Sunday, September 23, 2012

Equinox Magic

Yesterday, on the fall equinox, we visited an Indian ceremonial site. Around midday, a shaft of light appears and moves across the ground, spilling into a bedrock mortar. The event only lasts a few minutes.
The site is located in a cave-like space beneath two enormous rocks. The rock with the mortar is the small one in the middle of the picture.
Just to one side is a single pictograph of a female figure. By a happy coincidence, our group met John Rafter, who told us he was the first to document the midday equinox event at this site. He showed us an article he wrote, "Sun and the Lone Woman of the Cave." The title refers to an "ancient telling" of the Chemehuevi people about a woman who was impregnated by the sun. Rafter has researched two other sites in California that feature similar red female figures and equinox-related light events.
Here is another view of the site. Rafter told us that another light pattern used to be visible, later in the day, on the rock in the foreground: two horned-shaped bands of light, reminiscent of a bighorn sheep. A tree now blocks the path of light to that rock. The mortar rock is just beyond the foreground rock, and the pictograph is in the center of the back panel. It was a privilege to see this event and to meet John Rafter. A day we won't soon forget.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Cactus Heaven

We wrapped up over overnighter in Pasadena with a visit to The Huntington gardens. On weekends the Cactus Conservatory is open, so we headed there first. We'd been warned that they close the conservatory if the temperature inside reaches 100 degrees. That could easily have happened later in the day, but at 10:30 am, it was very comfortable. We never get tired of marveling at the amazing cacti and succulent specimens here.

I'd forgotten how big the outdoor cactus garden is. It's a hike! It's also the only cactus garden I've ever seen with heat lamps. (How does that saying go--"I've a feeling we're not in the Mojave any more.")

I can't tell you the name of this wonder, but it has orange dingleballs the size and shape of grapes. Trippy.

Barrel cactus worshippers, unite! You can tell which way the sun travels. Masses of single varieties like this bring to mind Lotusland in Santa Barbara. Though I don't know if I've ever seen such glorious golden barrels anywhere else.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

The Wild Parrots of Pasadena

Remember the movie "The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill?" A great film about wild parrots in San Francisco. Well, as it turns out, there are wild parrots in Pasadena, too, as we recently discovered.

We'd had breakfast at the Corner Bakery on Lake St. and were strolling up the block afterwards--when sounds from a sidewalk pepper tree attracted our attention. Pepper tree berries were raining onto the ground, and there was a great clacking of beaks. "What kind of birds are those??" we asked each other. Peering into the greenery, we finally saw them. Parrots! Lots of parrots! More parrots than we could count, all chomping away like like pepper tree mowing machines.

We stood there watching them for awhile, then finally crossed the street. From there, we saw the parrot flock take off in formation, looking for all the world like military jets, swooping low over the street and then up and away.

A quick Google search revealed that there are enough wild parrots around Pasadena for them to be real pests. They can gather to roost at night by the hundreds. Apparently the noise can be deafening. Pasadena's lush landscaping and abundant street trees provide them with an abundant food supply, so they are thriving.

How did they get there? Some people release pet parrots into the great outdoors when they are no longer wanted. I also saw online references to a caged parrot flock that got loose during an earthquake and were never recovered. In any case, for better or worse, it looks like Pasadena's wild parrots are here to stay!

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Azeen's Afghani Restaurant

Years ago, we had Afghani food in San Francisco and jumped at the chance to have it again last weekend in Pasadena. It's sort of like Northern Indian food, but somewhat different in terms of spices. Azeen's Afghani Restaurant came highly recommended on and did not disappoint.

This is a good special occasion restaurant. The atmosphere is elegant, the service attentive.

Must-haves are the mantu appetizers: ravioli-like dumplings filled with ground lamb and topped with yogurt and vegetables. For entrees, Bill went with the Smarooq Challaw, above--chicken sauteed with mushrooms, onions, tomatoes and green peppers. I had the Quabili Pallaw, below. Under that mound of exquisitely seasoned rice (think cinnamon, cardamom, etc.) are the tenderest pieces of lamb ever. We took half of these mountains of food home and had a second dinner the next night.

One wall of the restaurant features numerous alcoves with murals--my favorite, of course, is this one with the camels.