Friday, November 29, 2013

To the Point

"If our folk had been exiled long and far...who of [them] would pass nigh and would not wish to look upon their ancient home, though it had become an abode of dragons?" —J.R.R. Tolkien

For hundreds of years Point Dume was a sacred site for the Chumash people. Even today, with sedate, 1950s ranch-style houses rapidly giving way to post-modern mega-mansions on almost every lot, this is still a landscape scattered with the broken fragments of ancient lives. 

This is one of the earliest photos of Point Dume on record, dated 1898, and shot when the Rindge family still owned the entire 13,3000-acre Malibu Rancho. The photo was taken on the bluff overlooking Big Dume Cove, also known as Pirate's Cove, and it documents the unaltered, unflattened top of the hill on the Point. 

Gophers, construction workers, and gardeners excavate Chumash “ecofacts,” bits of seashell and bone, and chips and flakes from tool making, all the time. Sometimes more substantial artifacts turn up—shell beads, stone tools, mortars, metatas, pestles, fishing hooks. On the portion of the Point Dume Headlands that is now a State Park, the remains of shell middens and tool fragments are everywhere.
One Point Dume neighbor who lived here in the 1950s and is now dead, recounted unearthing Chumash baskets in the gully behind his house; another neighbor found a perfect stone knife, its artfully chipped edge still razor-sharp. Many locals have a shoebox or curio cabinet full of artifacts.
Because the Malibu Rancho remained intact and off limits until the 1920s, Chumash sites in the area remained relatively undisturbed well into the 20th century. In the 1940s, Point Dume was parceled out and sold for development. It also became fair game for pothunters, who sold their finds to collectors eager to own artifacts and not particular about where they came from or how they were acquired. Some enterprising treasure hunters reportedly manufactured new artifacts when they ran out of authentic finds.
On a winter evening the Point looks much the same as it did in 1898, or in 1200,
 and it's easy to imagine stepping back in time.  © 2013 Suzanne Guldimann 

E.K. Burnett wrote a monograph on Chumash archeological finds in 1944. “Inlaid Stone and Bone Artifacts from Southern California,” published by the Museum of the American Indian, Heye Foundation, provides photos of spectacular artifacts excavated on Point Dume by a man named A. Sanger and his associates. Burnett gives one of the only existing descriptions of the site before development radically changed the landscape, but it’s maddeningly vague, and there is no way of knowing where the artifacts he catalogued ended up, or if they were even genuine. Sanger, an “amateur archeologist” remains at the center of a 60-year-old controversy involving accusations of fraud and forgery.
A purported Chumash artifact allegedly found on top of the Point in the 1940s. It may or may not be authentic. Any genuine remnants of what has been described as a Chumash sun shrine have probably been completely erased by pothunters, bulldozers and the presence of the U.S. Army during WW II.
“The Coastal sites are all located near the cliff edge and, except for those on Point Dume, are located at one side of an arroyo mouth,” Burnett wrote, but he did not appear to have first hand knowledge and the monograph provides few details about the actual sites, other than a couple of blurry photos.
According to State Parks documents, “The Chumash lived at Point Dume around A.D. 1080 – A.D. 1200, based on information recovered from archaeological testing at the site."
However, archeologist Gary Stickel makes the case that an archeological find made in 2007 at a site less than two miles from the Point Dume Headlands, pushes the occupation date for the area back 11,000 years. The find, described as a Clovis projectile point, was turned up by a backhoe during construction of a residence. The projectile point is, so far, the only one of its kind found in the vicinity.

More artifacts allegedly removed from Point Dume in the 1940s. 
These resemble authenticated carvings and may be genuine.

According to a State Parks document published in 2003 as part of a never-completed trail project, the Point itself “does not appear to have been occupied for a long period of time and this site was not a village site. Point Dume’s significance, prior to Spanish or English exploration, centered on its geographic location. This headland jutting out in to the Pacific ocean served as an outstanding outlook to view seasonal migrations of sea mammals, school of fish [sic], and movements of people up and down the coast.”

