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Dec-23-2020 01:16printcomments

Look Out Any Window...

“Look out of any window, any morning, any evening, any day... Maybe the sun is shining, birds are winging...” Box of Rain by the Grateful Dead

window view
This view was not through just any window, not just any morning, not just any day.
Photo by Roger Butow

(LAGUNA BEACH, Calif.) - Tuesday, December 8, 2020 this was not any window, not any morning, not any day... but my skin’s nemesis, the sun, it was shining, albeit through broken clouds, the birds were winging and foraging.

What with the commercial, ½" thick safety glass I couldn’t hear them over the sounds of jets leaving nearby Orange County Airport, maybe they were singing their unique species’ tunes?

It was an entertaining view, a personal movie theater, a veritable menagerie of urbanized nature, notable and important to an enviro-analyst like me. The birds and squirrels moved too fast to capture them in a still photo tableaux, but they constantly crossed my view.

I couldn’t help but wonder how many patients, plus those who worked in the office complex, had gazed out this window for hours and had little or no interest, no response to what they saw in their range of vision, the story unfolding? Or did they, could they also pick out native flora and fauna from imported, non-indigenous ones?

Interesting mystery, like the Hitchcock film, “Rear Window,” by repetition did humans eventually take what they saw as a form of white noise, inured, as an uninteresting status quo? Or as a given like a photo in their home’s hallway, no longer responding or noting the elements let alone morphing gradations or inhabitants, cast of characters entering and leaving the stage?

This scene went from active to dormant back to active several times over the course of my 2.5 hour visit.

Why was I there? What possible reason could compel a 74-year old man like me, who in part earns his daily bread by observing, by surveying ecosystems in partial or total wilderness, force my doctors to “give him the chair?”

No, not “Sparky,” the executioner’s 2000-volt version of choice... but here’s a hint: My chair was not only powered by electricity, but I was going to be “jolted” back into unavoidable reality, confronted by my own mortality: In real life skin cancer and the ramifications of over-exposure dating back to my youth had driven me to this room with a perhaps an under-appreciated view.

This quote was supposedly uttered by MM after he found out that he had incurable liver cancer, a result of alcoholism during his days as baseball player.

In the generation before sunblock existed, surfing, volleyball, skimboarding, tennis, etc. were my downfall decades later, delayed damage and reactions but eventually paying the price.

So here’s my VIP chair (on left), where I was sat in a highly respected, referred skin cancer surgeon’s chair for 3 separate early am Mohs Surgery excisions over the past 2 weeks.

First one (squamous) took over 4 hours, 2nd (basal) about 2 ½. The 3rd (basal) wasn’t quite as bad, 2 hours.

The sessions ALWAYS entail multiple excisions as the surgeon excavates, so I had ≈25 minutes between each pass. He performed the first removal, left the room, went into his lab to map the site, freezing the tissue slide, examined/interpreted if the cancerous margins have been removed, then returns.

Sometimes it takes 3 to 4 passes, so between each hyperkinetic me got up and watched life outside struggle, and also like me, try to survive.

Now a veteran of several such experiences, I call it “mo’, and mo’, and mo’ surgery” because it’s actually a series of careful removals to delicately facilitate the least invasive, lesser amount of tissue eventually taken.

Being a Marine, gallows humor amuses me, and my take is this: If I were operating on any of my doctors, it’d be “surgery.”

If they’re working on me, it’s just a measly "procedure." I walk out with a Frankenstein-stitched “wound,” meh, to them it’s a “surgical site.” See what I mean, it’s who is getting what from whom, ya know?

Here’s my 2nd one performed on 12/08/2020, nearly 3” long, closed up and finished after the doctor left the room 3 times during the process...balways antsy, I got up in between “slice & dice” stages, stretched my legs, checked my iPhone for my totally foxy girlfriend’s texts of concern (mildly naughty stuff too, but Gonzo won’t share---her or her warped sexy humor), and checked out the evolving scene at that picture window.

