Beauty and the Beard (and Brad)

Ever wonder how the trails down at the Ojai Meadow Preserve or river bottom preserve stay so nice and neat you just wanna eat lunch off of them?  Is it magic? Trail fairies?  Do they hire goats to snack in the middle of the night?   While these are all entertaining notions the true heroes of the OVLC properties are the non-magical but super dedicated Todd, Lauren and Brad.  Neither rain nor sleet nor snow nor rabid wombats keep them from their appointed rounds of planting, trimming, weeding, watering, snipping, hacking and spelunking.  They did however manage to take a few minutes to answer my inane queries:

1.  In 30 words are less what are the responsibilities of the OVLC field crew?

Todd Bertola:  In simple weed, water, or plant; and other duties as assigned. Restoration is the main focus of the crew. We have to learn about all the plants we deal with regularly. As Brian says, “you only need to know the plant your killing or planting”, but pretty soon your sidetracked with all plants,

2.  What’s the first native plant you remember learning.. What’s the most recent?

TB:  Creosote is the first plant I remember my dad telling me about, and it’s uses. The first invasive non-native plant I remember more distinctly learning from my grandmother who made tumbleweeds, also known as Russian thistle, out to be a communist plot. The most recent native I’ve come across is California thistle.

California thistle

Lauren Ward:  Growing up in Ojai, the first native plant I probably learned was either the Oak tree or poison oak.   The most recent native I’ve learned is the Pacific Madrone tree, which Todd and I came across while working on El Camino Cielo Trail.


3.  Even though it’s native, this plant is a major pain in the ass to deal with…

TB:  POISON OAK!!!!!! Also, poison hemlock kinda freaks me out a little. I get paranoid that somehow transdermally i might be poisoned from it, and start convincing myself i feel woozy; but it’s just psychosomatic.

Poison hemlock

LW:  White Thorn Ceanothus can be incredibly annoying to push through. In terms of plants we work with, Fuschia-flowered Gooseberry is uncomfortable to handle, being very spiky, but it’s not a major pain by any means.

Ceanothus leucodermis

Ribes speciosum

4.  Favorite local trails for wildflowers… best trail to bring out-of-towners… most challenging trail

TB:  For wildflowers, it’s hard to beat Sisar. I try to take anyone from out of town and/or new to California on any ridge trail with  the ocean and islands visible, like Laguna Ridge; which is also a good trail for wildflowers, come to think of it. Ventura County is a transect of different floristic provinces so there is almost always something in bloom nearby to dazzle your Aunt Gerty from Iowa. Most, challenging? Right now Camino Cielo.

LW:  Wildflowers: Sisar Canyon is a comfortable shady trail with plenty of flowers, and it’s a hike that can be as short or as long as you like, even climbing up to the ridge for great views.  Out-of-towners: It depends on how much time we have. Cozy Dell for views, Ventura River Preserve up Wills Canyon is pleasant, but what I like even better is the drive up 33, with a hike up Potrero John or Piedra Blanca, or even just a stop along the Sespe. I always love taking people up to Pine Mountain if possible.

5.  Favorite crew activity… crew activity you might call in sick for….

TB:  My favorite crew activity is definitely plant mysteries, keying in plants, figuring if it’s the native one or the non-native that looks almost just like it, researching why a particular plant likes to grow here and not there etc. The part I dislike most about the job is cleaning up after other grown people who apparently feel above carrying their trash a short distance to a trash can.

Humboldt lily

6.  Hardest to work in the rain, wind or heat…Harshest conditions you’ve ever had to deal with?

TB:  The heat is the worst by far. Sometimes, when it’s a 100 plus hot,  I look around and there are no other animals, no birds, squirrels, nothing out but insects; I wonder then if I’m a mad dog or an Englishman? The OVLC has good heat protocol in place, and I’ve even had people from the community show up with a cold drink on a hot day when they see me out in the meadows.

LW:  The heat is certainly the hardest to work in, although I haven’t really had to deal with wind or rain living in this area where wind and rain are usually welcome changes of weather. The most important thing in the heat is keeping hydrated.
7.  Interesting wildlife encounters you can share?

One of the coolest wildlife sightings I’ve seen recently was a Red Tailed hawk making a breathlessly  fast dive with a with a snake in his talons waving underneath like a banner.  It was the kind of thing countries put on their flags. Of course, nothing beats seeing an animal you’ve never seen, like the night snake Rick Bisaccia pointed out at the new OVLC Steelhead preserve.

Night snake

8.  Favorite local native tree/shrub/wildflower

TB:  Bay Laurel/Wild Rose/Fairy lanterns. Those are today’s answer’s anyway ask me again tomorrow and you get three different favorites probably 🙂

Calochortus albus – Fairy lantern

LW:  I have to pick favorites!?!? There’s no way to choose: smooth Manzanita branches with red bark and gray-green leaves, Ceanothus flowers covering the hillsides, silky sweet mariposa lilies greeting you along the trail, fragrant feathery California sagebrush, bright blue smiling chia sage, Bush poppies glowing in the afternoon sun, golden stars and irises burst with color, Humboldt lilies, yerba santa, yucca, Matilija poppies, lemonadeberry!, white sage, Hummingbird sage looking like Dr. Seuss plants, mushrooms, oak trees with their arching arms creating outdoor rooms of shade, Alders with their pink roots in the water, sparkling cottonwood leaves clapping like millions of tiny hands in the breeze.  The list goes on and on…even poison oak is beautiful to look at; have you ever noticed the white berries it produces? And that’s not even looking at plant uses. They’re all my favorites in one way, at one time or another

Salvia columbiare – Chia

Golden stars

Next time you are out on an OVLC preserve and see these 3 braving the elements please don’t be shy to offer a smile and a wave and a hearty thanks….

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7 Responses to Beauty and the Beard (and Brad)

  1. Lanny Kaufer says:

    Thoroughly enjoyable read, especially from the comfort of my swamp-cooled Meiners Oaks house on a 100+ day. I especially liked the Mad Dogs and Englishmen clip and Lauren’s spontaneous ode to our native plants. And, yes, thanks, crew, for all you do!

  2. Judith Gustafson says:

    Is it August already?? I just returned home from a PCT section hike … to 100+ degree temps, and here are folks talking about being outdoors … I love these folks, and when I see them workin’ on the meadow or river preserve, I wish to fall to my knees and kiss their feet. Thank you for all you do!

  3. for the Rambler and/or Rick Bisaccia,
    looking for confirmation of the identify of this BIG Cream & Grey Snake we found warming itself in our road Friday — five foot long and as big around as my wrist at it’s largest point …

    • ojairambler says:

      Not a herpetologist here but I will give Rick a nudge, see if he has an idea

    • ojairambler says:

      As promised… Rick was all over it:
      “Northern Pine Snake (Pituophis melanoleucus melanoleucus endemic from New Jersey to Alabama. A release or escape, endangered species. Not GOOD that it’s out in the wild due to the possibility that given it is a species of gopher snake it could interbreed with our own”.
      To give credit, Rick consulted his genuine herpetologist buddy… Thanks for the comment, and thanks to Rick for the reply.

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