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In the News - Friday, March 23, 2012



Last-day-of-winter storm brings

low-elevation snow, topples trees

  Campers and hikers frequently report hearing or, on rare occasions, seeing a tree fall in Sequoia National Park. But what happened last weekend was unprecedented.
   In a couple of hours when St. Patrick’s Day (March 17) was turning into Sunday, March 18, dozens and, by some estimates, hundreds of trees came crashing down. It was a perfect storm for tree fall; several inches of wet, heavy snow on trees already made heavier by early spring budding and leafing.
  “When came into work Sunday morning I saw several trees down along Sierra Drive,” recalled Tom Warner, Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks chief forester.
   There was one tree down on an NPS government SUV in the park housing section at Ash Mountain. But the scattered damage near the park entrance was nary an inkling of the extraordinary event that had occurred just 2.7 miles up the Generals Highway at Potwisha Campground.
   For the dozen or so campers in three sites it was a nightmare on Oak Street. One church group camped in Site No. 1 reported that when they started to hear all the creaking, cracking, crashing they crawled out of their sleeping bags and tents and literally ran for their lives.
   Within minutes of getting out of their site among the oaks, a huge trunk came crashing down on two of the now vacated tents. At the other two occupied sites those parties were camped out in the open and were not in any immediate danger.
   As park rangers arrived in the pre-dawn hours they encountered lots of fallen trees all along the Generals Highway and in Potwisha Campground. The most extensive damage seemed to be concentrated in the area at Potwisha.
   Warner estimated that at least 40 mature oaks had fallen in the Potwisha Campground alone.
  “I’ve been keeping a close watch on a number of these trees and several were already marked for removal,” Warner said. “I just couldn’t take out the majority of these old oaks when still so much of the tree was green.”
   While directing a crew of 18 workers on Wednesday cleaning up the aftermath of the storm Warner said the unprecedented tree fall was a mixed blessing. On the one hand, the campground will be safer but there will be a lot less shade.
   Kirk Stiltz, Sequoia’s roads supervisor, who was born and raised in Three Rivers, said in his 37 years in these parks he’s never seen anything like the Potwisha tree fall. But besides less danger posed by a tree failure, campers benefit because when the campground re-opens today (March 23) there is now plenty of fire stacked at nearly every one of Potwisha’s 42 sites.
   Can’t wait to get back to one of those pristine Potwisha campsites? Be sure to call ahead and check for road conditions and campground site availability.

More rain and snow on the way

  As wacky as last week was weather-wise, more of the same is forecast for Kaweah Country by Sunday, March 25. Wet weather will return as yet another Gulf of Alaska storm system churns through Central California.
   According to the latest forecasts, the system is currently situated off the California coast and has the potential to be another drought buster. The unknown is not if, but where, the brunt of the energy will actually come ashore.
   Wherever that locale turns out to be will determine what areas will get the significant rain and snowfall that will be accompanied by some strong wind gusts. Kaweah Country should expect one to two inches of rain in the foothills with two to three feet of new snow above 6,000 feet.
   So is it the Miracle March that all the water-watchers have pinned their hopes on to get local precipitation totals back in line with the April 1 average? Perhaps not quite yet (Three River has now recorded 11.50 inches of rainfall) but suddenly the 30 percent of the April 1 norm from a couple weeks ago is looking more like 60 percent.
   Weather forecasters in places like Chicago and the nation’s mid-section might describe their weather as less a miracle and more like March madness. In the eight days ending March 18 that region experienced more than 2,000 record high temperatures.
   In the windy city of Chicago, five consecutive days were 30 degrees above normal — a run of temperatures of 80 degrees or higher. International Falls, Minn., often the nation’s coldest spot, logged an all-time high on March 17 of 77 degrees.
   In Texas, that region is still trying to pick up the pieces of the worst drought in the state’s history. Chalk it up to climate change or at least some of the wackiest weather ever recorded.
   In the Lone Star State, suddenly ex-wildcat oil drillers are coming out of retirement to drill for water, the new liquid gold. At least a handful of west Texas towns that depend on wells are totally out of water.
   Possible scenarios have California also running out of water in the near future or perhaps in the next 50 years. For some, like those Texas towns, the future is now.