Meanwhile, back out in the urban habitat I saw outside, was an example of adaptation, survival, and foraging redundancy too. First these itsy little migratory finches flittered into view, the ones we get every winter, barely the size of your thumb’s tip.

About a dozen of them, they hurriedly, almost frantically foraged for seeds, coming from the right side, scurrying across the edge of the grass and planter bed with the bird of paradise stalks.

They gave way to small, common sparrows in a like amount. The sparrows skittered, seemed to be driving the finches ahead of them, as if herding or simply warding them off?

As the sparrows foraged a sole short-beaked woodpecker began searching, going round and round each trunk of each pygmy date palm meticulously, inspecting about midway up.

Planted in clusters of 2’s or 3s, one to the left is off-camera, there were about a dozen palms nearby that the pecker grasped, danced around, then flew off almost in unison with the sparrows.

A large crow followed him/her, checking out remnants of seeds, fruit or did the woodpecker have a vulnerable nest buried deep?

Next in the parade, in the procession was a reddish-brown ground squirrel. Then another, a more dominant, chasing off the first.

The birds had just exited to my left, the squirrels both entered the stage on my right. I’m no expert on them, had to look up why they constantly twitch or swish their tails.

Apparently, this tail waving does deter or ward off their predators (rattlesnakes, raccoons, and medium to large raptors), plus serve as a warning signal to other squirrels that it feels threatened.

Barely visible in the photo, off and up to the right in a stand of nearly barren-leaved sycamores was a sizable nest I’m fairly certain that either a Cooper’s or Red-Tailed hawk would use once the foliage began growing back in to help camouflage. About every 3rd or 4th tree had such an empty nest.

Recent science indicates that not only are crows some of the smartest, but also craftiest of birds, and are renowned thieves. Many believe that they might be the most intelligent animal other than primates.

Maybe eating garbage and roadkill jacks up the IQ? Then why wasn’t my college dorm roommate at Cal-State Long Beach from West Virginia a straight-A student?

Being omnivorous plus opportunistic, they’ll snatch eggs or even the babies themselves while still nestlings. See:

When asked as I was being closed and sewn up, the surgeon confirmed for me that yes, come to think of it, he HAD noticed the unusual nest and that each year it did seem to get slightly bigger---So obviously a breeding pair right across the street were awaiting Spring’s leaves and conditions to help protect their young.

I saw all of Round 1 during my predictable 1st break, then between rounds 2 and 3, to my utter delight and surprise, the parade returned in the same order. Like runners, were they taking laps? Why come back, how many times a day did they do this?

It was a little windy, a mild “Santa Ana” condition, our off-shore breezes as we call them. Which can be only 15 mph as that day or 50+, depending.

If you ever get caught out in the Fontana/Cabazon wind funnel near Palm Springs during one of the more extreme Santa Ana’s, it’s not the end of the world but you can sense the impending, blustery apocalypse from there. Very Mad Max. And if you needed your vehicle sandblasted down to metal, to prep it for painting, there’s your free service, no charge, thank you very much Mother Nature.

Did the birds inherently sense that more seeds and nuts were being dislodged then deposited due to the wind? Or was this their ritual, being thorough by returning several times over the course of their day, a more efficient sortie, a flock organized search for storing provisions?

If you go back to the picture (above), and you know native from non-native flora, only the sycamores are indigenous, but obviously planted for symmetry. Mediterranean climates like ours can support anything from cacti to succulents to tropical plants, shrubs and trees, of which we now have in abundance.

In their attempt to adapt, the birds and squirrels, all natives, these species must have also altered their diets and habits. Their original, pre-development, life sustaining habitats no longer existed. They are in essence now cut off, on biological islands, disconnected from their own genetic histories. “Habitat Fragmentation” is a phrase that biologists often use to describe the emergence of these discontinuities, these once large healthy populations. Speciation (more species due to ongoing isolation) emerges, also effecting naturally occurring genetic mutation and triggering unhealthy genetic drift where valuable genes disappear due to death or non-reproductive behavior.

