Homegrown Paradise: the Kingdom of Heaven…Under Turkeys

Great American Hen & Young / John James Audubon / from Birds in America, 1827-1838


THE WILD TURKEY COULD HAVE BEEN America’s representative animal. The wild–nearly mythological--tale of Turkey v. Bald Eagle originates in a disparity between “Founding Fathers” (or could we say, founding feathers) Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and Benjamin Franklin as to what iconic image would constitute the National Seal. According to wildturkeyzone.com,

On July 4 1776, the First Continental Congress selected a committee to design the Great Seal of the United States of America. It was the task of three founding fathers: Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson to select a political icon that best reflected the new country. ”

In democracy, majority consensus ‘wins’–and thus, the bald eagle was voted in as the quintessential American avian-hero. However, majority rule is not necessarily representative of better options or opinions (or even the ‘fairness’ democracy claims to pave the way for). Ben Franklin, a minority in the vote, stated in a letter to his daughter,

“For my own part I wish the Bald Eagle had not been chosen the Representative of our Country. He is a Bird of bad moral Character. He does not get his Living honestly…For the Truth the Turkey is in Comparison a much more respectable Bird, and withal a true original Native of America…”

(Hmmm…voting in a representative for America who is of “bad moral Character”…sounds dreadfully recently familiar…)

John James Audubon observed:

“Male turkeys can turn their heads red, white and blue by controlling the flow of oxygen to their heads while strutting.” (wildturkeyzone.com)

Turkey / Daniel S. Masiel / oil on canvas /



(Now, I’ll say, that’s American!)

After several weird image proposals from the Founding Fathers (including a dramatic Exodus scene,  the rattlesnake from the Gadsgen flag, and some sort of Americanized Adam and Eve), the final image for the current-day National Seal originated from a sketch done in 1782 by Charles Thomson (greatseal.com), (below left), which was refined into the current Seal (below right) (images Wikimedia Commons).

The wide-spread spread-eagle eagle is depicted clutching the opposing forces of peace (olive branch) in one foot and war (arrows) in the other. In his beak waves the paradoxical banner reading, “Out of Many, One“. And let us not forget the reverse design, which can be seen along with the National Seal on every dollar bill:

Reverse of the Great Seal on the dollar. “Signals Enterprise” above and “A new order of the ages” below. Every time you exchange a dollar for something other than a dollar, you have this image in your hand. Image: Wikimedia Commons
iSelf 10 / Celeste M. Evans / manikin hand and paint pen on mirror / 2017









American insignia for the 1969 race to the moon. Image: greatseal.com


Centuries after the National Seal was adopted, the Lunar Module named Eagle, manned by two American astronauts, landed on the moon.  On July 20, 1969, the voice of Neil Armstrong traveled through space, reverberating back to planet earth with the phrase “the Eagle has landed”. The winning Apollo 11 mission to the moon bore the insignia of a bald eagle landing on the moon bearing the olive branch of peace.

A turkey colonizing the moon. Image composition by Daniel S. Masiel.


Though turkeys (or bald eagles) haven’t (yet) been to the moon, there was no shortage of wild turkeys throughout America during its colonization. Audubon wrote in 1840,

“At the time when I removed to Kentucky, rather more than a fourth of a century ago, Turkeys were so abundant that the price of one in the market was not equal to that of a common barn fowl now”
(Audubon 54).

