Village Matters: Turtle Consommé? Or not.

By Ann Christoph.

Do we need the holidays to understand our world and our life?

We usually get a healthy dose of new perspectives. This year I return home with these: the details we stew over in our day to day lives are not all that important to most people; we confront recurring themes and conflicts; and we make those same choices over and over.  I am always hoping some of those choices mean something permanently.

At our Thanksgiving party of 27 in Sacramento not one person was interested in what is happening in our town, in Laguna Beach. All those important events and decisions that we agonize over had no relevance. There were the talkers and the listeners. The talkers want to talk about themselves and their problems, the listeners patiently look attentive hoping that someone, anyone, will ask them a question, give them an entrée into the conversation.

Still it was comforting, even relaxing: being part of the family, being welcomed, cooking, seeing familiar faces changed a little since the last time, and two good nights’ sleep even on an uncomfortable bed.

We saw “Cloud Atlas” a complex film depicting interrelationships between souls leading lives in different eras. “Death is one door closing, but another one opens,” is the message.  Doors open on a series of other lives where the characters seek fulfillment and struggle with the same companion characters recurring in different forms.

On the way home we stopped in Chowchilla, one of those towns along the 99 that we usually buzz by without a thought. But we had read about the Fossil Discovery Center.  There, surrounded by orchards and fields, is this small complex where fossils discovered in a nearby trash disposal site are exhibited. Skeleton replicas of a Columbian mammoth and short-faced bear loom over visitors. These, as well as early wolves, horses and camels demonstrate the animal life millions of years ago when the central valley was a huge savannah.

How did the fossil center come about?  It was a struggle that sounded familiar. An area for the landfill/dump was being excavated. There was a whistle blower who announced, “Hey, we’re scraping up fossils out there!”  There was a contingent that retorted, “They’re just a bunch of old bones. We can’t afford to stop work on the dump. Where are we going to put all that trash? And how much will it cost to deal with those fossils?”

A compromise was reached with the prodding of the California Environmental Quality Act. The excavating would be more careful and fossil deposits encountered would be flagged. Scientists would encase the fossils in plaster to protect them, and then carefully remove them for study and exhibition. Certainly some fossils would be overlooked and damaged in this process, but also many would be discovered and saved. These would be exhibited in the Fossil Discovery Center, opened in 2010.

This was a classic political, environmental decision we see over and over—balancing appreciation and preservation of a resource versus consuming it.

We have our very own “Cloud Atlas” events with different scripts, different appearing characters, but the same struggle repeats over and over.

Back at home at the Montage tree lighting event one guest was describing the wonder of swimming with giant sea turtles in Hawaii. Another chimed in, “I’d rather have turtle soup.”

How do you like your turtles?


Landscape architect Ann Christoph formerly served on Laguna Beach’s City Council.

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