More Woolsey Chronicles

Topanga Nutcracker through the Eyes of Evacuation

For a few months every year, young children, preteens, teenagers, parents, and old friends come together to create the Topanga Nutcracker, and bring to life the magical realms of young Clara’s dream, with its snowy forest and candied castle, its noble Prince and evil Mouse King.

This year, of course, the Nutcracker dreamscape, along with most canyon dwellers, evacuated in all directions away from the fire that affected everyone. The cast became preoccupied with nonmagical things and the focus and grace that ballet requires, were turned toward an emergency state that asks in its own way for those same qualities.

In the disorientation of an evacuation, I found myself missing the long, loud hours in the Community House, the chaos that comes from so many bodies learning to move together; the beauty of young girls emulating the movements of older girls whom they admire; and the awesome energy of the boys who have joined our cast.

Perhaps more than I generally do, I found myself appreciating the normal conflicts that spring up among the children, the disagreements and disappointments that are their own kind of training for life.

Mostly, I missed the music of Tchaikovsky’s joyous, raucous, hopeful score, from start to finish, floating across the TCC grounds, as if calling out to winter—daring it to finally come and cool our hot, dry land.

Sherry has said that this year’s Nutcracker will open “on a wing and a prayer,” fitting words for the story of a child with a magical dream that is danced to life by the beings around her, embodied by families in our dreamscape of a canyon.


The 38th annual Topanga Nutcracker, presented by Bob and Sherry Jason, at the Topanga Community Center: Friday and Saturday, Dec. 7 & 8, 7:30 p.m., and Sunday, Dec. 9, 2 p.m. All tickets are still $15. For more information: (310) 455-3939

~By Patricia Saphier


Coming Home

The traffic hums along Old Canyon. Whereas, usually, it can be annoying—too loud, too fast, drivers using our cozy canyon as a thoroughfare—today I smile and am almost moved to slap on some lipstick, stand in the yard and wave to the passing parade of cars, calling, “Welcome back!”

The tutus are back on display in front of Hidden Treasures, a light-up sign proclaims, Topanga Hardware “Now Open,” and there’s a crowd at the Post Office.

Yesterday I saw a young family walking along the side of the road in the soft November sunshine, the little girl picking up acorns from the ground. I waved at them and even though they don’t know me, they waved back.  

Once again, I return the photo albums to the cabinet, put the important papers in the drawer, return my magic boots to the closet, and place my doll on her shelf.

The leaves fall from our tree, the cat snoozes in his little bed, the children are coming home for Thanksgiving, and they have a home to come to. Thankful I am.   

With profound sympathy to all who suffered loss.

~By Kathie Gibboney


Do the Math: Underlying Numbers of the Burnt Undergrowth

Four hundred types of insects live in California’s chaparral, various ants, grasshoppers, spiders, potato bugs, termites, beetles, snails and moths. But this past week 98,000 acres went up in flames in our backyard And as the brush fire raced through the mountains at 10 mph, consuming everything, not all of those bugs managed to burrow underground or fly away to safety. Their habitat was ravaged and billions of them were incinerated.

So what? Insects are the landowners, the busy workers; yet their labor is largely overlooked. They decompose waste, recycle elements, aerate soil, control weeds and we rely on them to pollinate crops, for beeswax, honey, silk.

So do other creatures, for food, for survival. We also depend on the dependents. Ten quintillion insects are estimated to be crawling around earth at any given time.

That’s about ten million per acre. Some say 400 million, so give or take a handful. They outnumber us 200 million to one. Or in terms of weight: 300 lbs. of wriggling insect biomass for every one pound of human flesh and bone. 88 percent of the Santa Monica Mountains Parkland is now scorched, dead. The vegetation consists of grasses, sagebrush, manzanita, scrub oak, ceonothus adding up to 100kg/ha or 90 lbs per acre of chaparral. All that plant tissue provides food and homes for the bugs and others, nesting material for birds, warm lining for the dens of burrowers, and in turn, fuel for the food web.

It’s a pyramid Of energy transfer and ecologists tell us that: For every 100 units of green growth, like the grasses (known as producers because they produce biomass from photosynthesis) There are 10 units of primary consumers, the herbivores such as insects, rabbits, mice. That graze on the grass, or eat the tasty leaves, stems, roots, acorns, nutritious nuts and seeds. And consuming all that is the 1.0 unit of secondary consumers (coyotes, lizards, raccoons, snakes) And then preying on those, the 0.1 unit of tertiary consumers: hawks, bobcats and mighty mountain lions.

Every layer of this pyramid depends on the layer below it, and all are suffering now as their natural terrain has been burned to ash and reduced in size. Many have died already—billions of insects, thousand of rabbits—And many more, the displaced, will die from starvation in the aftermath.

We humans are not the only ones to have lost our homes: The home ranges of the four radio-collared bobcats hereabouts have burned. They’re homeless, hungry and competing with other critters for the same limited resources. Less vegetation equals less bugs, fewer mice, squirrels, foxes, coyotes and bobcats all the way up to the top of the food web, the already imperiled mountain lions. Unburned areas of the mountains like Topanga will likely became a refuge for fleeing starving wildlife, so on the bright side, I expect to see more fauna from my balcony, but I wonder.

How they will they find the remaining habitat, how fierce will the competition become. Will it really take ten to twenty years to recover? Can we help?

It’s going to be sad.

~By Andrea Ehrgott


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