Friday, February 29, 2008

Calhoun’s Can(n)ons, The Bay News, Tolosa Press, SLO, for February 29, 2008

Novus Rufus Ursus Horribilis Splendidus

For a while there I thought poor beleaguered Los Osos was in for better days. The magnificent Paula Zima “Bridge Bears,” those gorgeous guardians of the gateways both north and south, came in for a refurbishing. Volunteers had power-washed the statues and soon, there they were, gleaming with a golden finish that made me think our little town might be in for some happy days living as a blond.

No such luck, though, as I soon got an email saying that the golden coat was but an undercoat and soon the lovely ladies would be returned to their dour grizzly umber once again. Dang! I thought. Back to life as a brunette. Poor Los Osos. We never get a break, Boo-Hoo.

But then I got another note that proved to be more accurate: Our ladies had come out from under their beauty treatment as . . . Redheads! Yes, peeking through the blond and umber coatings I could definitely see the coppery gleam of red. Which immediately raised two thoughts: Neil Ferrell, editor of the Bay News, has long referred to Los Osos as the County’s “red-haired step-child,” as in, ignored, denied, abused, laughed at, forgotten – the sort of town sent to their room and given cold gruel to eat while having the likes of Roger Briggs and the entire Regional Water Quality Control Board inflicted on them year after year. If our Bridge Bears were now showing glimpses of the true state of the community as abandoned red-haired orphan, well that was certainly appropriate for our beautiful bears are indeed a powerful, magical representative of our community, for better or for worse.

But then I thought, Hold on, redheads are more than abandoned step-children relegated to the attic. Redheads have traditionally been something else indeed. Feisty, full of life, unpredictable, bodacious, fierce, which is also a powerful representation of our community, too. So maybe our carefree blond days only lasted a few weeks. It was an underpainted fling, a diversion. And thoughts of being a brunette wearing glasses and meekly taking orders was simply not fitting. But a redhead? Maybe now the symbolic soul of this community finally has an appropriate color to match its sanguine heart.

In 1996, I wrote a column noting the work done after vandals had disgraced their souls by smashing off one bear’s nose. The bear had been removed for repair and was now returning:

“Up the street, the skilled members of the Plaster and Cement Mason’s Local 600, who had donated their time and expertise to recast the Los Osos Bridge Bear, arrived with the new bear atop a flat bed truck. Meanwhile, Mike Tutt, of Tutt Tree and Crane Service, who once again had donated his time and equipment, was waiting. Soon, the great crane ponderously hoisted the giant cement bear onto its pedestal.

“After the original bear was attacked by vandals last year, the Los Osos community rose as one to donate time and money to replace that much-loved creature. During the past months, the pedestal has sat forlorn and empty, a sad reminder that the urge to destroy is always a powerful and ever present force in our daily lives.

“A few weeks ago, a new force appeared – a handful of stuffed bears had been anonymously placed on that empty base, plush babies calling out for their giant Mama who was now floating down from the sky to settle with a soft bump.

“After the crane and crowds had left, a white car pulled up and a woman emerged bearing a huge vase of just-cut garden flowers. She placed the bouquet at the foot of the bear then left as abruptly as she had come. At artist Paula Zima’s suggestion, all the stuffed bears were returned to join the blooms in a colorful welcome home gathering.”

A long-ago flight on a crane over the marsh, then welcome home blooms, and now a quick shampoo and a new tint; Makes a girl feel positively giddy and ready to face whatever the world wishes to throw her way. But this time, she’ll be doing it dressed with just a hint of red. Be warned.


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