Rugby Played In Oakland, Too

Did you see Invictus yet?  In this Golden-Globe nominated flick, rugby becomes the healing metaphor for post-apartheid South Africa.  As Nelson Mandela and his fellow countrymen cheer for their losing team, the players start winning and erase their color lines.  It’s a real upper, actually!

While hardly on the same grand scale, rugby is also a sport-with-promise in Oakland these days.  Local boys in grades 8-12 have an opportunity to join the Oakland Warthogs, which was founded only two years ago.   This club team practices and plays matches in the Bay Area youth league.

“High school is the perfect age because they are very open to learning things and have the physical tools – size and speed – to implement your instructions,” explained Mike Spencer, one of the Warthog coaches.  “The great challenge in rugby is getting a team to talk and work together on the field.  Smarter teams beat teams with more brawn and physical gifts all the time.”

Several times weekly, the coaches lead players in core skills like passing, running onto the ball, and setting the ball so it stays with their team.  Since communications are key, the high schoolers are encouraged to cooperate and work closely with each other on the field.

Rugby’s an amazing game, based on moxie.  Coach Spencer declared that “if you are not willing to tackle that guy who outweighs you by 100 pounds, [you have] no business playing rugby.  The great teams play with heart and for each other.  Once the whistle blows, it is up to the players.  It’s like high-speed, full contact chess.”

We’ve watched rugby players and believe their camaraderie can’t be beat.  In Oakland, high schoolers have a special chance to learn the ropes and then play at a competitive level.  However the rugby club is a start-up, which still needs sponsors to equip players, pay league memberships, and find places to practice.  It’s time for us to help them.

More info:  Visit the Warthogs’ site and see their schedule.  To play or support the club, reach Mike at

Happy Holidays In Bloom

Especially as we sat and listened to the rest of the country’s weather woes, complete with white-outs and travel disasters, we’re very appreciative of this glorious Christmas Day.

We wandered around outside and generally basked in our amazing weather today.  The skies were blue and windless, without any real nip in the air.

Looking a little more closely, the winter flowers were starting to emerge.  Today, we noticed the flowering camellias for the first time.  Here’s a bunch that already bloomed.

Meanwhile, the citrus were doing a-okay.  We thought the fruit might not make it, due to freezing weather this month.  But the citrus didn’t appear to suffer.

There’s no climate complaining here.  Yet it’s too bad that wood-burning fires were verboten, courtesy of today’s Spare The Air Day.  We just checked out the classic Yule Log TV, on KOFY 20, for a good laugh instead.

Anyway, we hope you had a great holiday in bloom.

Your Interests Changed This Year

At least your online search interests changed this year vs. last year, when we peered into search terms used to discover Today in Montclair, 94611.  The people have spoken!

During 2009, everything we could unearth and share about the Oakland Bay Bridge was hot stuff.  All the changes, disruptions, accidents and new construction captured so many dependents living here.  Next on the list was the local graffiti, which definitely created a depressing buzz when the latest round hit hard:  “SNS” tags, anyone?

This year, the virtual art shows also were very popular.  Pixs from our local sidewalk festival artisans and grade schoolers created the most traffic.  There was plenty of searching for Bert Monroy, who creates photoshop realism, as well as Marisa Muliadi-Kleiber and Janette MacKinlay.

On a newsier front, we covered Oakland Police Officer Murray Hoyle’s funeral and FC Gold and Olympic Soccer Star Tiffeny Milbrett’s appearance – and you keep searching for them today.  By contrast, our top searches were all about Hans Reiser last year, when he fully confessed about killing and burying his almost-ex, Nina.

During 2008, Montclarions were more focused on fires, crime, voting and home values.  A year later, we hadn’t experienced major flames, above-average burglaries, another U.S. prexy election, or more precipitous declines in real estate prices.  Ergo, your interests and searching activities also mellowed out.

What’s stayed the same?  Despite the 2009 recession, you are still shopping online and remain quite tuned into all the places closing or opening in Montclair Village.  You still love your pizza, and that need for the quick and easy feed makes sense.

Finally, we witnessed Hollywood’s hold on our collective zeitgeist.  As proof, Brad Pitt’s plans to film in Oakland created feverish pitch and then died down quickly.  Plus one little Pixar flick, Up, caused an uptick in anything mentioning Fentons Creamery and the Merritt Bakery’s Hamburger Cake – and we expect that to continue forever.

Top-Ten Montclair Rat Tips

Normally we keep our rat relationships under wraps.  Anyone who has endured the rat-in-residence gets challenged and frustrated by this smart visitor:  Will he leave?  Will he die here?  And what do we do?

For a couple months, our own “Mickey” would pitter-patter all night long.  Eventually he passed away, replaced by “Minnie” shortly thereafter.  While it’s been quiet here, other Montclarions aren’t that fortunate.

Recently, a handful of neighbors shared rat travails on the Montclair SIC message board.  We decided it would be useful to pass along their advice, summarized in these Top-Ten Montclair Rat Tips:

1.   Call Rat Patrol

“After being awakened at night several times, I paid the Rat Patrol to come out, plug the holes and set traps in both my crawl space and in the attic.  He came back a few times to check things.  It’s been several months and I’ve had no rats ‘inside.’  He has a two-year warranty.”

