Sunday, February 23, 2014

Chasing Happiness

There, I give you all I have to help you in your search for the Blue Bird. I know that the flying carpet or the ring which makes its wearer invisible would be more useful to you.... But I have lost the key of the cupboard in which I locked them....

—Maurice Maeterlinck, The Bluebird

I grew up under the spell of The Bluebird. The children's version of Belgian symbolist poet and playwright Maurice Maeterlinck's 1908 play is of my mother's cherished childhood books, and she read it to me often when I was small. In the book, the children Myltil and Tyltil travel to the Land of Memory, the Palace of Night, and even to the Kingdom of the Future, in search of the elusive bluebird of happiness.

That's the cover of my mother's book, above. Myltil and Tyltil, cage in hand, set out to find the bluebird, guided by the personification of Light and aided by a magic diamond that enables the wearer to see the true nature of all they behold.

My thoughts strayed to The Bluebird as I set out last weekend to count birds for the Great Backyard Bird Count. The count is an exercise in citizen science, the play is a symbolist allegory, but Maeterlinck might have argued that everything is an allegory, and that both philosophies seek to uncover what is perceived as the true nature of the world, so perhaps it isn't strange for the two things to overlap.

The Bluebird in mind, here's where my journey took me:

In the Land of Memory, the Malibu Lagoon is lush and green. In the Kingdom of Tomorrow it may look like this again, at the moment, between construction and the drought it's a bit threadbare, although it was still a promising place to count birds, I hoped.
When I arrived, I found my thoughts straying from Maeterlinck to Lewis Carroll: "No birds were flying overhead, there were no birds to fly."
Still no birds in sight...
However, there was evidence of other visitors. A raccoon was here.
In fact, an entire flock of raccoons appeared to have been practicing English country dance by moonlight in the mud.
Deer left neat hoof prints in the soft mud, too, as they skirted the edge of the lagoon to graze on State Park's tender new plants. Deer on the beach used to be a common sight in Malibu. In the 19th century, it wouldn't have been unusual to see a bear shambling along the shore. The bears were gone by the end of the 19th century, and as the houses that form the Great Wall of Malibu sprang up in the 20th century, wildlife access was greatly impeded. The park, with its direct connection to the Malibu Canyon backcountry, provides an increasingly rare island of oceanside habitat.
Birds at last! It turned out to be just a quartet of mallards—three males and a female, but even this most common and ubiquitous duck has its beauty, and is worth a closer look.
A male mallard, showing off his beautiful bottle-green head feathers and his characteristic curly duck-tail.
If birds are living dinosaurs, then the main channel of Malibu Creek is a sort of miniature Jurassic Park. This photo includes double-crested cormorants, an armada of American coots, northern shovelers, gadwalls, teals, an assortment of unidentifiable female ducks, and a lone snowy egret, all coexisting peacefully.
A rather disheveled royal tern joins a party of ring-billed gulls by the edge of the sand berm. 
All along Surfrider beach the sanderlings were out, racing the tide to feast on sand crabs.
This is a more realistic photo of the sanderlings, sprinting out of the camera's viewfinder.
All of the peeps—that really is the official name for the small sandpipers, even if it makes one think at once of neon Easter marshmallow chicks—are speedy, but the semipalmated plover is a little less zippy—and easier to photograph—than its smaller cousins.
On my way home, I did finally see a bird in the reconstructed portion of the park: one rufeous hummingbird, perched on a bare sycamore branch, singing a shrill, sweet song.
I counted 17 species of bird in the space of about an hour. This western snowy plover didn't make the list, it was hiding out in a group of sanderlings and I didn't see it until I took a look at my photos. The snowy plover is a good poster child for the Great Backyard Bird Count. This species may be facing extinction in California due to habitat loss. Its plight has brought conservationists together to fight for its continued survival. Each bird represents hope for the future. The GBBC takes place once annually, but birdwatchers can report their observations all year long at 

And the Bluebird of Happiness? It was at home all the time I searched for it. Isn't that always the message of the story? 
An illustration by Frederick Cayley Robinson, from a 1909 edition of Maeterlinck's Bluebird.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

For the Birds

Not all dinosaurs vanished 65 million years ago. Birds are, in a very real way, living dinosaurs, and it's not hard to imagine that this California Brown Pelican, with it's remarkable pale blue eye and elliptical pupil, is a velociraptor relative. © S. Guldimann

"The rest of my speech" (he explained to his men)
   "You shall hear when I've leisure to speak it.
But the Snark is at hand, let me tell you again!
   'Tis your glorious duty to seek it!

