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Art in the Mountains 

Officials still haven’t verified the cause of the five-acre Tuna Canyon fire that ignited just after midnight in dense brush and steep terrain on July 9, but the unofficial consensus is that it started in a homeless encampment in lower Tuna Canyon. The blaze was quickly contained with the help of the county’s Chinook firefighting helicopter, which can carry 8,000 gallons of water and was able to get in where ground crews could not to stop the spread. 

Just one day later, on July 10, Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputies arrested a man for starting a fire in Lower Topanga Canyon. The suspect told the officers that he wanted to heat his food. He was arrested for “Reckless Cause of Fire in a Forest Area.”

Cooler weather is anticipated for this weekend as temperatures drop slightly and the marine layer moves further inland, but wildfire risk continues to be exceptionally high. All residents of Topanga and the neighboring high fire danger communities should be prepared with an evacuation plan. 

The hot weather during the first half of July brought some beautiful tropical sunsets and warmer ocean temperatures, enticing Topangans out for sunset walks and beach trips. Unfortunately, the warm weather also brings out mosquitos. In recent years, Los Angeles County has been colonized by the Aedes aegypti mosquito, an unwelcome non-native species that is active during the day and has earned the names day-biter, and ankle-biter. 

Aedes only requires a teaspoon of water to breed, and can go from egg to adult in just five to seven days during warm weather. This tiny terror is small enough to slip through the mesh in some window screens, and it doesn’t have the courtesy to warn its victims with a vindictive violin solo like its native, nocturnal cousins, but it also doesn’t travel far. Regularly cleaning birdbaths and checking to make sure potential breeding grounds like plant saucers or the cup-like leaves of plants like bromeliads aren’t collecting water can help prevent this wee beastie from spreading and biting. 

Nick South captured this amazing photo of a female mountain lion wearing a National Park Service radio collar and her almost-grown kitten taking advantage of some cool shade and fresh water in his Saddle Peak yard. Backyard water sources like this one increasingly attract wildlife, as the ongoing drought makes nature sources hard to find. Photo by Nick South

Those of us who put out water for our pets, livestock, and wild neighbors need to be aware of the mosquito risk. Water is in high demand this year, but it needs to be kept clean to prevent mosquito larvae from growing and to protect the health of the animals that drink it, domestic and wild.  

This is an unusual year. Between the drought conditions and the impact of the recent Palisades Fire, wildlife is showing up in some unexpected places in Topanga. Species like deer and rabbits that get much of their moisture from the vegetation they eat have been spotted drinking from backyard water sources, and nibbling ornamental vegetation like roses. 

Skunks, raccoons, coyotes, gray foxes, bobcats and even mountain lions have also been seen taking advantage of ponds, fountains, stock tanks, and even the dog’s water bowl. Making sure that water sources are safe and clean is important. 

And speaking of unusual wildlife sightings, a young bear was spotted on the Santa Monica Mountains side of the 101 in the Thousand Oaks/Newbury Park area on July 9. It’s the second bear sighting on this side of the 101 in five years.  

The number of new COVID-19 cases more than doubled in Los Angeles County following the 4th of July holiday weekend, and the number of new cases continues to rise. The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health continues to recommend wearing a mask indoors as a precaution. With more than 1000 new cases last week, that advice seems entirely sensible.

Despite the alarming upturn in COVID numbers, life in Topanga is feeling more like normal. The summer season is underway at the Theatricum Botanicum, with stellar new productions of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. A third show—the premiere of The Last, Best Small Town, by John Guerra, opens July 31.

Live shows are also back at Corazon Performing Arts Center. We’re looking forward to the always amazing Deb Ryder on August 21, and don’t miss multimedia artist Caroline MP Jone’s new solo exhibition at the Topanga Canyon Gallery, opening July 30. See our Artbeat section on page 17 to learn more.

It’s summer in Topanga, something to be savored and enjoyed, whether it’s in a garden under the oaks or on a deck overlooking the mountains; on a dusty trail with the scent of sumac and sage in the air; or under the stars at the Theatricum, with the time-polished words of the Bard working their magic one more time: “Are you sure that we are awake? It seems to me that yet we sleep, we dream.” 

Dream on, Topanga!

Stay safe, be well.

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