Going out to Huntington Gardens today with my agent–hoping to see one of the feral breeding populartion of  Yellow-Chevroned Parakeets. That’d be a really cool lifer!  (Not as cool as seeing them in their actual native habitat would be, but once they’re an established population, they count.)

Saw a cool bird called a Phainopepla yesterday, or rather, four of them. I’ve never even heard of ’em before (and don’t ask me to pronounce the name.) They look sort of like a large titmouse, the same thin crest, but the males are jet black and both sexes have blood-red eyes. They look a little crazed. When they fly, these immense white wing patches are suddenly visible, so they’re very flashy in the air.  Apparently they live primarily on mistletoe berries. (They belong to a family called the “Silky Flycatchers,” which is just a cool name.)

I really like this bird for some reason. Maybe it’s the crazy eyes.

*cough* Having exceeded bandwidth for some innocent sites, let me just suggest you google the little buggers.

Another gorgeous day in L.A. The climate is so stupidly beautiful and constant that I can see how people stop noticing it. It’s like having a painting on the wall–even if it’s a Van Gogh, sooner or later it stops registering. Ho hum, another spectactular day. Yawn.

Went for a hike. Saw a lot of black-chinned hummingbirds, but nothing much else.

A flaming but charming makeup artist informed me that I had great skin. This was a minor ego boost, since my body image has been taking a beating out here–at 170 and 5’7″, with my build, I’m not that far off from my medically ideal weight (although I could definitely use more tone!) But I don’t think I’ve met a single woman out here who weighed more than 110 dripping wet. None of them have hips. It’s sorta alarming. Even as mellow and enlightened as I try to be, the constant parade of adolescent-boys-with-boobs types eventually wears you down.

Fortunately, this is temporary. I’ll go back to NC and it’ll wear off in a week or two.

Work is cookin’ right along. I wish I could tell y’all what I was doing, because I am kickin’ ass and takin’ names at it, but you’ll have to take my word for it.

Man, with all the food around here, I’m amazed these women stay so skeletal. Either they spend all day at the gym, or…well, apparently bulimia is rampant out here. Good lord. And the prices would make a skunk blush. Still, since other people are payin’ for it…I’m walking out to Runyon Canyon every day, in hopes of keeping from going back ten pounds heavier.

Lessons Learned: A place that charges you ninety bucks for lunch can still have a skanky bathroom.

I don’t know that I’d ever be comfortable in a place where there’s so much discussion of sex and astrology, and so little discussion of wholesome topics like, say, leprosy and naked mole rats. Still, the food’s amazing. I had a brie and sliced apple panini with carmelized onions for lunch today.  Last night, possibly fearing that I was homesick for the cuisine of the South,* my charming celebrity host took me to a place that makes red velvet cake. I don’t even LIKE red velvet cake and the stuff was un-freaking-believeable. The icing alone could have brought about world peace.

Meanwhile, the birding continues apace! Runyun Canyon’s not a total bird mecca–no open water–but it’s still pretty cool. The house finches are native here (I am reminded that they were sold on the East Coast as “Hollywood finches” a century or so ago, leading to their establishment there.) and they’re everywhere. Lots of California towhees, fair number of bushtits. Saw a pair of wrentits (lifer!–I heard ’em first) and an ash-throated flycatcher (lifer!) though. And I hiked up to the highest point in Runyon, where the swallows go careening and airfoiling around, and added both Cliff and Violet-Green. (Took awhile. Getting a visual bead on anything going that fast well enough to ID with confidence is tricky. Saw something that might have been a Vaux’s Swift yesterday evening, but I didn’t get near enough fieldmarks to call that spotted.) Heard a mockingbird virtuoso do a truly brilliant series of car alarms and industrial noises. The park’s also lousy with hummingbirds, and I was privileged enough to see, after hearing an odd kind of ticking call, a covey of three little California quail go skittering across a little opening in the chaparral. I’ve seen quail before, but there’s just something delightful about seeing them. I don’t know what it is.  I gotta paint some critter with a riding quail some time…

Tonight I’m going to something called “drag queen bingo.” Pray for me.

*It will be a cold, cold day in hell, my friends…

So a buddy of mine is planning a move to San Jose and asked me to come with her.

I’m about sold on the idea, especially hanging around the Mediterranean climate out here. God, I miss that. And there’s really nothing for me in North Carolina except my friends, and since my best friend’s movin’–eh, why not? Particularly with the whole divorce thing, it might be nice to start fresh someplace with no mental baggage.