"'You may seek it with thimbles—and seek it with care;
   You may hunt it with forks and hope;
You may threaten its life with a railway-share;
   You may charm it with smiles and soap—'"

("That's exactly the method," the Bellman bold
   In a hasty parenthesis cried,
"That's exactly the way I have always been told
   That the capture of Snarks should be tried!")
Lewis Carroll, The Hunting of the Snark

Not only is it Valentine's and Presidents Day weekend, it's also the 17th annual Great Backyard Bird Count. The official Conell Lab of Ornithology press release states: “From Afghanistan to Zimbabwe, bird watchers from more than 100 countries are expected to participate in the 17th annual Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC), February 14–17, 2014."
Anyone anywhere in the world who has at least 15 minutes to count birds on one or more days of the count can participate in the event. Bird watechers come from all over Los Angeles to count birds in Malibu and throughout the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area. However, for many Malibu residents a window with a good view of the garden is all that's needed to count an amazing variety of species.
There is a sort of "Hunting of the Snark" quality to the bird count: you may see something stellar, or you may count only crows and sparrows all weekend, despite having seen kingfishers and ospreys perched along the telephone poles on PCH the week before.
No matter what one sees, it's easy and quite fun to enter sightings at  According to the press release, "The information gathered by tens of thousands of volunteers helps track the health of bird populations at a scale that would not otherwise be possible." The count is cosponsored by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society with partner Bird Studies Canada. It's one of the biggest and most successful citizen scientist events in the world and an opportunity for everyone to participate and make a difference.

Birdwatchers of all ages will be out this weekend, armed with hope, if not forks and railroad shares, and with cameras, binoculars notepads and field guides. Nearly 5 million birds have already been tallied as of Saturday. Here in Malibu, maybe there may be white-breasted nuthatches or western blue birds, ruby-crowned kinglets or northern flickers, hooded mergansers or the elusive golden eagles that reportedly roost in a remote corner of Malibu Creek State Park. If you, dear reader, are participating this weekend, please consider sharing your sightings in the comment section here, and good counting!
Around here, you never know what might show up in your own backyard:
I never appreciated just how large the great egret is until one landed in the garden. This spectacular bird can have a five-and-a-half-foot wingspan and stands more than three feet tall. We have several species of egret in Malibu—the showy egret, which is smaller and fluffier, and the great blue heron, which looks like the great egret but is blue-grey instead, are easy to spot year-round residents. The night heron and green bittern live here, too, but are rarely seen in the open. © S. Guldimann
Although egrets are usually seen at the beach at low tide in the tide pools or in wetland areas, where they use their beaks to spear fish and frogs, they also sometimes hunt for lizards and small rodents in fields and even in gardens, and have been known to regard fish ponds as all-you-can-eat egret buffets. © S. Guldimann

Cedar waxwings are sure to make Malibu GBBC lists this year. These sleek, beautiful migratory birds with their distinctive crests stop over in Malibu during their annual north south migrations, taking advantage of gardens with food sources like juniper berries. The birds reedy call is a counterpoint to the laughing song of the robins, and one of the distinctive sounds of winter. They're late this year. They usually show up in late December-early January.  © S. Guldimann

Red-tailed hawks and their smaller cousins the cooper's hawk, the white-tailed kite, and the American kestrel are all backyard birds in Malibu. So are the great horned owl and the barn owl. Raptors, including owls, are beginning to nest, which may be why they are more visible at the moment. This red tail has been keeping an eye on our birdbath. He's a little shy about venturing close to the house, so he gathers courage on the old shed roof before swooping in for a drink. © S. Guldimann
We watch birds, but the birds also watch us. This American robin was less than enthused about being photographed. © S. Guldimann
Unlike the shy robin, the spotted towhee isn't afraid of anyone or anything. It's rusty call is part of the garden soundtrack, as is the rustling sound it makes as it roots for insects and other delicacies in the leaf litter under the trees. In our garden, the spotted towhee likes to eat the bulbs of the oxalis plants, digging them up with its feet and carefully peeling each corm with its beak, before swallowing the tender inner bulb whole.  © S. Guldimann