To this day, the turkey is the principle icon of the quintessential autumnal American holiday: Thanksgiving. Being an abundant source of food and already bearing spiritual and practical significance for the local Native Americans, the turkey was the natural center-stage hero in “the first Thanksgiving”, purported to have been in 1621, though the first recorded “official” Thanksgiving occurred in 1623 in Plymouth, Massachusetts (National Geographic Kids). The turkey appears as the center of a Ven diagram between Native Americans and Colonists, symbolizing common ground upon which the “natives” and “settlers” could peacefully feast together on. However harmonious the first Thanksgiving may have been, it was not, practically speaking, a lasting truce. “The peace between the Native Americans and settlers lasted for only a generation…the holiday is a reminder of betrayal and bloodshed” (National Geographic Kids). And however thankful the Colonists were of the abundance of the American turkey, like many species in the “civilized” (colonized) parts of the world, the wild turkey population declined drastically over the centuries. Both the turkey and the voted-in icon of the National Seal–the bald eagle–have, since the “founding” of America, endured episodes of endangered-ment (or, as in the case of the turkey, endangered-meat). Luckily, in time, human beings awakened to their errors and got their shit together enough to restore both birds to a non-endangered status. As change is the only constant, we must renew and revisit our thanksgiving continually, as nothing–from turkeys to bald eagles to peace between disparate groups to America as a whole–will last “forever”.

Preserved (for the time being) birds of prey (osprey, red-tailed hawk, golden eagle, bald eagle, condor, and turkey vulture) on display at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History. Photo by Daniel S. Masiel.
Wild turkeys dwelling naturally in an Ojai orange grove.
And He said, “How shall we picture the kingdom of God, or by what parable shall we present it? It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the soil, though it is smaller than all the seeds that are upon the soil, yet when it is sown, it grows up and becomes larger than all the garden plants and forms large branches; so that the birds of the air can nest under shade” (Mark 4:30-34).
Turkey hen on the loose in Ojai’s east end
Though wild turkeys aren’t exactly “birds of the air” (they are considered a “ground bird”), they are “agile fliers”, capable of flying in short but fast bouts (Wikipedia). They sleep in trees but nest on the ground. In one specific Ojai locale, their presence can be witnessed at dusk as large silhouettes perched high up in the gnarled arms of 100+-year-old oaks. As for turkeys in one’s vicinity, the reality of abundance–the Kingdom of Heaven–can–will–be found in one’s own ‘backyard’. Just as you cannot find yourself anywhere but where you are–here, right now–reality’s resources are to be found and used right where you are. It is simply up to the individual to choose to be aware of the abundance and potential which surrounds, the potency of which is HERE at all times. (Chances are, if you are reading this, you are a human individual–so do something with that!) There’s a world–HERE–to be found and cultivated, and no better–or possible–place to start but with oneself and one’s own backyard.

I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven (Matthew 16:19).

Backyard binding of heaven unto earth, and vice versa.

View from below: According to a ‘native’ Colombian tribe, “If a weak person stations himself at the foot of the [Brugmansia] tree, he will forget everything” (Evans Schultes 128). Lying under the Brugmansia trees I planted, it is easy to forget that years ago there was nothing but dry dirt where I now have a garden.
View from above: Though I do not have turkeys in my backyard, two domestic Lagomorphs–Yettie and Sassquatch–appear as the “fantastical badu-win or two little girls in white” (163).
Solandra Maxima (aka Golden Chalice vine)








But Jesus said,
“Let the children alone, and do not hinder them from coming to Me; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these”
(Matthew 19:14).

“Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3).

Outdoor altar with various magickal objects and Skeleton and Simulation.

And He was saying, “The kingdom of God is like a man who casts seed upon the soil; and he goes to bed at night and gets up by day, and the seed sprouts and grows–how, he himself does not know. The soil produces crops by itself; first the blade, then the head, then the mature grain in the head” (Mark 4:26-29).

Various living edibles with up-and-coming summer fruits.
The peaceful sharing of a pea, cultivated by a human, with a local native caterpillar.

Working with what is already HERE–with the present, natural, and ultimately wild environmental conditions–is working with reality as it stands. All else is at best fantasy; at worst, psychosis. All else becomes Man v. Nature: the most vehement case of human ego delusion, a parasitic plant which grows in toxic soil, rooting down into the bowels of Hell.

