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Fourth of July

Fourth of July 

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…” —The Declaration of Independence

It was a revolutionary revolution, one that didn’t dethrone a monarch, but simply gave him a list of all of the reasons he was deficient as a leader and fired him, with courtesy, economy of words, and forthrightness. The Declaration of Independence is just one piece of paper—but it established a nation ruled by laws, not monarchs.

The Founders who signed the Declaration of Independence, and the members of the Second Continental Congress who ratified the document on July 4, 1776, establishing the United States of America, could never have envisioned the nation we have become. 

Civil war, world wars, the Cold War, the Great Depression, the nuclear arms race, the space race, Civil Rights, climate change, the environmental movement, Gay Pride, AI, Internet, automobile culture, Rock n Roll, movies, modern art, postmodernism, Chinese take-out, all these things are so far from anything that the Founders could have envisioned, and yet the seeds for so many things—good and bad—were planted with those words. 

We are still struggling to extend the unalienable rights promised in the Declaration to all people: to women, African Americans, the Native Americans this land was taken from, the immigrants who have come in pursuit of that promise of happiness and freedom, and to all marginalized people who don’t fit the 18th century vision of America proposed by the founders, but who are an essential part of it in the 21st century.  

The nice thing about a nation founded on words is that words can be reinterpreted or even rewritten. The Declaration of Independence resulted in the creation of the Constitution, and the Constitution continues to evolve and change and be reinterpreted—for good and ill. It was an experimental form of government. It still is. And whether we like what happens in Washington or not, it’s exciting to be part of this ongoing experiment in self governance. Happy 257th birthday to all of us.    

Wildflowers continue to bloom all over the Santa Monica Mountains, as late spring gives way to June. Small but beautiful Rocky Oaks Park is carpeted in white and pink buckwheat flowers and the orange of the fading deerweed, and punctuated with a spectacular abundance of chaparral yucca. Photos by Suzanne Guldimann

Fire risk is high in Topanga and throughout the Santa Monica Mountains, and fireworks are illegal here for a good reason, but there are many professional displays to choose from this year. The Beach Boys will be playing the Hollywood Bowl on the night of the 4th, accompanied by the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra and the Bowl’s legendary fireworks. Calabasas, Santa Monica and Pacific Palisades are all sponsoring fireworks. 

Deerweed, Acmispon glaber, is a major draw for many native pollinators, including this yellow-faced bumble bee. It’s a good year for this important shrub that is a key chaparral species. This plant, a member of the pea family, has evolved color coding to aid pollinators: orange flowers are pollinated, yellow are still awaiting a visit by pollinators.

Fireworks are fun for humans but hard on wildlife and domestic animals. Making sure all pets are safe and secure before going out on the evening of the 4th is important. 

Warmer weather means this will be a busy holiday weekend, with the potential for heavy beach traffic in the canyons and on the coast. Make sure to build in extra time if traveling, and be alert for drunk and distracted drivers.

The business of government grinds on this week, right up to the holiday. The California Senate will be making a major decision on the use of diphacinone, a deadly rodenticide. An Assembly Bill adding the pesticide to California’s list of banned poisons passed the Assembly last month will be voted on by the Senate this week, after TNT goes to press. 

The aptly named winecup, Clarkia purpurea, blooms when most of the other annual wildflowers have gone to seed. This small but beautiful wildflower is also known as winecup fairy fan, and purple clarkia, although it can be either purple or pink striped. Look for it along the roadsides in the local canyons, where it is blooming among the non-native oat grass. The bright green plant in the background is slender tarweed, Deinandra fasciculata. It will be the next wave of color, turning parts of mountains gold again with its small but vivid flowers.

The release of mountain lion P-22’s necropsy report earlier this month adds urgency to the decision. The beloved big cat was found to have had five rodenticides  in his system at the time of his death, including diphacinone. If the vehicle collision hadn’t hastened his death, it’s reasonable to assume that the poison in his system would have resulted in a slow, painful, debilitating death sentence. Eliminating this toxic threat from the environment will be a step forward for wildlife conservation. 

The signers of the Declaration of Independence only had mankind—a limited subset of mankind—in mind when they promised that the nation they were founding would ensure the rights to life, liberty, and happiness, but as our understanding of nature and our place in it evolves, its up to us to ensure that promise applies not just to all people, but to all of the living things in our care. 

Stay safe, be well. Happy 4th of July!

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