The portion of the Point described by Burnett in 1944 as "the principal [site that] covers about three acres at the base of the hilly eminence and eastward along the bluff. The photo and the description match the current site of extensive midden debris.

The document concludes that “There are many significant archaeological sites in the vicinity of Point Dume. However, there is only one recorded site in the park: LAN-454.” This appears to be the site referenced by Burnett. 

The State Parks report states, “The site’s significance is related to its position and the grandeur of its views,” and adds the fascinating detail that “The function of the site may best be summed up by Native American informant Fernando Librado, who stated that Point Dume ‘was used as a sun shrine.”

Burnett, stated in his monograph that “Several sites exist at Point Dume or its immediate vicinity. The principal one covers about three acres at the base of the hilly eminence and eastward along the bluff the very crest of Point Dume, almost at surface level, some interesting specimens were found, among them the ladle or asphaltum melting cup.” 
The area shown in the 1944 Burnett photo. Enthusiastic vandals have dug, trampled and excavated every inch of this area long before it was protected. Today, this portion of Point Dume is owned by State Parks and pothunters are strictly prohibited from removing any remaining Chumash artifacts, although it's doubtful there's anything left, at this point. © 2013 Suzanne Guldimann

The cup is an intriguing artifact and reportedly appears authentic. Burnett says it was made of steatite, and described it as 11 inches long and weighing over two pounds. He doesn’t provide descriptions of any other objects found in that location, and he doesn’t specify the date of the alleged find. At some point, the top of the hill was graded, and any Chumash cultural resources were destroyed.

The exact year that the top of Point Dume was bulldozed flat remains a point of contention. Some historians say it happened during WW II to accommodate a military installation, others contend the bulldozing was a prelude to the building boom of the late 1940s. 

Aerial photos appear to indicate that the defacement happened sometime in the late 1930s, when developers planned to build a resort hotel, complete with fake lighthouse and polo fields. Burnett wrote in 1944 that “the main burial area on Point Dume has not as yet been found.”

The site that eluded Burnett is now the location of the Point Dume Mobile Home Park. A street named “Indian Mound” on the west side of the development bears mute testimony to the location’s history. Skeletons and artifacts were allegedly swept away by construction crews in the early 1970s. before the era of cultural preservation.

The date when the top of the Point was bulldozed remains a contentious point with local historians, but this detail of a 1939 aerial photograph appears to verify that the top of the Point had already been flattened before the military arrived in the 1940s.
I was surprised to see how much vegetation is visible.  I grew up hearing how the Point was a desolate, windswept mesa, before the windbreaks of eucalyptus trees were planted in the 1940s. In reality, there ought to have been California black walnut trees and toyons in the canyons, and there are still lemonade berry shrubs and Mexican elderberry trees.

Update: This is NOT a 1939 photo, but one from a decade later, which explains why it shows so much vegetation, and the top of Point Dume has been conclusively shown to have been flattened between 1445, when Point Dume was released from military control, and 1947, when the survey markers were set on top. 

Point Dume in 1947. Only a few houses were already built, but roads show where development was planned. That's Little Dume Cove, with Grayfox Street on one side and the Wildlife/White Sands Circle just visible on the far right side of the image. I scanned this photo, and the one above, are available online in in their entirety at the Adamson House Archive

The bones of the dead and the artifacts that accompanied them are not the only elements of Chumash heritage that have been swept from the Point. While British explorer George Vancouver is credited with naming Point Dume for Father Francisco Dumetz, whom he visited at Mission San Buenaventura shortly before he named the peninsula in 1793, there is evidence to suggest the word "Dume" stems from the same root as Zuma—the Chumash word "Sumo," which reportedly means abundance.
Vancouver named Point Mugu for the Chumash community of Muwu shortly before assigning the name “Dume,” to the eastern point. "This Point I will call 'Point Dume,'" he wrote. The word is clearly “Dume,” and not "Dumetz."