In the case of growing a garden, whether it be for fruits or decoration (which it will ultimately be both), this means being aware, accepting, and working with the limitations of one’s immediate environment. As humans capable of ridiculous feats (like going to the moon), we can push the envelope of reality quite a bit: we can, effectively, grow a tropical oasis in a desert, if we set out to. (After all, tropical oases do exist on their own, so we are just copying nature anyway, right?). This construction of a new reality–a man-made oases–can be incredible, indeed, fantastical–but also downright impractical and unsustainable. Since in the case of agriculture the given environment may not on its own support itself, it is up to the individual (agricultural owner, landscaping company or corporation, in many cases) to sustain its existence. This is practical only so far humans are willing to cultivate it based on its predetermined needs (i.e. lawn grass needs constant watering a mowing). Lawn grass won’t thrive on its own in Santa Clarita, so it is normal–unquestionable and even justifiable–to see sprinklers going off at 3pm when driving along the 126 (right?). The lawn grass just has to be grown because the tract housing in the Santa Clarita valley depends upon it; homeowners must have their perfectly manicured lawn to contraction and cancel out the natural state of their environment (which is essentially desert). They simply must be able to buy their fantasy of living in a place where grass grows. (They don’t want the grass to be greener on the other side!) And growing grass for this purpose commercially makes sense because it makes money–end of story. The logic is: as long as it makes money, it makes sense! Unfortunately, Nature knows nothing of money nor cares for that type of paper greenery; and since Nature is ultimately “the Boss” and reality itself, money-making logic is rebellion against reality–a Luciferian psychosis.

Such is the ongoing logic of capitalism in America. And now the (not popularly elected!) 45th “boss” of the United States operates out of this logic. And as the curtains have been drawn back we are seeing a staged “problem” of “native” Americans (natural born citizens) opposed to supposed “illegal aliens”. The psychotic split of “us vs. them” is the ongoing drama, another version of the illusion of man vs. nature.

So what now constitutes a “native” American? Am I “native” to America because I was born in America? Am I “native” because I am 1/16 Chickasaw Native American (though the Chickasaws were not native to California where I live!). Am I “native” to Ojai because I grew up here and have spent most of my life here–though I wasn’t born here? Is the turkey a “native” bird to Ojai because it roams and propagates freely among the Ojai agricultural ecosystem? Is the turkey an animal of my “native” heritage because the Chickasaw made turkey feather capes? Overall what I am curious about is: in this exceptionally globalized village, what makes something “native”? What makes something “indigenous” (as the word of choice to describe A.E.I.O.U., which stands for Artists of Earth: Indigenous Ojai Underground?) And what makes these distinctions matter?

(Ben in Chickasaw garb) / Bee LaFevers / oil on canvas / 9″ x 12″ / date unknown (~1960-75).

Above is a painting of my 1/2 Chickasaw great grandfather Benjamin Williford (on my mother’s mom’s side) done by my great grandmother Bee LaFevers (on my mother’s dad’s side). Both culturally and genetically, he was more classically “Native American” than I will ever be. But in today’s world, where there are dwindling numbers of half-blood (let alone full blood) “Native Americans”, what now constitutes a “Native American”? Point of arrival: what constitutes something as “native” must inevitably change and can no longer mean what it used to in simplistic terms.

A garb made of turkey feathers at the Chickasaw Cultural Center in Sulphur, Oklahoma. Image https://awanderingwombat.com/

In the interest of growing plants, perhaps what makes defining “native” vs. “non-native” important has to do with taking into account one’s immediate climate and ecosystem (which, as anyone even partially aware knows, is on the broadest scale possible undergoing rapid transformation, for better or worse). My backyard oasis won’t grow well without my persistent and informed care-taking, whereas my frontyard “native” landscaping is designed to essentially grow on its own, supported by the local climate, flora and fauna. Working with what is already present–in the form of nature (reality)–is what allows for infinite abundance and continual life and growth. Optimistically (rather than opportunistically), humans have the capacity to both work with this and create oases in deserts–and both can be “sustainable”, simply because of the truth that nothing lasts forever anyway.

Perhaps being or becoming “native” somewhere involves tuning in and connecting with the immediate environment. This is the wisdom of the classic Native Americans: working with the nature that surrounds. Everything you need is here. Turkeys abundant!