Here's a more familiar view of the California brown pelican in the first photo. This species came perilously close to extinction in the 1950s due to DDT poisoning. When my parents first moved to Malibu in 1969, seeing a pelican was a rare and wonderful sight. My father used to say that the pelican symbolized hope for a better tomorrow. Unlike its theropod ancestors, the pelican survived the threat of extinction and is today one of Malibu's most common—and popular sea birds. By taking part in the Great Backyard Bird Count this weekend, Malibuites can help gather data on pelicans and other avian species that will help biologists help birds.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Waiting for the Rain

Malibuites have watched storm clouds roll past all winter, bringing dramatic sunsets, but little measurable rain. This storm brought the first real rain of 2014. Photo © 2014 S. Guldimann

"California's very existence is premised on epic liberties taken with water..."

—Mark Reisner, Cadillac Desert

It rained last week. On Point Dume, we had a third of an inch. It’s not much, but it's enough to keep at least some seeds of hope alive. Back in January, I wrote a short article for the Malibu Surfside News on local drought history. Here’s a more in-depth look at the pattern of droughts and floods that has shaped the landscape of Malibu.

Until the recent rains in Northern California, the media had a field day with dire predictions that this will be the worst drought in California history, or at least the worst since the drought of 1977 or the dry spell that lasted from 1944-51. However, the historical record shows numerous severe drought periods in the 19th century, before “official” scientific records were kept. Drought impacted Southern California in 1863, 1871, 1877, and 1897, and those drought periods arguably changed the course of history in Malibu.

Malibu Rancho ranch hands brand cattle at Zuma in 1897, the year of a major Southern California drought that affected the Malibu Rancho and much of the West.
Frederick Hastings Rindge, who bought the entire Rancho Topanga Malibu Sequit from the Keller family in 1892, provides a grim description of historic drought in his book Happy Days in Southern California, published in 1898:  

 “There was a dry time in 1863, another in 1877, and in 1897 there was a great drought. In November, 1863, there was a regular downpour, and it did not rain again until November, 1864 ; and in consequence, dead cattle covered the ground from Monterey to Southern California. Abel Stearns' losses in cattle were enormous. The year 1877 was very dry. In Santa Barbara County, hay was forty dollars a ton. I have heard men say, with a sigh, ‘It was the dry year of ’77 that broke me up. My sheep all died.’ Many a man grew gray that year, as he saw his living withering away.”

Raindrops from the first real rain of the year in Malibu collect on a yucca leaf. Even California's specialized, drought-adapted native plants are suffering from the extended lack of rain this year. Photo © 2014 S. Guldimann
The Report of the Agricultural Commissioner for the Year 1874 gives a less poetic but equally bleak account of the earlier 1871 drought:

“During the three years from 1868 to 1871, south of Monterey neither grass nor grain grew...Hundreds of farms were abandoned, and the stock-men were compelled to drive their cattle, horses, and sheep to the gulches of the mountains, not only for food, but for water. In February, 1870, not a blade of grass was to be seen over the extensive valley of the Santa Clara; and the broad plains of Los Angeles, covering over 1,000,000 acres of arable land, were nearly desolate, even to the borders of the streams...In March, 1871, the usual season when the crops should be luxuriant, not a blade of grass was to be seen over the great plains and through the valleys, which are richly covered after favorable rains. Hundreds of thousands of sheep, horses, and cattle were lost by starvation.”