What balks me, primarily, is the cost of living. Cost of living out in San Jose is literally twice what it is in Raleigh…but that’s because housing is 3x as spendy. Food and utilities and whatnot are a bit higher, but generally only ten to fifteen percent.  And said friend, whom I love dearly, said that since she’s already paying through the nose for a one bedroom, the cost of a two bedroom’s only about five or six hundred more–I’d pay the difference, (plus the $25 rent for Ben, of course!) kick her a painting now and again, and we’d call it good. Since I’m paying five-fifty in rent now, that’d be a fabulous deal, and would cut out the primary agony of such a move. Utilities might even be cheaper, since I’d be splitting them with somebody.  Gas would suck, but I work at home most of the time–not like I’m a daily commuter.

There’d be a lot more gallery opportunities for me, Christ knows. I googled for “galleries” around San Jose and got like six thousand hits within thirty miles. There’s what, maybe five, six galleries in all of Raleigh?

I’ll have enough of a nest egg following the book deal and this LA gig to make the move without killing myself, and to pad my income if things get too dire. And if it turns out I really can’t make it in an economy like that, (or if my friend finds true love and gets married and I’m out a roommate) my Dad’s in Phoenix and said “Dude, come stay with us, get your feet under you, we’ll put you up for a bit, not a problem.” And Arizona’s the place I always wanted to move back to, and the cost of living there I KNOW I can manage. I’d have no social network, but–well–I can always volunteer at the zoo or something, and hopefully some of you’d come meet me! (Artist, shy, needs social handler….)

So practically speaking, it looks like I can either make it work, or if worse comes to worse, bail out safely. And…I dunno. The thought of making a huge move across the country like that always scares me, but I’ve done it three times already. I know I can do it. (Driving a Uhaul…no. I’d have to pay to get my stuff shipped and drive out, I think, unless Carlota feels like driving a truck. I know my driving skills, and they ain’t great. I could get Ben and me across the country in my Altima, but that’s my limit.)

It’s just such a huge idea, and I’m on my own for the first time in–well, ever!–so it looks so much scarier than it is. I think I want to do it, both sets of parents said “Do it, for god’s sake, do it!” most of my friends have said that…but of course, the problem with divorces is that you wind up second-guessing yourself like mad on the big things, because if you didn’t see THAT coming, how can you trust your instincts on anything? I wander between going “Yes! Let’s go!” and wanting to curl in fetal position in my tiny apartment, which may be small and soon to be overpriced, but is at least known! and familiar! and mine!

So talk to me, O readers! Any of you lived in San Jose, or living there now? Is it possible to do without breaking the bank? (Will you have coffee with me?) All of you have been hugely supportive with the divorce thing–any of you done that and then moved across the country? How’d you deal with that sense of being a tiny little creature in a vast world? Is this idea nuts? (I’m asking the internet for advice. Sweet jesus.)

Holy shit.

Holy, holy, holy shit.

It is not possible that I just saw what I saw. I mean, I don’t even believe me, and I was here for it.

I was hanging out on the back porch, binoculars in hand, trying to tell hummingbirds apart, and I heard a squirrel going apeshit in a shrub down the slope. I looked down there, and saw something dog-sized moving through the bushes.

It was drab agouti, and I thought, (quite excited) “Hey, maybe that’s a coyote!”  The Hollywood hills are basically built up chaparral, and there’s plenty of deer and coyote around. I trained the binoculars down…

And I saw a butt vanish into the shrubs…an agouti with reddish tint butt, a butt with solid haunches and a stumpy tail (not a manx’s nub, but not a full cat tail, either–more like a cat tail chopped off halfway.) The tail was bright white with black rings.

Something dog-sized, agouti, with a stumpy striped tail?

Tell me that this isn’t possible. Tell me that there are weirdos here in Hollywood keeping giant stripe-tailed manxes, or that it was some common breed of dog. I will believe you. Because any of that will make a helluva lot more sense than me seeing a freakin’ bobcat walk through the backyard of a Hollywood estate at noon.

I went on-line to see if I’d lost my mind, and apparently it’s remotely possible that I’m not nuts–there’ve been reports of a family of California bobcats that got flushed out from the fire across the valley last week, and they’ve been spotted through this area. But there’s a far cry between that and “Hey, Ursula was trying to tell the difference between female Allen’s and Anna’s hummingbirds, and an adult freakin’ bobcat strolled by.”