“Native” landscaping with sky-high Matilija poppies (aka ‘fried egg flower’).

Frontyard xeriscape with lavender, Manzanita, California poppies, local wood chips and rock.
The lovely paradox of the human-made drought-tolerant river.

Alan Watts, that ingenious “bridge person” (as Terence McKenna would say) philosopher of East-meets-West, quotes in his book, The Book, an exceptionally alchemical passage from the Bible attributed to Jesus: “When you make the two the one, and when you make the inner and the outer and the outer as the inner and the above as the below…then shall you enter [the Kingdom]….Cleave [a piece] of wood, I am there; lift up the stone and you will find Me there” (Watts 19).

As a tenet of Hermeticism says:
As Above so Below

As the pledge of allegiance says:
One nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all

In conclusion, I would like to present the Caduceus song “Turkeys” from our debut album Saturn Return, released May 2017. Technically speaking it is my first musical composition that fruited into a complete song, and was inspired by a Zen-like moment of awakening upon witnessing the subject of the song.

Listen to “Turkeys” online here.

Local medicinal turkey tail mushroom.


All images except when noted by Celeste M. Evans

Audubon, John James. The Birds of America.

Evans Schultes, Richard and Hofman, Albert. Plants of the Gods. Rochester: Healing Arts Press, 1992.

Greatseal.com. <http://greatseal.com/committees/finaldesign/index.html>

Knowing Jesus. “21 Bible Verses about Kingdom of Heaven”. <https://bible.knowing-jesus.com/topics/Kingdom-Of-Heaven>

National Geographic Kids. “First Thanksgiving”. <http://kids.nationalgeographic.com/explore/history/first-thanksgiving/>

Watts, Alan. The Book.

Wikipedia. “Wild Turkey”. <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wild_turkey>.

Wild Turkey Zone, The. “Early Colonial American History of the Wild Turkey”. <http://wildturkeyzone.com/wildturkey/speciesb.htm>


Ojai’s Shifting Waterscape: Past, Present, and Future History Springs Forth

IN LATE OCTOBER 2014, not long after returning to Ojai after living in the Los Angeles area for many years, I took a series of photographs documenting the Ojai Valley as it appeared relative to the Southern California drought.  I went to four locales within the Valley: Lake Casitas, the Ojai Meadows Preserve, the Ventura River Preserve,  and Upper Ojai. Through the camera lens I looked to capture signs and symptoms of drought within our habitat. Again this year at the end of October I set out to photograph these same places. I returned to the Lake, the River, the Meadows, and Upper Ojai to capture ways in which the environment has visibly shifted over the past two years. I was not surprised to find noticeable and measurable changes; at the same time, I found plenty of greenery, life, and evidence that the ecosystem is thriving best it can within such an extreme state of existence.

Ventura River empty of water but still full of growth. Ventura River Preserve, October 2016

When I began photographing in October 2014, it had only been 7 months since the State of California declared a Drought State of Emergency on January 17th, 2014. The declaration is still in effect, and as of July 1st of this year, the Casitas Municipal Water District mandated a Stage 3 Drought, urging even tighter restrictions on water usage. According to an article in the VC Star written April 18th of this year, Lake Casitas water level has dropped 69 feet, the lowest it has been since it first began to fill in the 1960’s, after the dam was built. The lake’s capacity has dropped into the 40% range, prompting mandatory emergency water conservation efforts (VC Star).

One of the many separate bodies of water which now constitute Ojai's Lake Casitas. October 2016
One of the several isolated bodies of water which now constitute Ojai’s Lake Casitas. Lake Casitas, October 2016

All water in the Ojai Valley–the lake, rivers, and wells–comes from the Ventura River Watershed. As our watershed is 100% comprised of local water sources (no water is imported, as in many other watersheds), our backup in times of drying rivers and wells is the man-made Lake Casitas (venturawatershed.org). However, it is predicted that if the drought continues its course, Lake Casitas will be virtually dry in 4-6 yearsAs the Ventura River Watershed via the Casitas Municipal Water District supplies water to 60-70,000 people and hundreds of farms within Ventura County (casitaswater.org), these statistics are worrisome. Having grown up with Lake Casitas as a given environmental fixture, it is dream-like–even somewhat alienating–to walk on dry land which I had previously traversed many times via boat.