Rindge also wrote of his own experiences with drought in 1897:

“Alas! Alas! The dry year is upon us. The very air seems oppressed and oppressing. The very air seems oppressed and oppressing. It is a battle to feel cheerful when Nature is sad. One's nervous system loses its elasticity, and it is hard to do vigorous work. Indeed, this may be the effect of the mind upon the body : the mind being burdened with distress, the body responds sympathetically. The sombre fields look sad and discouraged. The wild flowers are not "in tune," but lie late, sleeping silently in the seeds ; the poppy fields are silent and sad, though next year they will awake in their glory. The cows, with mournful pity, look upon their shrunken-sided calves ; the mothers eat even the leaves, but alas ! they make but little milk. The goats drop their young before time, in the foothills, for lack of nourishment to support their growth. Dejection is on every side. Even the good spirit of the blue jay seems lacking, under the relentless skies.

In this 'day of grief and desperate sorrow,' what shall we do but trust in God ? Our cattle and horses have death before them. The little lambs lie dead about the corral and on the hills, the ewes being milkless. To pay the pasturage on alfalfa farms would cost more than the stock is worth."

Rain from the recent storm system that brought a deluge to much of Northern and Central California failed to make landfall in the south, although there was rain out to sea off the coast of Malibu. Photo © 2014 S. Guldimann
Rindge gives an account of horrific loss of livestock:

 “Word came from Ventura today that a man up the valley had shot all his range horses rather than see them die, for he could not sell them. Another rancher, with a flock of seven thousand sheep, has found it necessary to kill two thousand young lambs, in order to save the lives of the mother sheep. They are taking horses to the soap-works, and selling them at two dollars and a half. The hide is worth a dollar and a half, the tail fifty cents, and the balance is valuable for soap and land dressing. Some cannot pay their interest, and the mortgage is foreclosed. Others, more prudent, rejoice that they had kept to the motto their parents taught them, ‘Out of debt, out of danger.’” 

“Happy and wise is the man who has settled by a water-course, who owns a never failing spring, or whose wind-mill is above real water-bearing ground. The streams never were so low. They sink before they reach the sea…”

Vegetation burned in the 2013 Spring Fire last year hasn't received enough rain yet to begin the process of recovery and regrowth. Photo © 2014 S. Guldimann

“The drought of 1898 was, if possible, more devastating in its effects than previous droughts except that of 1862-1864,” states an article entitled “California’s Cattle Range Industry: Decimation of the Herds, 1870-1912, published in the Journal of San Diego History in 1965. 

“Reports of county assessors indicate a reduction in number of cattle in the entire state from 487,742 in 1898 to 463,536 the next year,” the article states. “The president of the State Board of Agriculture, however, reported that actual losses were much greater than the assessor's reports revealed. A contemporary remarked that the drought of 1898 was ‘the means of crippling the cattle business greatly in California.’"

The 1877 drought reportedly drove the previous Malibu Rancho owner, Matthew Keller, to abandon plans to plant extensive vineyards and other crops. Keller bought the ranch in 1857 and spent the next 15 years fighting a legal battle for title to the land. He received the patent in 1872,  at the end of the devastating three-year drought.

 At his extensive farm acreage in Los Angeles, Keller experimented with cotton, castor beans, and citrus, in addition to raising grapes for his successful Rising Sun and Los Angeles Vineyard, which produced wine, sherry and brandy. Keller eventually planted a vineyard at Solstice Canyon, one of the few local canyons with reliable year-round water, but large-scale plans for Malibu never materialized and he leased most of the property to neighboring cattle and sheep ranchers for grazing range. Today, all that remains in Malibu of Keller's legacy is the Rising Sun Trail in Solstice Canyon, named for his 19th century vineyard.

Much of the livestock that grazed in Malibu belonged to ranchers on the other side of the Santa Monica Mountains, including the areas that are now Newbury Park, Thousand Oaks and Westlake in the Conejo Valley. The 1877 drought decimated cattle and sheep population and left many ranchers bankrupt.