Yes, Mother Nature tries to be resilient, but is actually fragile at a genetic level. The urbanized species I observed have no choice. They’re basically stationary, can’t load up the Model-T in Appalachia like the Beverly Hillbillies and “danggummit, Jethro and Ellie Mae” drive out to Californy.

100-years ago there were small ephemeral ponds, low flowing watercourses during non-rainy periods, substantial vernal ponds and constant flowing streams in the Fall and Winter from rain. Development took over, the terrain irrevocably altered, graded to drain away from buildings/infrastucture as quickly as possible, direct runoff asap into storm drain systems.

The fauna lost their historical foraging and migration corridors, ones that lasted for thousands of years, now “strangers in their now strange land.” Their nesting sites became different because most of the trees and plants are not indigenous, and natives have literally relocated as a function of the drainage patterns.

Now the animals that survive in these Mediterranean, urban climes, drink their water from random catchments, gutters, driveways and other excess irrigation sites (over-watering) in these subdivisions. And with 90% of the flora you see non-native, their dietary survival choices changed within a very brief time frame considering evolution’s restrictions.

Next time you’re in waiting room or venue with a sizable picture window, landscaping outside, instead of checking your phone every 5 minutes or reading that crumpled 3-year old Allure® or Sports Illustrated®, get up, go to the window and appreciate a simple fact: All life is trying to survive, it’s a biologically-drive imperative. Some just adapt better than others.

Let my skin cancer be a warning:

First, use high protection sunscreens, at minimum over 50 SPF if only incidental exposure. That and much higher SPF plus broad-spectrum coverage should be self-imposed, mandatory. Especially for the young when most of the damage begins.

Secondly, get at minimum yearly skin checkups, and NOT by a GP primary like I did, k? I still bear the scars of his, to put it mildly, “over-reach” and lack of expertise. Go to a pro in this field.

A USMC “Oorah!” to that most excellent, nationally acclaimed 5 Star physician who recognized and diagnosed my skin’s distress, Dr. Michelle C. Hure @ OCSkinLab:

She wisely insisted on those initial biopsies, and in her unique, inimitable, no-nonsense way, “steered” me to the best around for Mohs surgeon. South Orange County’s finest, she offers full service medical & cosmetic dermatology, her main office is in her hometown of San Juan Capistrano near the famous Catholic Mission.

A self-made businesswoman with children, a sole proprietor practice specializing in skin cancer as well as cosmetic dermatology, she’s literally "Wonder Woman,” without peer in our region, and is double board certified in both dermatopathology and anatomic pathology.

“Shout out” to my surgeon, Dr. Adam M. Rotunda of Newport Skin Cancer. He describes his 5 Star practice as “Available, Affable & Able.”

When I received a personal call the next day from him after my first round, I was kind of shocked: How many physicians find the time to do that these days?

When facing life-threatening situations, having an upbeat and caring doctor makes a big psychological difference when you’re in that chair, apprehensive, health future nebulous and uncertain, doubly even trebly so due to Covid-19.

This is where my surgery and this story (which actually wrote itself) were created in my head while being treated these past 2 weeks.

Not sure if he pays them more, but Melissa, Jacob and Nikki, the rest of his personable staff I dealt with DID laugh at a lot of my Jim Carrey/Robin Williams level stupid jokes... I’ll have to wait for the invoicing to find out if that was extra.

Warmest thanks, Doc, for giving me permission to name my benefactors!

Roger E. Bütow is a South Orange County CA based enviro-journalist, living the past 48 years in Laguna Beach. As he drew down his general contracting business of over several decade’s duration in the early 2000s, he began his transition into that of a construction consultant and regulatory advisory role.

Roger leases a small footprint cottage in lower Victoria Beach, and for the past 2+ years has shared the road with a wild cat who adopted him, Kutie, aka Killer. This cat is a stoned cold hunter due to being feral for several years, so don’t let that charming exterior demeanor fool you.

Roger’s CV/Résumé can be found @


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