Special Tours for Aug. and Sept., 2014

Come take a tour of a food forest!

Come take a tour of a food forest!

Normally tours of Finch Frolic Garden are held by appointment for groups of 5 – 15 people, Thursdays – Mondays.  Cost is $10 per person and the tour lasts about two hours.  By popular demand, for those who don’t have a group of five or more, we will be hosting Open Tour days for the first 15 people to sign up in August and September.   They will be Sunday, August 10 and 24, Sept. 7 and 21, and Thursdays August 7 and 28, and Sept. 11 and 25.  Tours begin promptly at 10 am.  The tours last about two hours and are classes on basic permaculture while we tour the food forest.  I ask $10 per person. Please reserve and receive directions through dianeckennedy@prodigy.net.  Children under 10 are free; please, no pets.  Photos but no video are allowed. Thank you for coming to visit!  Diane and Miranda

Finch Frolic Facebook!

Thanks to my daughter Miranda, our permaculture food forest habitat Finch Frolic Garden has a Facebook page.  Miranda steadily feeds information onto the site, mostly about the creatures she’s discovering that have recently been attracted to our property.  Lizards, chickens, web spinners and much more.  If you are a Facebook aficionado, consider giving us a visit and ‘liking’ our page.  Thanks!

Salton Sea

Salton Sea is a terminal sea; there is no connection to any other water

Salton Sea is a terminal sea, created by accident in 1905 by a break in an irrigation canal from the Colorado River.

Trains a hundred cars long pass by regularly

Salty and as it evaporates, becoming saltier, the sea hosts water sports, camping, and in the summer black flies by the millions, temperatures well over 100F, and the smell of rotting fish.  However it is also one of the birding hotspots of the United States, as it is located along the Pacific Flyway in the Imperial Valley.

Black-necked stilt

My daughter and I took advantage of the cooler post-Christmas weather and drove there last week.  Winter is the best time to see birds and we weren’t disappointed.

Great egrets rest in the trees by the Visitor's Center

The drive was a little over two and a half hours from our home, skirting the mountains and into the desert communities.The Sea is about 35 miles long, and is about 227 feet below sea level.  The north-west part of Salton Sea hosts the visitor’s center and some good birding areas, but the best areas for us were about thirty miles south (it isn’t called a sea for nothing!) at the Sonny Bono Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge, Unit #1.

Pelagic birds dining at Sonny Bono

Fish die-off is a sad part of the life cycle of the mineral-heavy sea, and the sand is layered with the decomposing bones of millions of fish.

The sand is made of disintigrating fish bones

Thousands of birds in enormous flocks can be seen all around the Sea.  It is a grand thing to witness; it had been a common sight until fairly recently in US history to have flocks of birds so dense they blacken the sky.

Catching afternoon sunshine between feedings

There weren’t that many there, but the numbers were amazing.  In the southern part are agricultural fields where we saw hundreds of curlews and ibises feeding between the crops.

Ibis in agricultural fields.

We were looking in particular for burrowing owls, and the advice we were puzzled to receive  was to look in irrigation ditches and pipes along the road.  Then, sure enough, as we were driving my daughter suddenly caught sight of one sitting alongside the road at the top of an irrigation ditch!  He obligingly posed for many photographs.  Later I saw two sitting at the opening of a pipe that protruded from an irrigation ditch!  Amazing.

Burrowing owls nest in irrigation pipes

One of the highlights for me was seeing sandhill cranes.  These beautiful and majestic birds were feeding in ponds adjacent to flocks of pelicans.  I didn’t happen to get any photos of them although my daughter did, because I was busy crawling under the car trying to find the source of the intense squealing sound that suddenly developed (only gravel in the wheel, thank goodness!) There were also hundreds of snow geese, and long strings of hundreds of red-winged blackbirds filled the sky as the sun set.

The only sound was the whisper of hundreds of blackbird wings overhead.

We left, entranced, at sunset, and took the route home through the Anza-Borrego desert, up to 4,000 feet above sea level through the mountain town of Julian and back to Fallbrook in just over 2 1/2 hours.  We covered about 275 miles that day, but it was well worth it for birding.  The visitor’s center has many pamphlets on other birding areas in the vicinity, but they’d have to be done on other trips because there are just too many birds to see in one day!

The beautiful Gambel's quail

Other birds we saw included Bonaparte’s gull, American Avocets, Stilt Sandpiper, Long-billed Dowitcher, and Gambel’s Quail, to name a few.  An excellent birding site with Salton Sea bird list and locations is htttp://southwestbirders.com.  Search for Salton Sea.

