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Weir Canyon and Fremont Canyon: Back-to-back Spring Beauty

April 2, 2011

Yesterday’s pleasant task: Accompany 12 plein air painters (Southern California Plein Air Painters Association: SOCAL PAPA) for a morning of translating onto canvas the hills and light and spring sprouting that is Weir Canyon right now.

At 7 am we took off in the big Irvine Ranch Conservancy “safari truck.”

The road was little beat up by the winter rains, but Docent Ed did a great job maneuvering the ruts. People have been using this canyon as a “shortcut” through the north end of the Santa Ana Mountains since long before anyone named them “The Santa Ana Mountains,” but the Spanish called this area the Canada de los Bueyes…Canyon of the Oxen…since it was an ox-cart road used to transport cattle hides and tallow to the port at Dana Point back in the rancho days.

Grand views, both far and near, greeted us.

And there’s nothing I love more than “watching paint dry” in the company of artists.

This western fence lizard seemed interested in what was going on too . . .

. . . . as did the concerned house wren (?) making her way in and out of a nest hole in this nearby oak.

That was plein air painting, yesterday in Weir Canyon.

Today’s schedule: plein air writing in the mouth of Fremont Canyon.

I led a small but fabulous group of writers to my favorite secret spot in Orange County, where we spent time lying on our backs looking up and soaking in the sounds and sensations.

Birds soared, birds sang. Water gurgled and rippled and sparkled. We had fun putting some of the sensations into words.

After writing a while, we hiked a ways up the steep Irvine Lake overlook road. Wildflowers were in bloom, but only a few, so each new sighting was like finding a rare jewel: wild cucumber, blue dicks, red paintbrush, blue-eyed grass,white-blossomed black sage, bedstraw, fruit-punch-scented yerba santa, baby blue eyes, golden yarrow, and wonderful multi-colored layers of lichen, tiny ferns, and liverworts, on the north-facing side of the road cut.

Baby blue eyes, above.

Blue dicks, below (the 261 toll road in background).

Even poison oak blooms compellingly this time of year:

Here’s a poem I wrote a while back about this interesting plant. ( But is there such a thing as a non-interesting plant?)

Poison Oak

Toxicodendron diversilobum

Sun or shade,

it climbs and shines

green after rain,

crimson in drought—

if you listened to your elders

you had a three-leaved remedy

for warts and ringworm,

juice to use as dye,

stems to frame your baskets.

Early European botanizers

noted how deer adored it, how

birds coupled in its lush

tangles of tiny flowers

that drove bees nectar-crazy.

So many useful traits—

but Captain Beechey’s rash

19th century plan to introduce

this striking plant to eager English gardeners

proved a bit of a disappointment

and the New World not so jolly good.

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