The Santa Monica Mountains lost two advocates in the last days of 2020. Longtime Topanga resident Anthony Morris was a passionate advocate for wildfire safety. His son describes him as “a father, a husband, a brother, a son, an artist, an architect, a journalist, a producer, a linguist, an environmentalist, an animal lover, a raconteur, and a friend to all.” 

In recent years, Tony was a familiar figure, sitting in front of the Topanga fire station with his “wings over fire” sign. Longtime residents remember him as a brilliant and outspoken advocate for aerial firefighting resources following the devastating 1993 Old Topanga Fire.

Longtime local reporter Bill Koeneker also passed away this week. For almost three decades he wrote for the Malibu Surfside News, covering local issues. Few people knew more about the Santa Monica Mountains’ backcountry trails, history, and wildlife. He willingly shared that knowledge with his readers.

There is no room here or anywhere to do justice to all of the people we have lost during this terrible year of COVID-19, but the words of poet Edna St. Vincent Millay’s “Dirge Without Music”, penned in 1928, express some of the pain:  

I am not resigned to the shutting away of loving hearts

in the hard ground. 

So it is, and so it will be, for so it has been, time out of mind:

Into the darkness they go, the wise and the lovely.  

Crowned with lilies and with laurel they go; 

but I am not resigned.

COVID-19 will continue to cast a shadow over 2021, but the new year offers hope: vaccines are on the horizon, a new presidential administration offers the promise of stability and an effort to restore civility and political norms. There are still a few hours of the old year left, but one can hope that the remaining squares on the 2020 bingo disaster card will remain unfilled. 

Not everything about 2020 was bad. TNT columnist Olivia Pool finds the gifts hidden within this challenging year (page 15), while our historian reflects on lessons learned during another difficult chapter of American history, when Ulysses S. Grant was president, in a letter to President Elect Joe Biden (page 11). 

The first winter storm of the year arrived during the last week of 2020, with heavy rain and even a dusting of snow-like hail in the highest elevations of the Santa Monica Mountains. The rain brought a welcome respite from fire weather, however temporary. It also brings the promise of regrowth and renewal to our mountains. A welcome message of hope for the future during the last week of the longest year in recent memory.

And why is there a mermaid on the cover and at the heart of this issue of TNT? Because if 2020 was a horror film of a year, maybe 2021 can be the kind of film that makes you feel good, the kind of year when we can believe in magic again. Here’s hoping for a bright beginning and maybe even a few happy endings.

Be well, stay safe, and happy New Year!