December in Fallbrook

What I Did on My 50th Birthday

Waking up again in Oahu, I met my son for brunch at the Sheraton Waikiki.  I was there last about 14 years ago with my young children and my aging parents, and for the first time about 39 years ago with my parents on a business trip.  I remember the dining room because between the large glass panels that separate the outside from the inside, there is nothing… only space.  No screen doors.  House sparrows come and go, and there are no flies.  It made such an impact on me when I was young, that concept of bringing the outside inside and the absolute freedom of having no bug or weather problem, that I’d always remembered that room but didn’t realize where on the several islands we visited it was until yesterday.  The buffet caters to international tastes, so there is a Japanese area with miso soup, seaweed, tofu, pickled cucumber and plums, and many other goodies.   There is a salad area, a cheese area, an area with assorted breads and freshly made pastries, the hot foods sections, fresh fruit and yogurts, and cereals.  Throughout all this is the taste of the isles: fresh pineapple and papaya (it doesn’t taste as incredible anywhere else in the world), coconut syrup for the taro flour french toast, loco moco (egg on Spam on rice covered with brown gravy), guava juice, passionfruit pastries.  There is no way to just eat a little, and no way to eat everything you’d like to.

Afterwards we walked along the beach back to the Moana, then drove out to the Manoa Falls rainforest, not far away.  As soon as we got out of the car it began to pour.  We purchased cheap rainjackets and mosquito wipes (don’t come to Hawaii without mosquito repellant!) and took the long, slippery, muddy and breathtakingly gorgeous hike up to the falls and back.  The Manoa Arboretum is above and we walked around their pathways enjoying the incredible flowers.  There are side trails up to the falls, and many pathways around the arboretum that we didn’t have time to hike.  My son had to work at 5, so very muddy, we headed back towards town.  We stopped at a Chinese restaurant and ate, then after leaving my son, I returned to my hotel.  I was lucky enough to speak to my daughter for a long time, reply to many wonderful well-wishers on Facebook and a few emails as well.  Then I dressed in one of my new Hawaiian dresses and walked with the crowds up and down the street, watching street performers doing magic tricks, balancing basketballs, pretending to be silver or gold statues, and playing electric violin to the radio.  It was just the kind of day I’d hoped for.  I spent it with one of my children doing something fun and adventurous, had great food, great exercise and a new start on life as I begin my next 50.  Saturday, the 22nd I fly home.


More Oahu

As the time is three hours ahead of San Diego time, and being an early riser anyway, I’m up at 5 am with the dawn chorus.  I’m able to walk out onto the beach in the dark, do my yoga stretches in the sand, swim a little in the man-made coves which create safe swimming areas away from the riptides, and watch the sun brighten the day.  On Wed. we drove to the North side of the island, to Waimea Falls botanical park.  An incredible collection of plants arranged in gardens representing the flora of different islands.  It was very humid but lovely.  We ate the now-warmed leftovers from dinner at the Cheesecake Factory in the car down the road at Shark Cove.  There are incredible tidepools there.  We waded, taking care not to slip on the craggy lava rock.  I collected an impressive array of mosquito bites, but I”m always happy to contribute to local sustainability.  Then we drove around the Eastern perimeter of the island, which is where the Hawaiians live.  Incredible, majestic scenery.  The mountains have real presence.  When it looked as if we were going to drive around a curve directly into the mountain, there was the Wilson tunnel.  Then we popped out to the other side with a completely different view, and on back to Waikiki.  In the interest of time I’ll post the photos gallery style below.


Traveling Again: Oahu

Oahu from the air

I’m visiting my son in Oahu for a few days… good excuse, huh?  After some of the usual flight and traveling difficulties, and some very welcome sleep, I’m sitting in my pre-dawn hotel room listening to the morning chorus of birds and Waikiki traffic.  This is my fifth time visiting the isles; my third here.  All over the hotel, the beach, the vendors is a memory of being here with my parents at various stages of our lives.  My mother loved Hawaii so much.  So different from shoveling snow in New Jersey layered in sodden cold clothing.  If she had more than one life to live I’m sure she and Dad would live on Maui.  I was here last with them when my children were small, just after my divorce.  It feels like a hundred years ago.  As it is, I’ve left the mainland as a woman who is forty-something, and returning a fifty year old.  I need the warm scented breezes to cushion the impact.

Waikiki is like any American resort: expense and commercialism and pretense of class turning its back on the dirt, pollution, noise and poverty that seeps through cracks from the other side of the International Marketplace just across the street.  Tourists shouldn’t roam far at night.  Making Hawaii a state did it no favors; I agree with the natives that they’ve lost so much. Next time that I visit it will be to a bed and breakfast in the hills where there is greenery, birds and quiet.