Chief of USACE visits Lake Kaweah

Corps commander’s visit

highlights World War I connection

  There are 17,000 civilians and military personnel that make up the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Of those, a couple of dozen staffers and several local volunteers work diligently to see that Lake Kaweah exemplifies the best of what an Army Corps facility can be.
   But it was one Lake Kaweah park ranger, Valerie McKay, who responded to a holiday message from Major General Merdith W.B. “Bo” Temple, the USACE commander headquartered in Washington, D.C. In her email, Valerie shared a family connection to military history that caught the attention of the Corps’s central command.
   In his holiday message, General Bo Temple shared a World War I story about British and German troops who were entrenched on the front lines in Belgium on Christmas Eve 1914.
   A flag of truce came out and for the next 36 hours the enemies put aside their differences and shared holiday cheer. Their peace on earth became known in WWI annals as “Stille Nacht” (Silent Night).
   Ranger Valerie revealed to the general that her grandfather, Earnest Davis, often told war stories about his eyewitness account of the Christmas Truce of 1914.
  “We [the family] were proud to be a part of this unique military history,” said Valerie. “I was really excited when the general responded to my email.”
   General Temple not only answered the email, but he promised Valerie he would come and visit Lake Kaweah on a future visit California. That promise became a reality when Gen.   Temple and his entourage arrived at Lemon Hill shortly after 5 p.m. on Thursday, March 15.
   After a brief tour of the fuse gates at Terminus Dam, the General returned to Lemon Hill where a small gathering of staff, volunteers, and invited guests waited to meet the Army Corps commander. Ranger Valerie admitted she was a little nervous to meet her boss.
   But Major Gen. Bo Temple is a friendly, unassuming career military man proud to be the commander of the dedicated staff who work at Lake Kaweah. His meeting with Ranger Valerie McKay was an emotional one, like two old friends meeting in person for the first time.
  “I’ve been looking forward to meeting this one,” Gen. Temple said.
  “I am honored to meet you, sir,” Valerie replied.
   With the ice broken, the two talked about Valerie’s grandfather and how the general feels about those who serve their country. He presented Valerie with a book Silent Night: The   Story of the World War I Christmas Truce, which he had brought from headquarters especially for the occasion.
   Gen. McKay circulated among the crowd and shook the hand of everyone in attendance. He personally thanked each of the volunteers who he said are vital to the success of the Army Corps mission.
   Employees of the Sequoia National History Association, a Lake Kaweah partner, served a light buffet on the patio at the Lemon Hill visitor center. While savoring the fare prepared by Sierra Subs and Salads, General Temple shared his impressions of his first visit to Lake Kaweah.
  “Look up this [Kaweah] canyon and see the foothills and nearby mountains,” he said. “It’s so beautiful here. I am extremely proud of these dedicated people and the job they do at Lake Kaweah.”

Tickets now on sale

for Hidden Gardens tour

  Four one-of-a-kind Three Rivers landscapes will be open to the public one day only during a unique garden tour that will raise funds for Three Rivers Union School. The Hidden Gardens of Three Rivers Tour is back for the second year and will be held Saturday, April 21, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
   Make reservations now as the inaugural event in 2011 sold out with over 400 people attending. The cost is $40 per person, which translates to $10 a garden at which there will be light refreshments offered by a spotlighted Three Rivers restaurant, artists at work, musicians, and the inspiring landscaping delights of the gardens.
   This year’s gardens highlight the beauty, diversity, and conservation of California native plants. The gardens combine native plantings, appropriate non-natives in habitat plants, and indigenous species including oaks, sycamores, lupine, and manzanita.
   The featured celebrity garden is the property of Dr. Neal Baer, executive producer of Law and Order, ER, and A Gifted Man. He and his wife, Gerrie Smith, have a sprawling complex at the confluence of two forks of the Kaweah River that blends seamlessly with the natural riparian landscape. A focal point at the entry to the property is the “Living Wall,” a collage of hanging plants that is a combination of planter, wall, and cooling system.
   On a lovely stretch of the South Fork river is a garden that has been a work in progress for more than 30 years. The riverside retreat includes hidden treasures and seating areas in several segments interspersed with indigenous trees and shrubs, carefully placed river rock, and mature plantings beneath an oak canopy. The backdrop is a beautiful stretch of the Kaweah River, complete with waterfall and swimming hole.
   Another of the spectacular gardens might easily be mistaken for a public park with its tiered lawn that spans to the river’s edge, lined with native willows and sycamores. Roses and day lilies are favorites of the owner. The senses will be delighted as peak bloom at this Middle Fork site should coincide with the Garden Tour.
   And a historic site on North Fork Drive contains a garden that incorporates the dwelling. Tour participants will be allowed access to the home as a walk-through from one area to the next. Meander along trails to locations that include the 100-year-old Kaweah Post Office, a pond and flowing irrigation ditch, and a green pasture with horses contentedly graz-ing. Relax in the seating areas or wander the 32 acres of oak woodland.
   Each of the gardens will host working artists, musicians, and “A Taste of Three Rivers” that includes a delectable sampling from a local restaurant.
   Unfortunately, the gardens are not necessarily accessible for those in wheelchairs or who have diffi-culty walking on uneven terrain. Children are welcome but must be in the company of an adult at all times.
   Purchase tickets online with credit card (www.trusfoundation.org) or by calling 559-471-6624. A tour booklet and name badge will be avail-able for pickup during the two weeks prior to the event at locations in Three Rivers and Visalia or on the morning of the event at Three Rivers Union School.