Frederick Hastings Rindge, who purchased the entire 13,300-acre Malibu Rancho in 1892, called the point "Duma," and stated the name was derived from Zuma. His view may be supported by information provided by the same Chumash informant, Fernando Librado, who described Point Dume as a sun shrine. Librado told ethnographer John Peabody Harrington in a conversation recorded in Harrington’s notes from 1912-15 that "Sumo extends out to sea and at the end of the point there was a hill." Librado added that "Sumo is called in nautical language Dume." Regardless of how, or for whom, it was named, Point Dume was significant to the Chumash people.

The Coast Guard practice repelling invaders. A barracks on what is now Wildlife Road provided accommodations for the crew stationed at the Army lookout on the Point. The Coast Guard operated out of the Adamson House and had seven patrol stations at strategic intervals along the coast from Point Mugu to Malibu Creek. It was reportedly lonely work patrolling 27 miles of empty beaches, but a number of service personnel were so struck with the beauty of the place that they returned after the war and built some of the first homes on Point Dume. 
In the 1940s, with fears of a Japanese invasion escalating, it become important to the U.S. Government. The Army and Coast Guard used it much as the ancient Chumash before them, as a lookout. It was also one of three coastal U.S. Army anti-aircraft artillery training centers in Southern California during the war.

Military personnel were stationed along the Malibu coast from Point Mugu to Pacific Palisades for the duration of the war, but Point Dume reportedly offered the best visibility.  For this reason it was on the list of proposed Nike missile sites during the Cold War. 

WW II artillery shells have allegedly turned up on the beach from time to time. There was a serious scare in 1952, when an unexploded mine or depth charge washed up on the beach, according to newspaper reports.

Post World War II PCH, with Trancas and Broad Beach in the foreground, and Zuma and Point Dume in the Background. Mandatory curfew and nightly blackouts, and gas and tire rationing effectively curtailed development in western Malibu until after the war ended. 

For people like John Guldimann, my father, who fought for years to save the Point Dume headlands from development, this sign is an affirmation that not all causes are lost causes. 
After the war, the development of Point Dume went into high gear. Roads were built, and houses started going up, closing in on the headlands from both sides. The Point was purchased by the RECO Land Company, owned by a man named Roy Crummer, who purchased large swathes of Malibu in the 1950s. Crummer was the largest commercial developer in Malibu during the 60s and 70s, and 80s, and perpetually at odds with early conservation activists

The only reason the Point Dume Headlands and the Point itself aren’t paved under a hotel and parking lot is because my father, John Guldimann fought for years in the 1970s to save the area. We have boxes of papers in the garage chronicling the fight. Dad flew to Sacramento to lobby for a Point Dume Preserve—a major undertaking in the 1970s. Some of my earliest memories are of the living room packed with people. Folksinger activist Peter Yarrow joined the fight. So did California State Assemblymember Paul Priolo. 

In 1979, 34-acres, including the remaining Chumash shrine site and the distinctive, flat-topped volcanic peak, were acquired by State Parks. In 1992, the property was upgraded to State Preserve.  
Many things have changed in Malibu since the time when the Chumash lived here, but from the top of the Point, looking out across the open ocean, or up the coast the Sequit Point in the distance, the view looks much as it must have to the ancient Chumash. People come here to watch for whales in winter, or to see the sunrise and the sunset, much as the Chumash did. 
Much of Point Dume's cultural heritage is lost, but thanks to a lot of unsung heroes, including my Dad, the headlands' rugged beauty remains, and the Point will continue to be preserved and protected for future generations.