Today we’ll go to one of the beautiful areas of the island and see some of that incredible nature that clings on to this poor volcanic rock.  Hike and birdwatch and listen to the lack of human machines, if possible. Feel the freedom of not being in competition with slender young women, for at my age I am invisible, which is comforting.  Let the scent of the flowers seep inside.  Enjoy the company of my son as an adult.   Here are a few photos of my first afternoon here:


To Land’s End


The Land's End Hotel

This will be the last of my Cornwall travel experiences: Land’s End.  At the very south-west tip of Cornwall is Land’s End.  When you stand at the clifftop of Land’s End and face west, the next main body of land is the east coast of the United States.

No main land until the USA

It was astoundingly beautiful, with cliffs full of history, danger and excitement.  We stayed at the Land’s End Hotel (http://www.landsendhotel.co.uk/) which perches at the edge of the cliff.

Breakfast in the dining room with an incredible view


Treacle Tart... yum!

The dining room windows and our room window faced the ocean and the setting sun.

Sunset over the Isles of Scilly

From the hotel you could see a small group of rocks and a lighthouse.

Many a sailor's saviour

I watched both the moon and the sun set every day we were there.

The moon setting pre-dawn from our room

On good days you can see the outline of the Isles of Scilly, which we regretfully didn’t have a chance to visit.  Although we still were buffeted about by the remaining winds of the hurricane the weather was beautiful.

Wind-tipped waves

In Cornwall they say that if there are clouds on the horizon it is going to rain, and if there aren’t then its raining already.  We had some predictable showers, most notably in the morning, but nothing to complain about.  And the sea… oh, the sea!  We spent our last morning there walking the cliff paths between rock and heath, which even in September were quilts of purple and yellow flowers.

Gorse and heather in glorious bloom

The rock breaks into large chunks rather than crumbling away, which creates massive natural sculptures on which you can imagine giants of legend sitting, chin on fist, mesmerized by the waves.

Rocks like giants' chairs

The relentlessly pounding surf formed caves which made the waters  home to smugglers.

These be smuggler's waters!


Natural caves were great for smugglers

The giant rock cliffs formed enormous tombstones for the countless sailors of countless ships, all foundered on the hidden stones by wild tides, since man first took to the sea.

No guardrails on the trail to disturb the beauty

The cliff pathway followed the edge without restraints or hand-holds of any kind, and it led all the way to the historic southernmost town of Mousehole (pronounced MOWzzle).

The cliff path leads several miles to Mousehole

Although the wind kept the number of birds low, there still were the pelagic inhabitants using the cliffs for protection and warming themselves in the sun.

Seabirds resting


Rocky islands are perfect for seabirds

A RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) center sat in the hotel complex on the cliff from where my daughter sighted a peregrine falcon.

RSPB Center, with an inviting Blue-footed Booby at the entrance

The area around Land’s End is mostly empty, with a few farms and another historic hotel The First and Last (depends on which way you are going!) which boasts of a smuggler’s tunnel to the sea and the horrible end of the woman who turned them in to the Crown.

Epitaph for a squealer

There are people who travel from Land’s End up to the farthest point on mainland Britain, John O’Groats, and call themselves End-to-Enders.  Many do it for charity; some walk or bike.  When we visited Scotland several years ago we took the ferry from John O’Groats to the Orkney Islands, so we’ve been at each end, just not in direct line. This Cornwall coastline is the most dramatic I’ve ever seen.

Incredible colors and textures

I left part of my heart in Cornwall; something in the heartiness of the people and creatures that live there, braced against the wind and weather, calls to me.

A tough bunny

I could have spent days like the giants, staring out at the roiling waves, watching the next storm blow in.


As long as I could be inside nice and cozy when it hit!  I want to thank my daughter for the use of many of these photographs, and for being such a good traveling companion and navigator.


St. Michael’s Mount


St. Michael's Mount

Back to travel photos!  While in Cornwall, we had to go to the coastal city of Penzance (because one of our favorite Gilbert and Sullivan plays is, of course, The Pirates of Penzance).  From there we walked to the neighboring city of Marazion (don’t do this… drive!) to see St. Michael’s Mount http://www.stmichaelsmount.co.uk/ .  From about 350 BC the Mount was a place where much trade took place, especially in local tin.  Smuggling, too, I’m sure.  Then in 495 AD some fishermen saw on the rocky island the vision of the angel St. Michael.  Not long after a chapel was built and religious pilgrams flocked to the Mount.