Graduating seniors invited to

apply for Arts Alliance scholarship

  Veteran artists find few things more rewarding than discovering talented emerging artists and providing them an opportunity to grow their creativity. That’s why the Arts Alliance of Three Rivers is seeking applicants for the 2012 Lorraine Young Memorial Scholarship awards.
   The Arts Alliance established the scholarship fund to honor the many years of service Lorraine Young (1929-2005) gave to the Arts Alliance. As the scholarship program has grown, so has the number of talented young artists receiving a helping hand in pursuing their dreams of becoming career artists.
   Who’s eligible? Students graduating from local high schools as well as Three Rivers students who are home-schooled or will graduate from other high schools. The Arts Alliance also welcomes applications from those who have completed some college and are continuing their education in the arts. The criteria for the scholarship are the following:
   1. Student plans to continue their education.
   2. Student plans to study art.

   3. Three Rivers students will be given preference, but other qualified students are encouraged to apply.
   4. Student must show evidence of enrollment in order to receive the award check.
   The Arts Alliance uses a broad definition of the arts. In the past they have considered applicants with an interest in graphic design, architecture, music, performing and culinary arts, as well as drawing, painting, and ceramics.
   Students from Woodlake High School may submit applications at school. Others interested in applying may call 561-3315 to request an application or visit the Arts Alliance website at artsalliance.wordpress.com/. The due date for completed applications is Monday, April 30.
   Artists’ Studio Tour participation— Would you like to support the Lorraine Young Memorial Scholarship Fund while you’re enjoying the Three Rivers Artists’ Studio Tour this weekend? The Arts Alliance is offering delicious trail mix — dubbed ART FARE -— at several locations on the Tour. For a $5 donation to the scholarship fund, Tour participants will get an energy boost to sustain them on the art trail and help local students pursue their dreams. ART FARE is available at the Historical Society site as well as Shirley Keller’s Spirit Hill Studio and Karen Kimball’s Crow’s Feet Studio.
   Arts Alliance donation cards are available at the above locations and several other studios on the tour. Credit card donations may be made at Crow’s Feet Studio.


Art from the Heart

Jana Botkin, Three Rivers artist and muralist, paints a high country scene on the facade of the commercial building adjacent to Cort Gallery. Jana and her studio are a featured part of Artists’ Studio Tour Ten, which will be held this weekend in Three Rivers.


Food adventures in the Caribbean

By Allison Millner

   Grenada (pronounced gre-NEY-da) is known to be the “spice island” of the Caribbean and was the third stop on our adventure. At first glance it was visually different from the relatively desert islands of Aruba and Curacao.
   The steep, jungle-covered hills that cascaded down to the sea were dotted with clusters of houses that appeared to be built right into the mountains. Having been destroyed in 2005 by Hurricane Ivan, Grenada struggled to rebuild itself, its economy, and its infrastructure. What it lacked in swagger it made up for with a rich history, a passionate culture, and a love for food.
   It was the food and the spice Dane and I were in search of, and we planned to tackle the island with our friends, Russell and Kay. The four of us hopped into a taxi, told the driver to show us the sights, and away we went. First stop: the nutmeg factory.
   There is a certain sort of excitement and apprehension when you travel somewhere unfamiliar and trust someone else with your wellbeing. The farther away from civilization you get, the more anxious you are to reach your destination.
   I can assure you that my constant uneasiness is fueled by a zeal for horror movies, in which bad things tend to happen when traveling on back mountain roads. However this was not the case for us; our innocent pathways landed us north of St. George at our first stop.
   Nutmeg is the main export of Grenada with 20 percent of the world’s supply (down from pre-Ivan years) coming from this small island. The nutmeg factory we visited was a plain, unassuming building with peeling paint and an unmarked exterior.
   Inside the factory it was like stepping into another world. Instantly we were hit with the smell of the fragrant spice as our eyes probed the burlap bags on the floor and ladies worked quietly on stools.
   We were fairly speechless while touring the factory; none of us had ever seen anything like this. Our guide led the four of us up a set of old wooden stairs to wooden racks containing millions of nutmeg, all being hand raked by two women.
   Once dried, the nutmeg moved to the cracking machine where the seed fell down a shoot to a large container on the first floor. Sitting at the container were many ladies, whose job it is to separate nutmeg from shell and send those not cracked back up to the machine; they sat, separated, and bagged nutmeg all day long.
   If you’ve never seen a whole nutmeg, it is a small round seed about the size of an olive with a somewhat mottled exterior, encased in a smooth, thin shell. The shell lies inside a bright red webbing (when dried, this webbing is the spice called mace), and the webbing is found at the center of a light yellow fruit.
   Most often nutmeg is found in the market already ground, but buying it whole and grating it produces a much richer, deeper flavor. It’s delicious in almost anything sweet, but just a little grate of nutmeg in your mashed potatoes or any dish with spinach really enhances the flavor.
   When our tour was over, we browsed the small store, bought some very inexpensive nutmeg and jumped in the cab. Our driver was fueled by our enthusiasm over the factory and stopped just a short while later on the side of the road.
   He jumped out and picked a fruit off of a nearby tree. One of us in the cab hollered,    