Standing where there used to be water. Lake Casitas, October 2016

In my childhood I regularly visited the Lake, where I would ride in the family’s small and leaky aluminum boat (named ‘Sludge’), host my November birthday parties at one of the many picnic areas complete with metal and plastic jungle gym, and explore the native flora and fauna. One of my first significant works of art (initially untitled, but which I now call First Duck), was created in response to an intense encounter feeding mallard ducks bread crumbs outside the Marina Cafe, at the impressionable age of 5.

(First Duck) / 1995 / crayon on paper / 19″ x 27″
Mallards and new larger (and louder) ducks at waters edge. Lake Casitas, October 2016
Lone Turkey vulture dismantling a large carp on the shore. Lake Casitas, October 2016

Though there is still a significant population of various ducks and (hopefully not too relevantly) vultures at Lake Casitas, the body of water which is the main attraction is a whisper of what I grew up experiencing.

Myself on the Lake, ~1997
Me perched on the bow of ‘Sludge’. Lake Casitas, ~1997
Photo taken from boat on Lake Casitas, around 1997
Photo taken from boat on the waters. Lake Casitas, ~1997
Areas previously deep underwater are now colonized by brush and can be explored on foot. Lake Casitas, October 2016

Growing up in Ojai and living here most of my life has imprinted in me very strong memories of the shifting seasons: the repeating cycles and patterns of weather and growth year to year. The climate throughout my childhood was relatively regular and predictable; when an extreme or unusual weather was predicted–such as El Nino–it would rain the deluge expected. I won’t forget the El Nino of 1997/8: fast-moving water blanketing all surfaces–rapids rushing tunnels under streets–rising up front door steps inch by inch–backyard pool drowned in brown water.

My brother and I peering outside at the flood waters creeping in. Ojai, 1997
View from living room window during the El Nino of 1997
View from living room window during El Nino. Ojai, 1997
Backyard pool after the flood, 1997
Backyard pool after the flood. Ojai, 1997







Late Winter, Spring and Summer have come and gone this year providing less than our average rainfall, despite the prediction (and desperate hype) of an El Nino deluge. As of January, this El Nino has produced only 50% of what El Nino produced from October 1997 to January 1998 (3.77inches vs. 7.6 inches) (accuweather.com). While we have received more rain this year than the past couple of years, it is clear El Nino will not bail us out of the drought. What is considered ‘average’ or ‘normal’ yearly rainfall for Ventura County is around 16 inches (currentresults.com); The Los Angeles Almanac calculated that the Los Angeles area received around 10 inches between July 2015 and June 2016. If the pattern of drought continues, perhaps what is considered ‘average’ rainfall will have to be readjusted. Boat launches at Lake Casitas are closed or readjusted as the shore recedes and as bodies of water become increasingly more shallow and isolated.

The main boat launch has been closed for years, for obvious reasons. Lake Casitas, October 2014
The same boat launch, as seen from the opposite side and two years later. Lake Casitas, October 2016
Seen from the opposite shore: the same boat launch, two years later. Lake Casitas, October 2016

Even those who do not remember the Lake before the drought conditions began to drain it can witness the visual strata revealed from the dramatic lowering of the waterline:

Water level decrease visible on island. Lake Casitas, October 2014
Native Coast Live Oaks which previously lined the lake shore are now high above it, and showing signs of stress. Lake Casitas, October 2016

The dwindling of water in the Lake has, on a positive note, unearthed (or perhaps, ‘unwatered’) some interesting history which has been buried for over half a century. Before the dam was built in 1959, Highway 150–which now winds around the lake through the hills–traversed the basin, routing people to their homes and even a school house built in the 1920’s (VC Star). A road which was ‘history’ decades ago is now an element of the landscape once again.