My agent called while I was still gibbering and I asked her if there were bobcats. “Oh my god!” she said, shocked. “Do you have a gun?! Are you safe?” (sigh) All this glorious nature, and I don’t think most of ’em have any idea how you live with it….

So far, I’ve been adding a bird a day since I got here. Yesterday’s was the Western Scrub-Jay, and today I was privileged to see two Bullock’s Orioles go flying by. (There aren’t many unfamiliar birds I could ID from a fly-by like that, but big, black and yellow, with white wing patches like a mockingbird–process of elimination, how we love thee…)

Can’t wait to finally hike Runyun Canyon–maybe tomorrow morning…

Well, tonight I had an…”adventure” is probably too strong a word.

I was sitting around, typing, working up a storm. My charming celebrity host was off at a seminar about helping abused children. I was plugging away, tea in hand,  when I heard a fire engine.

Now, this wouldn’t normally be an issue. I’ve heard a lot of fire engines. However, it parked directly outside the building, and they’ve been having a lot of fires in the hills here lately, so after a few minutes of hearing the siren and seeing the lights flash through the kitchen window, I got up to go check.

I opened the front door, stepped outside into the little walled courtyard, and saw that the fire truck was accompanied by an ambulance, parked next door, probably a sign that something unfortunate had happened to a neighbor. “That’s a damn shame,” I thought vaguely….and from behind me, there came a soft and curiously final click.

My stomach lurched, and my heart slid delicately down into my toes.

The front door had locked.

I didn’t have a key.

Charming celebrity host (CCH for short) wasn’t due back until 11:00, and it was now…8:45.

I was wearing jeans, a t-shirt, a light sweatshirt, and a pair of very thin socks with pink hearts on them.

I checked my pockets, in case I’d somehow left a set of lockpicks in them. (Hey, there’s always a first time…) Nope. My cel phone and a Kleenex. A succession of D&D thieves I have played writhed in internal shame.

I tried the CCH, but he was in a seminar and had, of course, politely turned off his phone. My agent’s phone was down for most of today. You can’t call 911 over something like this. We need another number for “mild discomfort emergency.” (“Hi, this is 912! We’ll send someone out with a blanket and a cup of hot chocolate, stat!”)

The courtyard is about six feet wide, and perhaps forty feet long, walled and potted attractively with papyrus and several other tropicals.  Nice courtyard. Not well lit. Not heated. Hmmm. I could go outside, but the gate would probably lock behind me, and then I’d be on the street in my socks. They don’t go in for sidewalks up here.

Here I am in one of the swankiest neighborhoods in North America, on a trip so surreal that I can only comprehend it in little bits and chunks, and I’m locked out of the house.

I went over to the sliding glass door to my bedroom, which was open six inches and locked in place, so the Pomeranian could get out. There is a lovely bouquet of pink roses and cut flowers on my nightstand. They mocked me with their inside-ness. Roses are such bastards.

“Well,” I said, wiggling my toes in my heart-covered socks, “nobody ever died of hypothermia in southern California in May.”

And so I did what we all do in this situation. I called my parents.

They offered moral support. We chatted for a couple of hours. I paced the length of the courtyard several hundred times. At about 10:15, my bladder became apprised of the situation, and I had a bad feeling I might wind up violating one of the potted papyrus, but fortunately, my charming host got out of his seminar about then, was horrified to learn of the situation, and drove back at breakneck speed (and in a Land Rover, that’s saying something.)

He apologized a few thousand times (as if it was his fault his neighbor had a medical emergency and I wandered fecklessly out without a key!) but really, my life has been like a David Lynch movie ever since James decided he wanted to seperate back in January. If it hadn’t been two hours pacing a walled courtyard, I probably would have been assaulted by a midget wearing a flaming hairpiece, so I figured that all things considered, I got off easily.

Day Two

The second day of my Hollywood adventure!  In the last twenty-four hours, I’ve walked down Hollywood Blvd, which has all th stars in it (I haven’t heard of half the actors, but a couple of ’em were familiar.) had a truly fabulous cheeseburger (They sold Kobe beef burgers. Good lord.) seen more black Land Rovers than I knew existed in the world, (and not a wildebeest or savannah for miles) listened to a relative stranger’s account of a night of passion with a reasonably famous actor, (Don’t ask. Please, please, don’t ask.) and gone to a doggy boutique that really did sell jeweled collars and other upscale canine acoutrements. (My host has a small, charming Pomeranian named Sandwich, who is chewing delicately on my toes as I blog.)

