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MOVIE SUMMARY: Lavender Hill Mob (1951): A comedy classic that benefits from droll scripting (by T.E.B. Clarke , who won an Oscar for his screenplay), airy direction (by A Fish Called Wanda's Charles Crichton) and, most of all, the delightfully eccentric performance of Alec Guinness. Here he plays timid bank clerk Henry Holland, who hatches a scheme for stealing gold bullion to melt down, cast into small souvenir replicas of the Eiffel Tower, and ship to France! But chaos reigns when a group of English schoolgirls purchase the gold towers, and the gang now become embroiled in a wild goose chase to recover their stolen gold. The roles are perfectly cast, and the acting is uniformly excellent (by the way, look closely and you'll spot a young Audrey Hepburn in the opening sequence). This kind of character-driven comedy, sadly, has all but vanished from today's movies, but Lavender Hill Mob is a glorious reminder of an earlier, much funnier era.

OUR STORY SUMMARY: Lavender Hill Man (2006): An odonata classic that benefits from unimaginable hiking (by P. Johnson, who won a blister for his efforts), airy direction (it is "sort of that-a-way"), and, most of all, the delightful eccentric performance by Argia hinei. Here it plays the timid tiny damselfly that hatches a scheme to extend its range way northwards — beyond the spell of the L.A. Dodgers and into the reach of the S.F. Giants baseball team — thereby casting the field guides range maps into the dust bin. But chaos reigns when a group of A. hinei goes further astray, embroiling mad scientists in a wild goose chase to recover the evidence that they exist in Fresno County. The roles are perfectly cast, and the acting is uniformly bad (by the way, look closely and you'll spot a young Rita Carratello in the mid-distance). This kind of character-driven oding is, sadly, all by vanished from today's scene, but Lavender Hill Man is a semi-glorious remake of an earlier, and much more serious, net-toting era.

The star of this screwball story is college-educated (and therefore should know better) Paul Johnson, eccentric naturalist at Pinnacles National Monument. In fall 2005, he had discovered Lavender Dancers at a site on the San Benito River in San Benito County (which, it is worth noting, was a part of Monterey County until 1874, just a short 132 years ago), and faced with a skeptical scientific community, collected that little beast as proof. Later that year he found more of them on Laguna Creek. He returned there the next September [photo above; Paul (left) and intern Rob contemplate the hike to come]. The locale is at the base of Laguna Mountain (in the far distance, above), along Laguna Creek (in the fold at the base of the mountain) and requires first a 500' climb to a ridge (the photo above) and then a 1000' drop to the creek (and eventual return up that same way in the 100 degree afternoon heat). As it happens, the photo crew declined the invitation to continue farther after making the first climb to the first ridge and fainting with heat stroke. We are told that Paul and Rob ventured on.

But Paul Johnson did not stop there, and within days he was spotted wandering an equally remote creek in western Fresno County (photo right), with camera and net in hand.

The creek in question is Arroyo Leona, near the confluence with Cantua Creek, and both a long way from anywhere. One supposed that Mendota is the nearest town but "near" is not an appropriate term. This is actually the middle of no where. Here, by special permission on a private ranch otherwise overrun with gun-toting cowboys, one may poke along a little permanent creek (left) fequented by frogs and garter snakes. Remarkably, among the boulders and tule, there lurked yet another population of Argia hinei, the Lavender Dancer, establishing the northernmost record for the Great State of California.
Taking its turn of the red carpet, A. hinei (right and below) proved to be gloriously costumed in shades of pale lavender, powder blue, and white. Although very much a tiny slip of thing, it showed well in the spotlights and might have been the best-dressed dancer along the narrow creek bed, which otherwise teemed with A. agrioides, A. vivida, A. lugens, and other wannabees.
Manolis (2002) portrayed the previously known range of Lavender Dancer like this: "This is a species of the American Southwest and northern Mexico. In California, it is found only from Santa Barbara and Ventura counties southward, on coastal slope of the southern California mountain ranges."
The discoveries by the Lavender Hill Man push the range a fair bit northward, and along the slopes of the eastern portions of the Diablo Range. In comparison to other dancers sharing the same creek, and especially California Dancer A. agrioides, it is a very timid and nonassertive species, decidedly smaller, more delicate, and with a quite different 'jizz' (to borrow a 'birding' term). It is also quite flighty, seemingly unwilling to stay at any one spot for very long, so these shots are almost serendipitous. The naughty bits were fuzzily captured on film, but cannot be shown in this family story.
Literature cited:
  • Manolis, T. 2002. Dragonflies and Damselflies of California. Univ. of Calif. Press, Berkeley.
PHOTOS: All photos are © 2006 Don Roberson; all rights reserved.






Page created 5 Sep 2006