An imposing structure

A priory joined the chapel and the old, glorious castle appeared, jutting out of the hard stone and overlooking everything.  Although a place of worship, many times in its history did the Mount have to take arms.  Most notably it was from St. Michael’s Mount that the first beacon light was lit to warn of the Spanish Armada.

At some times the priory saw battle.

After the Dissolution, it was purchased as the home of the St. Aubyn family, which it has remained ever since.  In the 1950’s one of the family gave the structure into the hands of the National Trust, with the codicil that the family could live in it for 999 years.  What makes St. Michael’s Mount very special is that it can be walked to across a causeway when the tide is low; when the tide covers the cobblestones, it becomes and island.  We’d come to know about the causeway as it was used the in movie version of Shakspeare’s Twelfth Night.

The causeway underwater

We walked across the ankle-twisting cobbles to the imposing and ancient fortress.

A ruined gatehouse, with the causeway far below.

We were still experiencing the very heavy winds from Hurricane Irene, so at times sand blew into our faces and it was a little hard to stand.  Otherwise it was a clear and gorgeous day.  Although still a private residence most of the castle can be  toured.

The 'front door' of the castle, facing west.


Legend has it that a giant once lived on these giant stones.

There is a grand library, and the place is rife with window nooks with the most incredible views of the English Channel.

A stony window seat.

The amount of labor that went into building these stone fortresses,

Beautiful and centuries-old workmanship.

to make them last for centuries, always amazes me.

At the top of the priory

The chapel boasts a rose window dated from the 15th century,

The Rose Window in the chapel

as well as other fantastic artworks.

Artwork in the chapel

In every room there are displays of beautiful handicraft,

Ornate sugar spoon

and some unusual furniture.

An unusual chair

Below the castle are sub-tropical gardens, which were closed the day we were there.  We peered down at them and discovered… a good portion of the plants we have here in San Diego!

A view of a window nook, the gardens and the Channel.

The sub-tropical gardens in temperate Cornwall

When we were to leave, the water had just begun to cover the causeway.  Some souls were crossing but getting their feet wet as the winds brought the tide in quickly.  We waited for a boat ride and for only one pound fifty pence (!) each, we could achieve the mainland!

Heading back to shore.

The water was choppy but we were with people who joked a lot, which we often found to be true in our British travels, and that made the crossing fun.  There are festivals held on the Mount, along with re-enactments and garden tours.  Check their website for announcements if you plan to visit, and keep an eye on the tides!


The Lost Gardens of Heligan

If you ever go to England, go to Cornwall and spend at least a day at the Lost Gardens of Heligan (http://www.heligan.com/ ).  Due to a flat tire we only spent four hours there and we didn’t see even half of the 400 acres of incredible restored gardens.  The story is this: a thousand acres on the southern coast of Cornwall has belonged to the Tremayne family for about 400 years.  At the end of the 1800’s, one of the Tremaynes had built extensive theme gardens.  There were walled gardens, enormous hedges, glass houses, cold frames, a pineapple pit where the only pineapple grown in Cornwall grew warmed by horse manure.  Melon houses, leisure gardens, formal flower gardens, woods, kitchen gardens and unbelievably, tropical gardens, filled the estate.  Due to Cornwall’s position by the English Channel the climate is such that with care tropicals can be grown there.  The estate was fantastic; then came WW I, and almost half the family and staff were killed.  The gardens were abandoned.  Subsequent wars and taxes took their toll, and the gardens became overgrown.  Vines, brambles, trees and weeds ran rampant, breaking through the glass roofs, pulling apart brick walls, upsetting carefully laid pathways and covering every trace of the gardens under a head-high blanket of tangled, thorny brush.

Twenty-one years ago, the Tremayne who inheirited the gardens, asked one of the founders of the neighboring Eden Project ( http://www.edenproject.com/ ) to try and restore the gardens.  The task was phenomenal and reads like a mystery.  Hacking through the overgrowth they found the walls, the foundations and the clues as to what had been.  Since then the gardens have been restored.  They are everyone’s dream of a garden combined. There is a mound that was a beacon mound during Nepolianic times, but then discovered dates back to the Armada, and then back to Medieval times!  There is a jungle with massive gunnera plants and palm trees, about half an acre of vegetables all grown from seed that dates from the late Victorian time, walled flower gardens, ‘antique’ poultry and cattle, unique sculptures recently added, and a wildlife garden to encourage the existence of so many insects, birds and animals that are disappearing.  Even with weeding through photos I came up with so many that I want to share, that I’ll just post them below.  Visit the website and read up on the Lost Gardens, voted Britain’s Finest Gardens.  They are magical.