The desperately surreal quality of all this was threatening to overwhelm me, I gotta admit. I mean, I dropped by a mall to buy socks and a sweatshirt–they had an unexpected cold snap here that I hadn’t packed for–and the sticker shock about killed me.  A hundred and twenty for a sweatshirt? Four hundred bucks for a purse!? Dear god! Good thing they had a Lady Foot Locker in the mall, or I might have expired on the spot. I’m a cheap bastard, I admit. Just reading the tags gave me severe palpitations of the wallet.

But then I went into a Borders to grab a guide to birds of the L.A. area, and as the clerk was ringing me up, his cohort said “And then, after that, he logged on his Alliance character, just so he could send me a tell screaming about what a jerk I was for kiting the thing onto him! Like I did it deliberately!”

Ah, sweet normalcy…

I have arrived!

Without going into too many details, I’m staying in Hollywood (and by that, I mean I can walk out on the back porch and stare directly across the valley at the Hollywood sign. It’s pretty swank.) The view is tremendous. The birding also promises to be good–already got a Wilson’s warbler (lifer) and that was just by idily scanning the shrubbery. I’m just down the street from Runyon Canyon Park, which is a little chunk of chapparal in the middle of quite urban LA, and I’m looking forward to walking through that a couple of  times.

The buildings around here are bloody amazing. They sent a towncar around for me, and dude, some of the neighborhoods we drove through…all these bizarre stucco buildings, lots of little round towers and archways, tiled in terracotta and absolutely smothered in flowering shrubs. I had forgotten (if I ever really knew) how lush Southern California is. I mean, the South is a lot greener, that kind of mad intense green, but the flowers! We went through one narrow little alleyway that was so overhung with hibiscus and datura and oleander and bouganvilliea and stuff I can’t even put a name to that it was like driving through a shadowy floral tunnel. I’d kill for some of these houses, and not even the big ones, just the little stucco terra-cotta shingled places. Everything’s got a courtyard and is overgrown, usually with flowers. Now I know why people move out here! (Nobody tell me what those places cost. My heart couldn’t take the strain.)

Have already started work, but am pretty jet-lagged–had to get up at 5:30 AM, and I think that’s like 2:30 local time, so I’m pretty well running on fumes. The sleep on the plane wasn’t worth much.

May go take a walk while it’s still daylight out. Will report back later!

So I took a walk around Shelley Lake this morning, figuring that I won’t get a chance for another three weeks.

I was down the little side path that I like to go down, which has lately been inaccessible, due to a broody goose and her protective mate. Fortunately, the goslings have hatched, and life is beautiful again. I walked down the path and began idly scanning with my binoculars.

I saw a little bird, probably a blue-gray gnatcatcher, flit by in some nearby trees, raised my binoculars to try to catch it, and froze.

There was something on a branch there. Something BIG.

It was astonishing that I had missed it before, but it was bark colored and I simply hadn’t seen it. If not for the motion of the little flitting gnatcatchers, I would probably have missed it, despite the fact that it was at least the size of my cat.

The back was brown and grey and pinstriped, and the rest was an explosion of cream-grey fluff. It was enormous, sitting perched on the branch with its back to me, and it had massive yellow raptor talons that gripped the branch, nearly buried in the sheer floofiness.

By the fluff, I knew it was a juvenile, but a juvenile what? From the way it was sitting, from the sheer size, I had a crazy idea–it couldn’t possibly be–not in broad daylight–but it sure looked like–but could it really be–?

The juvenile great horned owl turned its head around and looked at me. The heavy beak was very dark against all the fluff, and its eyes were enormous and gold and had dark rings. It even had pale fluffy “horns.”

I greeted this moment of surpassing natural splendor the way humans have been greeting natural splendor for years. I said “Holy….shit…”  and nearly dropped my binoculars.

This makes me realize that I gotta get a birding buddy. I was this close to assaulting random passersby and MAKING them come see the owl, and if they hadn’t all been wearing iPods and resolutely not making eye contact, I probably would have. Ah, well…

Visual Aid Update: It looked like the young one in this photo