  “Doesn’t that belong to someone?” to which he replied “Yes!” and we were quickly on our way with a ripe nutmeg fruit in hand.
   This scenario repeated itself a few minutes later with a cocoa fruit, each of us eager to sample the raw cocoa nibs.
   Around the island we went, each unique roadside fruit being singled out, sampled, and getting our full attention.
   We even stopped at “Mark’s” roadside stand where we tasted the local rum that was infused with various spices of the island. Our driver appreciated our eagerness and wanted to show us what Grenada really had to offer. By the end of the day we were hungry for some real food and asked for a recommendation. We were dropped off at BB’s Crabback, a restaurant run by a local couple on the water’s edge.
   The small restaurant was open to the bay and had a humble feeling about it, despite the fact that newspaper clippings showed Oprah having recently visited. There was a large table lined with fresh oranges, limes, ginger, and even turmeric root (called “saffron” on the island) that ran across one wall of the room. We were seated at a table that looked out over the St.   George cove, the water lapping against the seawall below us.
   We all ordered different meals with a shared conch fritter appetizer. Each of us oohed and aahed as food appeared: whole fried fish, goat in a spicy red sauce, fish in coconut-turmeric curry, spicy rice with vegetables, and a large container made of fat bamboo that was filled with rice and beans. We feasted, drinking local juices, reminiscing about the day, and savoring every last bite.
   As we walked back to the ship we all had a sense that we had participated in something special. We had, in a few hours, made a connection with the island.
   We finished our day with a steep climb up to the fort overlooking the bay. As it turns out the fort was closed, but it didn’t matter.
   We sat on benches starring out at the calm sea wishing we had just a little more time before we set sail and left Grenada behind us.
   Allison Millner and her husband, Dane, own and operate Sierra Subs and Salads in Three Rivers.


Mexican folk dance group celebrates

six years, reaffirms goals and mission

By Yvonne Arroyo Sweeney

  Ballet Folklorico Sierra Linda is celebrating its six-year anniversary this month. The children’s Mexican folk dance group had a busy 2011, performing 25 times beginning in April and wrapping up the year with a successful home recital in December.
   Back in 2006 when Venicia Cardenas came to me with her idea for the group, I didn’t have an exact plan as how to go about putting the group together; but we collaborated and created BFSL.
   Venicia played an integral role with the group until early last year. She officially served as booking coordinator and co-founder, but her duties entailed much more than her title implied.
   Venicia also handled the majority of the work when it came to costuming, from purchasing fabrics and accessories to measuring students and communicating with the seamstress. I often told the students and parents that I may teach the dance class but Venicia does the “hard work.”
   Venicia has since stepped down from her position with our group, but I want to take this time to thank her for all of the effort she put into BFSL, especially for convincing me that I could teach after such a long break from dancing.
   Muchas gracias, Venicia!
   The group has changed greatly since that first year. Every year we learn something new and adapt to challenges tossed our way.
   Some of these changes have been devastating to our folklorico family. In 2009 we had to cancel our fall season due to a serious car accident involving my daughters, and most recently one of our youngest dancers was diagnosed with brain cancer. (We love you, Catherin!)
   But, like families do, we’ve worked together to help each other out. These challenges have only strengthened our bond.
   While we have had many changes over the years, there are several core points that I don’t plan to ever change:
   BFSL will remain affordable to its students. Tuition has not been raised since the inception of the group.
   Out-of-pocket costs will be kept as low as possible. Currently the only two monetary requirements are tuition and dance shoes.
   All students wanting to dance will dance, regardless of age or skill level.
   We are a family and our focus is on the entire group, not individual dancers.
   I will put forth my best effort to teach authentic dance movement and provide authentic costuming to our students.
   Ballet Folklorico Sierra Linda would not be the family it is today without the support of the Woodlake YMCA, especially staff members Mike Flores Jr. and Will McMains, and the dedication and support from the parents of our students. Thank you!
BFSL currently has bookings scheduled through July 2012. We look forward to another busy year and hope you can watch us display our talents at a community event soon.
   Yvonne Arroyo Sweeney is the director/instructor of Ballet Folklorico Sierra Linda. For more information, she may be reached at 901-6240.

THE KAWEAH COMMONWEALTH is published every Friday in Three Rivers, California.
EDITORS/PUBLISHERS: John Elliott and Sarah Barton Elliott
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