Egbert Starr Newbury purchased a portion of  the former Rancho El Conejo land grant in the early 1870s, but had to abandon his Newbury Park Ranch following the devastating 1877 drought. This is an archival photo of an old Newbury Park Ranch barn. While we have little information on the effect of drought on the Malibu Rancho in 1900s, accounts from Conejo Valley on the other side of the Santa Monica Mountains, paint a grim picture of this period in local history.
 “Up until the drought years of 1876 and 1877, the Conejo [Valley] was covered in vegetation, feeding thousands of roaming sheep and livestock,” wrote Jeffrey Wayne Maulhardt in the introduction to his book Images of America: Conejo Valley. Maulhardt puts the pre-drought count at nearly 20,000 sheep. At the end of the drought period “a few thousand emaciated sheep worth 10 cents a head remained.”
The drought cost many Conejo Valley farmers their farms. Civil War veteran Egbert Starr Newbury, who homesteaded Newbury Park and built the first post office in the Conejo Valley, lost everything in the 1877 drought. He wasn’t alone. Howard Mills, one of the first land speculators in the area,  bought 20,000 acres in 1873, including  the 6000 acres that he named  Triunfo Ranch and that is now Westlake Village. The 1877 drought drove Mills to bankruptcy.

Mathew Keller died in 1881 and his family sold the entire Malibu Rancho to Rindge, who continued to run cattle, but as a hobby, not for a living. Later ranchers, including the Kincaid family in Trancas Canyon and the Roberts Ranch in Solstice Canyon also ran cattle, but on a more modest scale. Fire followed the 1897 drought in 1903, burning much of Malibu. The 1945-51 drought was followed by a catastrophic fire in 1956 that put an end to the last remnants of the Malibu ranch tradition. 

County water arrived throughout much of Malibu following World War II, bringing more intensive development, but the cycle of drought, and the wildfires that accompany it, still impact residents directly, and water remains a critical issue in the areas of Malibu that still depend on wells. Only a small fraction of Malibu's population would able to live in Malibu if the community depended on groundwater, and the current craze for vineyards combined with the lasting drought is reportedly already impacting areas of the Santa Monica Mountains where homeowners are increasingly finding themselves competing with viticulture for well water.

An aerial view of the eastern end of the 1956 fire, dated 1956-12-27, from the Los Angeles Examiner Negatives Collection at USC. The fire followed an extended period of drought from 1944-51. The 1978 fire took the same route to the sea and also followed a period of extreme drought.
The 2007 Corral Fire, sweeping down the canyon towards the sea on the same trajectory as the 1956 fire, above, and the 1978 fire. This photo was taken from Point Dume just before dawn on the first day of the fire. The white lights are homes, The red lights are the fire engines. Photo © 2014 S. Guldimann
This is an archival photo from the old Malibu Surfside News of Topanga Canyon during the floods of 1979-1980. The pattern of drought, fire and flood is familiar to anyone who has lived in Malibu for any length of time.

Predictions continue to indicate extended dry weather across Southern California this winter but longtime residents still recall that the 1977 drought was followed, first by the 25,000-acre 1978 Kanan Dume Fire and then by the floods of 1979-80 that damaged more than 100 homes, transformed dry creek beds into raging rivers, and buried a section of PCH under thousands of cubic feet of mud and rock.  It's a pattern that has repeated many times. In fact, the 1863 drought was preceded by the great flood of 1862, when it reportedly rained for 45 days in a row, flooding the entire West Coast, from the Columbia River in Oregon to Northern Mexico.

There's no surviving record of how the great flood of 1862 affected Malibu, but here's a charming litho of Sacramento, transformed into "a second Venice." The flood, also known as the Noachian Deluge, was no joke, it bankrupted the state. Almost the entire Central Valley was transformed into a temporary inland sea. In Southern California, the town of Ventura had to be abandoned, residents scrambled for high ground as the river rose and kept on rising. Los Angeles was hammered with 35 inches of rain. The L.A. River, reportedly clogged with debris that included entire houses and hundreds of drowned cows and sheep, turned much of the L.A. Basin into a vast, shallow lake. 
“No other city seems to excite such dark rapture,” wrote Mike Davis in The Ecology of Fear: Los Angeles and the Imagination of Disaster, a 1998 chronicle of the numerous disasters, real and fictional, afflicting the Los Angeles area. The book includes Davis' infamous essay “The Case for Letting Malibu Burn.” And yet, many who live here love this place fiercely and are willing to endure all of the extremes in exchange for a chance to experience what Frederick Hastings Rindge described as “very near terrestrial paradise,” even when that paradise is tempered by the extremes of flood, fire and drought.