Highway 150 revisited: this road was the original 150, built before the Casitas dam was completed in 1959. The payment shows no sign of wear-and-tear despite having been underwater for over 50 years. This road now provides access to an adjusted boat harbor, which is far from the ‘mainland’ and seemingly in the middle of nowhere. Lake Casitas, October 2016

Worth mentioning, though unrelated to the drought, is a find at Lake Casitas from the year 2000: fossilized whale bones dating back 25 million years (Los Angeles Times). This was no freshwater whale! Fossils of undersea creatures such as mollusks and starfish found in the upper Sespe Creek area indicate that millions of years ago the area was oceanic (Wikipedia). Not to mention the epic Piedra Blanca (‘white rock’) in the Sepse Wilderness (whose rock face to me looks like a victim of glacier striation). These tangible facts remind us that the Ojai Valley and surrounding Los Padres Forest have gone through many variations of climate change even before humans existed.  In my own explorations of the Lake, I engaged in a form of time travel as I stumbled upon various mummies from the past:

Beer can only mildly corroded from decades of underwater submersion (they stopped making Olympia beer in 1983!). Note the slogan on the can: “It’s the Water”. Lake Casitas, October 2014
1980’s A&W root beer can uncovered by the receding shore. Lake Casitas, October 2014
Not-so-distant past: a contemporary Starbucks cup just under the surface. If people hundreds of years from stumbled upon this, would they believe there used to be mermaids here? October 2016
Not-so-distant past: a contemporary Starbucks cup just under the surface. If people hundreds of years from now stumbled upon this, would they believe there used to be mermaids here? October 2016

In addition to man-made artifacts, I found evidence of flora and fauna thriving, striving, and struggling. Overall, native plants are less lush than they traditionally have been. Yet many, like this Epilobium canum, (California Red Fuchsia), manage to happily speckle the browning grey landscape with vibrant primary color:

A small but vivacious California Red Fuchsia blooming. Lake Casitas, October 2016

Non-native (and water-hogging) plants like the Eucalyptus are fairing less well–but perhaps this is just as well.

A dead eucalyptus tree. Lake Casitas, October 2016

Unfortunately, however, some native species, like Quercus Agrifolia–the iconic Coast Live Oak–are having an undeniably rough time pulling through between rains. Though many other native trees like the Sycamore have been revealing signs of stress, only the Live Oaks have been dying in large numbers. The dried oaks also increase the likelihood and intensity of wildfires (VC Star).

Dead oaks along a trail. Ventura River Preserve, October 2016
Broken dead oak branch still somewhat attached to the main tree. Ojai Wetlands Preserve, October 2016
Fractured dead oak branch still (somewhat) attached to the main tree. Ojai Meadows Preserve, October 2016
The ‘Live’ in Coast Live Oak means that it does not lose its leaves in the winter. Extensive browning of leaves is unusual, and certainly a sign of stress. Ojai Meadows Preserve, October 2016
Drought tolerant White Sage in the river is scraggly, yet shows evidence of having bloomed in Spring. Ventura River Preserve, October 2016
Native Sycamores, unlike the Live Oak, lose their leaves in Fall. Despite many Sycamores showing early browning of leaves, most have managed to regrow again as usual come Spring. Ventura River Preserve, October 2016

It is hard to know what effects the decrease of oak trees in the Valley will have on the total ecosystem. The iconic nature of the Coast Live Oak in Ojai goes beyond aesthetic appreciation: it must certainly be iconic to the nature it is a part of–a sort of leader among the native flora and fauna. In the Pacific Northwest there were fossils discovered of the Coast Live Oak dating 20 million years back, suggesting that the tree has undergone little evolutionary change (Cal Poly Land), and implying that it has been a member of the California ecosystem for at least that long. In more recent (but still seemingly distant) times, its acorns were a staple food for at least twelve Native American tribes throughout California (Wikipedia).