Friday, November 22, 2013

The Dusky-Footed Woodrat at Work

The dusty-footed wood rat is a gentle, tidy, neighborly animal and a skilled architect. This little rodent builds itself an elaborate house-fort of sticks, equipped, like a Hobbit-hole, with a comfortable living room and several food pantries. Woodrat "stickhouses" are easy to find, but their nocturnal inhabitants are rarely seen. Photos © 2013 Suzanne Guldimann

Lately, a mysterious, midnight gardener has been at work, neatly snipping off rose buds and the tender young stems of the citrus trees outside my door and carrying them carefully away. I never see my phantom gardener, but I know it’s the work of a dusky-footed woodrat.

 While I lament the fate of my roses and kumquats, the woodrat is sleeping the sleep of the just, having safely stored the night's harvest of flower bud, fruit and twig in his or her larder, deep inside of a home built of twigs.

This woodrat "stickhouse" is built on an old cinderblock wall.
The dusky-footed wood rat, Neotoma fuscipes, also known as a pack rat, is a California native and a regular Malibu resident. This chubby rodent has a short, fuzzy tail, and pale (rather than dusky) paws. They  can be quite vocal, with an extensive vocabulary of chirps and squeaks. 

Woodrats are rarely seen, but it’s easy to spot their houses. They are master architects and builders who craft large, predator-proof forts—officially known as “stickhouses.” 

Unlike the unfortunate little pig whose twig house is blown away by the wicked wolf, wood rats are experts at surviving sieges. Their homes have walls so thick that they have been known to foil the excavating efforts of coyotes and even badgers. 

Some woodrats prefer a penthouse apartment.
Deep inside its twig fort, the wood rat has a living room and several well-stocked pantries. Woodrats are nocturnal and prefer to lay low on all but the darkest nights. They will wait out the full moon in their burrows, emerging on moonless nights to restock their larders. 

In the wild, woodrats dine on the tender young leaves and twigs of shrubs and trees, including oak, toyon, coffee berry, and even poison oak. They also like to eat mushrooms. In a more urban setting, ornamental shrubs and fruit trees are favorites.  Other twigs are harvested strictly as construction materials. Woodrats in cactus country reportedly gather chola  spines to fortify their houses.

N. fuscipes likes a clean house and keeps living quarters clear of waste. Many stickhouses have a separate latrine, and several studies support the theory that wood rats harvest California bay laurel leaves to use as an insect and parasite repellent in their nests. A study authored by Richard Hemmes published in the Oxford Journal in 2001 concluded that there was significant evidence to support the contention that evidence that "dusky-footed wood rats place bay foliage around the sleeping nest with the effect of reducing their exposure to nest-borne ectoparasites.

Just like their human neighbors, wood rats like to collect shiny, pretty things. Most collections consist of things like pebbles and bottle caps, but there are reports of woodrats with stashes of everything from silver teaspoons to diamond rings.

Although wood rats often form colonies, and some wood rats will tolerate squatters—including mice, individuals appear to value their privacy. Each animal lives alone in its own apartment, except during breeding season. Stickhouses are often passed from one generation to the next sometimes for hundreds of generations. Humans aren't the only species on the planet who value the concept of home as castle.

The dusty-footed woodrat is a true California native and an important part of the local ecology. Life is tough for this little animal—it's on the menu for coyotes, bob cats, badgers, weasels, and especially owls. It's also a frequent victim of rodenticide poisoning, despite the fact it doesn't pose a threat to humans. If a wood rat takes up residence in an attic or other place where large piles of twigs are unwelcome, excluding the animal by sealing up any access points usually works to discourage it from returning. If not, snap traps are effective and more humane than poison for the wood rat and the animals that depend on it for food. 

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The Last Butterfly of Autumn

November is monarch season in Malibu, frail orange and black wings flutter everywhere, long distance travelers pausing on an impossible journey to rest in garden refuges or roost among the eucalyptus trees, looking like flame-colored autumn leaves.

We were surprised all the same to find a monarch chrysalis hidden in the garden. The enterprising caterpillar traveled more than 20 feet from its milkweed plant to spin its chrysalis in a safe place, out of sight among the African daisies that line our driveway.

