guy in line that Arizona is on fire, I forgot to mention the nearer-to-home eco-collapse occurring in Southern California's mountains.

The ponderosa pine is the tall, beautiful tree that has always defined our notion of how mountainous splendor should look. Say goodbye to it.

The ponderosa is typically a hardy tree; many are over 200 years old. Typically, when bark beetles attack a tree, its sap swamps and kills the insects. Now, because of four years of drought, the trees don't have sap to spare. They're defenseless. Hence a bug that was once useful for taking out only the sickly trees is now devastating entire forests. Over 400,000 acres of forest have already died in SoCal mountains, and there's no end in sight.

My friend Mark Hutchins lives in Arrowhead with his family, commuting weekly to Irvine, where he's CEO of Page One Digital Imaging Services. We've put off visiting them up there for so long that now the Arrowhead I remember from my youth isn't there anymore.

"Basically, nearly all the ponderosa pines in the western United States are going to get killed," says Mark. "There are vantages on the mountain where you can look out and see maybe 100,000 trees. Well over half of them are dead. My property's gotten off relatively easy so far. I probably have 200 trees; I've lost over 30 already; I'll probably lose 20 more this year, and I'm guessing I'll lose another hundred before this is over. I have neighbors who already had to take out over 200."

This isn't just heartbreaking; it's busting wallets, too. Residents are required by law to have the dead trees–which pose a massive fire hazard–removed. "It's expensive," Mark says. "It's no small feat to cut down a tree that's four feet across and hundreds of feet tall, especially one by your house. You have to get a crane to hold it, because they've already dropped a few trees on houses. They've even dropped a couple of cranes on houses."

It cost Mark $10,000 to have his 30 dead trees cleared. Many mountain residents, particularly old-timers, can't foot such bills, and liens are placed on their homes. Gov. Davis has declared a disaster area and asked the feds to do the same, but help hasn't been forthcoming from the Bush administration (which by all appearances enjoys punishing California as much as it does nations that opposed the war). The trees are already dying faster than the cutters can remove them, and the mountains have become a tinderbox.

You can help a bit, while enjoying what yet remains of the mountains along with a day of music. Joe Ongie, of the Gypsy Den (Costa Mesa, Santa Ana and soon at Newport Beach's Orange County Museum of Art!) and bitchen-original-music fame is bringing his Trainwreck Theatre cohorts up to Arrowhead's Santa's Village on July 26, where they'll join soundtrack composer Mark Mancina (Training Day, Speed, etc.) in a three-hour program of Beatles music played on drool-worthy Beatles-exact instruments in a program sagely titled "The Beatles vs. the beetles." Much of the $10 ticket goes to help residents who can't afford to clear their trees. For tickets or information call (909) 337-5338 or go to

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