2.   Use The D-Con

“I used to use D-Con when we had rats or mice, but our rats (one each time, two separate occasions) liked it so much here that they didn’t leave in search of water (it makes them thirsty) as they are supposed to – oh, no, they died inside the wall, and do they ever stink!”

3.   Welcome Flies

“Now I know what flies are for:  the maggots consume all the flesh, and then the smell goes away.  But it was kind of gross having to get rid of the flies in the stairwell with a vacuum, and yes, there were that many.”

4.   Watch The Pets

“There is another concern about using D-Con, or any poison.  If the rat, mouse, gopher, whatever, goes outside to die, it may be eaten by someone’s cat or dog.  Then that animal either gets very sick, or dies.”

5.   Try Dry Ice

“Get dry ice and put it in their burrows to suffocate them and the dry ice will dissipate without danger to any other animals.  Dry ice is heavier than air and will push out the oxygen.  When caught in a high CO2 atmosphere, they just pass out and die.”

6.   Engage Your Traps

“We do the best we can to keep them out, but they still manage to sneak in every now and then.  We keep a trap permanently set in our crawl space and catch one every couple of weeks.”  (Some neighbors use special electronic traps.)

7.   Feed Birds, Not Rats

“I too have rats in my basement, especially when I was feeding my birds.  Now I try to feed them on demand and do not have any seed out at night which the rats love.”

8.   Honor Birds Of Prey

“Also, we have lots of hawks/birds of prey around here who will eat rats.  It’s bad enough that a bunch of punk kids up on Magellan shot and killed a resident Red Shoulder Hawk last year.”

9.   Control The Plants

“I also have ivy and I have black berry.”  One possibility is to keep these plants under control, as they attract vermin visits.

10.  Plug With Abandon

“The most important thing, as others have said, is seal up all holes.  There is a great fluffy spray just like shaving cream and that is great for plugging up plumbing holes, etc.”

So what’s missing? We thought that feline ownership would surely make the list.  After all, cats are programmed to pounce on our favorite vermin and present them as gifts.  While some creatures follow their instincts more than others, any rat-catcher goes a long way.  Natch, that kitty is a commitment.

Save Chabot’s Pallid Manzanitas

Did you know we live cheek and jowl with pallid manzanitas, a threatened plant species?  These shrubs, which only live in the Diablo Range, have been officially protected by the Federal Fish and Wildlife Service.

The two major populations grow at Huckleberry Preserve and Sobrante Ridge.  Some eleven smaller populations have also been documented, including a dwindling group outside Chabot Space & Science Center.  Years ago, the Chabot team agreed to take responsibility for these guys.

Unfortunately, Chabot’s manzanitas have seen far better days.  Ralph Kanz, an Oakland-based conservationist, paid a visit to this nearby population last Thursday and sent a note to the Center’s Executive Director/CEO afterward:

Mr.  Zwissler,

Earlier today I checked on the pallid manzanita at the Chabot site and found only six surviving individuals.  Surveys in 1994 documented 21 plants on the site.  The EIR approved for the project in 1995 required the preparation of a management plan for pallid manzanita before issuance of a grading permit.  The management plan, intended to provide for the on site protection of the species, has yet to be completed and over 70 percent of the plants on the site have died.  As you know this presents a threat not only to this particular population, but to the species as a whole.  Because this appears to be a naturally occurring population, the loss of so many plants threatens the genetic diversity of the on-site population.

At present, I would only consider two of the six plants to be in anything approaching a healthy condition.  Today I found one plant that appears to have been recently vandalized.  The damage could likely lead to the loss of the plant leaving only five surviving plants.  Based on past observations I believe one of the plants will die in the next year and that would bring us to four survivors.  Another had a dead tree fall on it recently and its fate is uncertain. That could reduce the population to three, a decline of 86 percent from the pre-project population.  In the 14 years since the City of Oakland approved the Chabot project, there has been no regeneration of the population.

I first wrote to Dick Spees about this issue in 2000.  I attended a meeting at Chabot in July 2005 to discuss the issue and try to help this imperiled species.  Many of us who care about seeing the species preserved and want to contribute assistance have not been kept up to date on what is occurring on the site.  If the mitigation measures agreed to by Chabot 14 years ago are not implemented very quickly there will no longer be a genetically viable population on the site.

What are Chabot’s plans?

– Ralph Kanz

Chabot is a top-notch observatory and educational destination, which mostly looks at skies above rather than grounds below.  However the place does project a conservation ethic, as played out in their outdoors programming and even the gift store!

Based on earlier commitments, the Chabot brass should step up to the plate and help save their remaining handful of pallid manzanitas – or these indigenous shrubs will likely vanish from the area soon.

December 22nd Update:   There’s good news from Kimra McAfee, executive director of Friends of Sausal Creek.  She reports the pallid manzanita plan has been finalized by Chabot, along with a memo issued by CA Fish & Game.  Long story short?  There’s a permit in place, and the Friends will begin working on restoration and enhancement.  Chabot will also remove that dead tree imperiling a shrub, early next year.