A cleverly hidden monarch chrysalis, ready to hatch.

The newly hatched butterfly unfolds and dries its wings, preparing for flight.

The empty chrysalis is almost transparent, and far too small to hold a butterfly. 

The new butterfly unfolds and is ready to take flight. It's frail wings will carry it all the way to Mexico. 

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Sea Lion Update

Here's a link to an article on the sea lion shootings that I wrote for the Malibu Surfside News. There are no leads in the case, and there are unlikely to be any, at this point.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Spiny Lobsters v Crab Monsters at Leo Carrillo Beach

A lobster diver carries his prize ashore in a hoop net at Leo Carrillo, unaware that the famous beach is also home to filmmaker Roger Corman's monstrous Crab Monster, a creature that would happily dine on divers, given the opportunity. Photo © 2013 Suzanne Guldimann
All summer long, California spiny lobster carapaces wash up on the beach along Malibu, as the lobsters shed their old exoskeleton and grow new, larger shells. Research indicates that these slow-growing arthropods require seven years to reach "legal" harvesting size. They're off limits to humans during the summer months but one of the sure signs that autumn has arrived is the sight of  floats materializing along shallow rocky stretches up and down the Malibu coast like mushrooms after a rain.  

Lobster season got underway in Southern California on Sept. 28 this year. There were so many floats in the water at Deer Creek during the first week that its a marvel there were enough lobsters to go around.  The commercial fishers aren't the only ones dreaming of lobster. Divers equipped with lobster hoop nets are a common sight at beaches like Leo Carrillo and Nicholas. Spiny lobsters may be taken only with the nets or by hand. 

Anyone diving or fishing for lobsters must have a valid California fishing license, a special spiny lobster report card and a measuring gauge to make sure their lobsters are legal size. According to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, "Daily bag and possession limits are seven lobsters per person and each lobster must measure a minimum of three and one-fourth inches, measured in a straight line on the mid-line of the back."

Longtime residents say that lobsters aren't as big or as numerous as they used to be—anecdotal evidence relates stories of flocks of eight-pound giant lobsters at Point Dume—today 1.5-2 pounds is typical. While recreational divers may anticipate dining on lobster tail—spiny lobsters don't have big claws like their Maine cousins, most of the commercial catch is shipped to Asia, according to the DFW, which estimate that 695,000 pounds (316 metric tons) were caught during the 2009-10 and 2010-11 seasons.

Commercial fishing peaked in the 1950s, and the DFW is in the process of developing a management plan for the fishery, which has been  plaguing with issues like "short stock" —lobsters that are too small and are taken illegally, and traps that are illegally wired shut, so undersized lobsters and other bycatch can't get out. 

Humans aren't the only ones with a taste for lobster, sheepshead, sharks, and octopus all pray on lobster. They are also a favorite food of the California sea otter, and with the sea otter missing from so much of its former range, the spiny lobster has reportedly taken over an important ecological role from its former predator: keeping the sea urchin population in check, which helps to maintain the health of the kelp forest.

 More information is available at
A pair of divers carefully navigate through the tide pools to open water at Leo Carrillo at low tide. The beach is popular with all kinds of divers because the kelp beds are close to shore and there's free parking on PCH and an easy to access stairway. Photo © 2013 Suzanne Guldimann
Every now and then the arthropods get their revenge. I can never watch divers at Leo without visualizing scenes from the 1957 Roger Corman film Attack of the Crab Monsters. Corman, the king of Z-grade budget horror, dreamed up a monstrous, radioactive crab that wrecks havoc on hapless humans, after climbing out of  the sea and onto the rocks at Leo Carrillo. "From the depths of the sea, a Tidal Wave of Terror!" the tagline states.