"Old Growth," one of a series of paintings by the author inspired by California's turbulent,  disaster-prone—and often lunatic—history. Artwork © 2014 S. Guldimann

This was the summer when I came to know,
After long years,
My love for these brown hills,
And learned the peace
Their stony harshness brings,
And felt their beauty singing in my blood.

Now in October, warm and dusty-hazed,
“I wait serenely for the winter rains
To fill the parched and stony waterways,
Knowing that Spring will follow
In a blaze—
Green fire of grass,
Blue flame of lupin bloom,
And poppies burning on the bare hillsides.

—Madeleine Ruthven, 1934

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Year of the Horse

Walter Crane eloquently captured the power of the ocean and the almost mystical appeal of horses in his famous illustration entitled "Neptune's Horses." 
All over the world, people celebrated the Lunar New Year on January 31, and welcomed the Year of the Horse. One of the twelve Asian zodiac animals, the horse reportedly brings luck and good fortune and it carries our hopes and dreams on its back as it gallops to meet the future. It seemed like a good time to take a look at the history of horses in Malibu.

There was a time, not very long ago, when many, maybe even most Point Dume families had a horse or two. The stables and tack rooms have given way to guest houses or moldered away, but Malibu's equestrian past hasn't slipped away entirely—not yet.

A couple of Rindge Ranch cowboys and their four-footed companions take a break from work.
There are surprisingly few photographs of the ranch horses, but here are a pair of cowboys and their horses driving cattle under the Ramirez Canyon railroad trestle in 1915. 

In the early days of the Topanga Malibu Sequit Rancho, horses were essential for survival. Even in the early 20th century, before the Ridge family was forced to open the ranch to what would become Pacific Coast Highway, horses offered travelers and the settlers who lived in the Santa Monica Mountains the only reliable mode of transportation through the ranch.

Arch Rock, located between Pacific Palisades and Los Flores Canyon, was a picturesque landmark in the early 20th century. The savvy horsewoman shown above has timed her trip to coincide with the low tide.
 These travelers are waiting for the tide to turn. The journey from Camarillo to Santa Monica was long and arduous. Travelers counted on their horses to help them get safely through the nearly 30-mile shoreline trek.

The caption on the photo, reproduced from a 1950s Malibu Chamber of Commerce publication, reads: "An outing in the early days of Trancas Wash," which was probably what is now the Zuma Lagoon.

I was seeking some additional information on this archival photo of beach riders and found that the Adamson House archive website provides extensive speculation on the image: "Travelers on the ’Beach Road.” ca. 1907. From shadow pattern probably mid-late day on a winter afternoon. Not a road per se, but simply the compacted sand between high and low tides. Until the early 1920s, this was the only relatively open and publicly accessible route across much of the length of Rancho Malibu. However, between aproximately 1910-1920, bitter court battles between the Rindges and nearby settlers frequently interrupted public access to even this pathway." Sounds reasonable, right?
...And then I took a closer look at the riders, and noticed that they're wearing turbans, carrying spears and rifles, and are accompanied by what appear to be two dromedary camels, or possibly a camel and a small Asian elephant, so either this is a film shoot for an early Hollywood costumer, or that hotly contested Malibu Rancho coastal route led in and out of the Twilight Zone.
Roosevelt Highway was bulldozed and dynamited through the Rancho, opening the coastal route to automobile traffic in 1929. The highway signaled the end of the era of horse travel, but not the end of Malibu's equestrian culture. Horse ranches sprang up everywhere as the Rancho was sold off to pay the Rindge family's debts. Rural-residential zoning made it possible for all kinds of residents to keep horses, donkeys, peafowl, goats, geese, and chickens, and barns and corrals were an essential part of many Malibu homes.