Though we ‘contemporary’ humans no longer rely on native plants for food, the cultivation of crops in Ojai–the agriculture which supports our community nutritionally, economically, and spiritually–is inevitably hampered by the drying up of the Ventura River Watershed. Ojai’s agriculture–from our iconic orange orchards to organic farms and small co-ops–completely depend upon local water sources. In the Fall 2016 edition of Edible Ojai & Ventura County, local organic farmer and owner of Farmer and the Cook restaurant Steve Sprinkel declared that water in the well he irrigates from has decreased by 50% since 2013. Proposed efforts to shuttle water from non-local sources do not bring much promise of fulfilling the water needs of farmers, let alone the rest of the community.

What look like pancakes on a hot griddle are actually piles of removed orange trees. Upper Ojai, 2014
What look like pancakes on a hot griddle are actually piles of removed orange trees. Upper Ojai, 2014

Though there is a limit to what we as humans can do to alleviate the symptoms of drought and climate change, people have been and are continuing to make concerted efforts to rehabilitate and conserve our habitat. In 2001 The Ojai Valley Land Conservancy acquired a plot of abused and neglected land which is now the Ojai Meadows Preserve. Efforts over the years to re-establish a native ecosystem there include diverting flood waters into the area and replacing non-native plants with native ones (Ojai Land Conservancy).  Now a protected and accessible chunk of landscape many native species call home, it is a living educational showcase of the many facets of our local ecosystem. I went there with my camera in October 2014 and again in 2016.

Looks like rain!? Hopefully at the Meadows Preserve, October 2014
Sycamore trees planted in the Preserve have grown bigger over the past two years despite drought conditions. Meadows Preserve, October 2016

Even with less-than-optimal water resources, I found evidence of flora and fauna happily inhabiting the area.

Look for the rabbit hiding in plain sight! Ojai Meadows Preserve, October 2014
Dry area. Meadows Preserve, October 2016
Still some water! Meadows Preserve, October 2016









View of Topa Topa bluffs from the Ojai Wetland Preserve. October 2016
View of Topa Topa bluffs behind native brush. Ojai Meadows Preserve, October 2016
Evidence of native Milkweed having bloomed in the field (and I did see a Monarch fluttering nearby). Meadows Preserve, October 2016

However dry the Valley becomes over the course of the drought, we need not be fully discouraged by present appearances and circumstances. Though it would take an large and unknowable amount of water and time to restore the Valley’s resources and bring back an optimal climate, the ecosystem continues its seasonal cycles with what it is given. Photos I took at the Meadows Preserve in March of this year demonstrate that a little Spring rain can go a long way:

Cyan, magenta, and yellow in the meadow. Meadows Preserve, March 2016
Armies of yellow and purple flowers compliment each other. Meadows Preserve, March 2016
California Poppies, the State flower, returned again to the meadow. Wetlands, March 2016
The State flower, the California Poppy, reborn again in Spring. Meadows Preserve, March 2016
Egret at wetland's egde. Wetlands, March 2016
Local egret enjoying fresh water after Spring rains. Meadows Preserve, March 2016

Also in March of this year I went to the Ventura River Preserve, where I found a myriad of colorful blooming growth and vibrant greenery:

Purple Owl’s Clover–in the daytime! Ventura River Preserve, March 2016
Lavender Lupine. Ventura River Preserve, March 2016
Ceanothus against a cerulean sky. Ventura River Preserve, March 2016





Exceptionally green and healthy Live Oak leaves. Ventura River Preserve, March 2016
Shangri-la? Ventura River Preserve, March 2016

The effects of the Southern California drought on the ecosystem and community of the Ojai Valley have become increasingly more visible since the State of Emergency was decreed in January of 2014. Indeed the drought was already underway long before that. Looking around at our habitat, it is impossible not to notice the depths of vertical striations which design the Lake’s edge; the exceptional dryness of the rehabilitated Meadows; the increase of the color brown in the palette painting the mountains; non-native Eucalyptus and native Oaks together struggling to persist. However, life and growth in the Valley continue on, natural cycles and patterns adjusting as needed for the evolution of the landscape . We must continue to look around us and be aware of the rapid and gradual changes which are underway and which will effect the future. As history rolls on unfolding moment by moment, we shall see–if we continue to look at what is, that is. 