Unlike the California spiny lobster, Corman's crab monster is equipped with impressive front claws. It also speaks in an ominous booming voice, and uses its radioactive powers to melt rocks and cause earthquakes—not something one usually encounters in crustaceans. 

Corman's crew had the herculean task of moving this vast, rubbery monster out onto the rocks and then animating it with the aid of rods and wires. 

The Crab Monster menaces the obligatory assortment of scientists and scantily clad women with a kind of ponderous gravitas, monologuing gravely about the evils of nuclear power before meeting its end. 

The rocks, located just beyond the famous Leo Carrillo sea cave, are fully accessible only at low tide. They're volcanic rock, that manages to be both sharp and slippery at the same time. Ingenuity was required to get the shots.

You can watch the trailer or the whole film on YouTube. And then you, too, can think of the Crab Monster whenever you see divers heading out with hope and round nets to catch an arthropod for dinner. 
The Crab Monster from Roger Corman's "Attack of the Crab Monsters"  is definitely not a "short" catch, and good luck landing this pretty in a hoop net.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Meet the Neighbors: Point Dume's Sea Lions

The Point Dume Sea Lion Colony hangs out on the rocks off the Point. They are familiar local characters who enjoy the surfing and swimming at Little Dume Cove as much as the humans do. They are intelligent, curious and cheeky, and often pop up to check out the action on the beach, and have been known to swim right up to unsuspecting humans. Photo © 2013 Suzanne Guldimann.  

Point Dume's sea lions are survivors. They once had all of Pirates Cove to themselves as a private haul-out beach, now they eek out a more marginal life on the inaccessible rocks at the foot of the Point Dume Headlands and on the rocks called the Pinnacles just off shore. When the weather is sunny and the water calm, you'll see them lounging on their backs, sunning their fins. From the trail that runs along the cliff edge on top of the headlands at the Point Dume Reserve you can watch them vie for a coveted spot on the top of the biggest Pinnacle. When the tide is high and the water is clear, you sometimes see them swimming, sleek, swift shapes in the clear water.

Point Dume's boss sea lion, the alpha bull, and his harem loved to roost on the Coast Guard buoy bell off of Point Dume. The buoy was removed in 2011, much to the dismay of the sea lion colony, which regarded it as their own special property. Photo © 2013 Suzanne Guldimann

California sea lions are gregarious and intelligent. They are members of the "eared" seal family, and differ from Malibu's other seals—harbor seals and elephant seals—in that they can "walk" on land using their powerful front flippers. Fast and acrobatic swimmers, California sea lions spend most of their lives offshore, where they live in large, loud colonies.

According to NOAA, "the deepest dive ever recorded for a California sea lion is 1,760 ft (536 m); the longest dive ever recorded was 12 minutes." It's not unusual for Malibu beachgoers to see a sea lion pop up and watch them, then disappear and reappear a few minutes later in the same place.

California sea lions males—easy to identify because they are much larger, sometimes weighing more than 1000 pounds, are polygamous, living with a harem of as many as 14 females. They are apex predators, who eat fish and squid, and are preyed on only by great white sharks, killer whales and humans.

Sea lions are opportunists, who are happy to take advantage of baited fishing lines or the full nets of the squid fishery. California sea lions, like all marine mammals, are protected from human intervention by the federal Marine Mammal Protection Act, but according to the Marine Mammal Care Center in San Pedro, CA, as much as 20 percent of all sea lion cases that arrive at the non-profit organization's treatment facility are there because of damage caused by humans. Sea lions injest garbage, become entangled in monofilament fishing line and nets or, in a small number of cases they are shot, like the four sea lions that were found dead in Malibu with bullet wounds this year. 

Most Malibuites and beach visitors are glad to share the coast with sea lions. On Point Dume,  the "sea wolves" can be heard barking at night. It's part of what makes this community special, and remarkable and worth fighting for and preserving.

The alpha bull and several members of his harem on the top of one of the Pinnacles.
© 2013 Suzanne Guldimann