In 1947 the first and apparently last Malibu Remuda was held. The cars are parked at what is now the Ralphs shopping center; the horses are being ridden down the middle of what is now Pacific Coast Highway, which in those days ran along Malibu Road. The event, sponsored by the American Legion, featured nearly a thousand riders and included a circus and an air show. Frank Morgan—the Wizard of Oz—reportedly opened the event by rowing to shore from his private yacht dressed in 16th century-style armor to reenact Cabrillo's alleged  1542 arrival in Malibu. 
This Happy Little Person, accompanied by her pony and her fierce and terrible guard geese represents the typical 20th century Malibu girl. This image and caption appeared in a 1950s Malibu Chamber of Commerce telephone directory. Malibu children rode horses everywhere from the 1950s to the 1980s. There were hitching posts at the Trancas Market and the Mayfair Market on Point Dume. Trails stretched for miles through the hills and down to the beach. 

Trancas Riders and Ropers was founded in 1952. Young riders gathered for "shrimp shows" and gymkhanas at the rustic riding ring in the meadow east of the Trancas Market for decades. When the organization was forced to move, it found a new home in Malibu Park. It's still active, but not on the scale it enjoyed during the peak period of Malibu horse culture.

Even Pepperdine had a stable and a riding program—Ronald Reagan reportedly helped the school raise the funds for the program during his term as governor of California. James Wylie, with the help of his long distance endurance horse Butler, taught the classes. During the summer and on the weekends, the horses were available for public riding lessons. 
Here's an infomercial from the same Chamber publication. I've never heard of "Rancho Maria Louisa," and couldn't find any information about it, but there were—and still are—many riding schools in Malibu. Rancho Sea Air in Escondido Canyon, established by Egon Merz in 1941, is still there, run by Egon's daughter Gina. That's where a young Elizabeth Taylor learned to ride for her role in "National Velvet." It's also where many Malibuites have learned to ride.

The author and her brother Christopher on his horse Apple in our corral in the early 1970s. Many Malibu families cherish memories of their horses and the adventures they shared with them. The Point Dume bridle path easements were systematically removed from the city's trail map during the early 1990s. The woman who orchestrated their removal moved away years ago, but the damage was done. Fortunately for 21st century riders, the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area offers miles of mountain trails and some neighborhoods, like Malibu Park, are still horse-friendly.

I learned to ride at Pepperdine, and dearly loved the palomino gelding named Piper I was assigned. James Wylie chose each horse for its patience and its ability to teach foolish humans to ride. We learned our basic skills—including falling off—in the ring, but the best part of any lesson for me was the chance to go out on the trails that surrounded the school.

We rode past rock formations that sheltered enigmatic Chumash rock art; past wells, windmills and water tanks—remnants of Malibu's ranching era, and up along the ridgelines through unspoiled chaparral with the ocean far below, breathing dust and the hot, spicy scent of sage and sumac and horse. 

I remember one long ride into Corral Canyon, past a derelict cabin with roses still blooming in its overgrown garden. We often rode through an abandoned citrus grove and down into Malibu Creek, crossing under Malibu Canyon Road in a cool damp tunnel filled with the echo of horse hooves and down through the creek with its never-to-be-forgotten scent of wild watercress and California Bay laurel. 

Those first rides gave us a glorious feeling of freedom, but we also learned responsibility, for ourselves and for our large, stubborn, sensitive, kind, gentle and sometime irascible horses. We learned to clean their hooves and groom them, check for bruises and scrapes, feed and muck out, avoid hooves and teeth and tails, and develop empathy for another species.

Even for those who didn't ride, horses were part of the daily Malibu landscape: there were horses waiting for their humans at the market hitching posts, or poking inquisitive ears over the fence at the end of the road. There were children riding bareback on fat, grumpy Shetland ponies down the middle of the street, and beautiful, sleek horses dancing through the surf at the beach or flying across the sand at low tide on a winter evening.

It's rare now, but sometimes one even still sees a horse and rider on the beach, running free despite the fences and the rules.
Somewhere between then and now that horse culture slipped away, and Point Dume without all of those horses is somehow less than it was before. We traded that world for one full of mansions and fences and golf carts.

There isn't room anymore on Point Dume for horses, but maybe it's not too late for the rest of Malibu. Vegetable gardens are making a come back. So are chickens and backyard beekeeping. Maybe there's still hope for the horse here, or at least for preserving the freedom and the wide open spaces that horses have come to symbolize.

Gung hay fat choy and happy Year of the Horse.