Topa Topa bluffs. Upper Ojai, October 2014
Topa Topa mountains and surrounding landscape. Upper Ojai, October 2016
Ojai Valley, October 2014
Ojai Valley, October 2016

Looking Within Glass: a Growth-(Ec)Centric Exhibition, or Implications of the Virtual

‘Within Glass’ exhibition in the Beatrice Wood Showcase

THIS MONTH AT THE OJAI ART CENTER is my solo exhibition ‘Within Glass’, featuring a plethora of works expressing surreal plant forms, fleshy growths, geological quirks–all within the confines of a glass enclosure. Combing elements from my current primary working mediums–oil and acrylic paintings, digital photography and prints, 3-dimensional mixed media, and small-scale sculpture–the installation is a conglomeration and congregation of a variety of separate but related works spanning many years. Much of the work revolves around growth: forms of growth, processes of growth, mutations of growth, and the containment of growth. Amidst the cornucopia are images rooted in the recognizable (as with the photographs of flowers), paintings which bleed into the malleable realms of the surreal and abstract, and a series of sculptures which seamlessly combine natural stalagmites with man-made materials into anomalous objects for the contemplation of time, infinity, and evolution.

Stalagmite Collection: Plato’s Infinite Cave, Evolution, and The Presence of Time

Color is always a vital part of my art. Color is a highly intelligent mode of communication which is mostly unacknowledged by humans, but which is clearly prized by plants and animals alike, facilitating inner-species and inter-species collaboration. I maintain that color speaks more directly, intuitively, and meaningfully than ideas or concepts (despite what my higher-education art training would have me believe). Every individual color has a unique message to convey, the juxtaposition and mixing of colors creating an infinite rainbow of communication.

Flesh Flowers in the real, surreal, and abstract

The installation of art within an inaccessible glass case makes physical the unspoken rule of ‘look but don’t touch’. Unlike an ordinary museum or gallery show, the possibility of illegally touching the art is absolved–it is touchable only with the gaze. Luckily there is plenty to absorb visually; yet the visceral qualities and themes within much of the work creates a tension: what is inherently physical can only be approached visually. As with a zoo exhibit, it is impossible for the viewer to occupy the same space as what they are looking at. Not so far removed as to be virtual, this scenario resonates with the virtual game: accessing some other person, place, data, information via a looking-glass screen. Our existences on the internet–social media, email, online shopping, even online banking–have in many cases taken precedence over the physical experience they represent and strive to emulate. After all, isn’t it more convenient to have your money as numbers on a (secure) server with an accredited financial institution rather than cold cash stashed under the mattress? Why spend half an hour going to lunch with one friend when you can share with 10,000+ followers on Instagram in an instant? And at the (relevant) extreme: why go see art in person when it can be seen online?

Tissue Culture. Mosaic shelf, mason jar with pill bottles, and oil paintings on wood


Atmosphere Ascending. Glass container, gravel, faux flowers, Styrofoam, yarn

The physicality of art–and of existence, for that matter–is vital to effective and meaningful communication and expression. Viewing a painting or sculpture on a screen will never replace experiencing  it in its native habitat: physical space-time, as it really is. An image on a screen provides some inkling of what it is like off screen; perhaps even some of its content and emotional qualities are transferred across the lit-up digital looking-glass membrane. Perhaps when we listen to an MP3 file–a song which plays in bits and pieces–we can put the pieces together to hear the music. Perhaps we really are connecting with and expressing ourselves to every single follower on Instagram when we post a picture of ourselves waking up in the morning. Can technology make virtual reality as viable, effective, and relevant as physical reality?





Come find out for yourself at the opening reception for ‘Within Glass’ at The Ojai Art Center on Saturday, November 12th, from 1-3 PM. The exhibition runs only through November–look within the glass while you can!