Petting pig and photographing with iPhone camera.

Photo by: Ben Long

The view from Rancho Ojai.

Photo by: Ben Long

I recently had the good fortune of producing a photography title with acclaimed San Francisco photographer, and phenomenal human being, Ben Long (, while on the stunningly gorgeous mountaintop property of Rancho Ojai (, amongst “wild”, well, um…pigs…actually. Now, while my admiration of Ben Long’s genius goes without saying, and the views atop Rancho Ojai are the best in the land – it was those damn pigs that really stole the show, and my heart, in the process. It isn’t everyday when one can proudly attest to shooting live action video with a renowned photographer while 400-pound farm animals chew lovingly on the rubber feet of the camera tripods. I, happily, can boast about this joyous day for the rest of my life, while changing the details of the story at any telling. For example, “Ben’s prescription eyeglasses were a chew toy for a curious pig” becomes, “Ben chased a 600-pound wild pig-like creature through dense, thorny shrubbery for miles in a desperate attempt to retrieve his prescription eyeglasses from the razor-sharp teeth of the beast.” You get where I’m going here. But the truth is, these animals, with “tiny” babies in tow, were inquisitive, yet amiable and intelligent, and funny. Really funny. And, I’ll admit, I was thrilled when Ben sent me the top photo that he “secretly” shot of me snapping a photo on my iPhone of one of the gentle giants. But when I tell the story at parties, I’ll have to make sure to keep the photos well-hidden, lest I spoil the fire-breathing, claw-wielding monster version.

In response to my asking her repeated questions about where to indulge my rekindled interest in hiking, my friend Ashley bought me a day hike book for Ventura County. I was stunned at the number of trails in the area that had gone unnoticed by me. I’ve always been the kind of person that slows down, looks around, and smells the flowers, so I was surprised that I really hadn’t known that there’s a waterfall in Santa Paula, an oak forest in Point Mugu, and a seal sanctuary, a mere 12 miles north of me in Carpinteria. It dawned on me that somewhere along the way I had ceased to stop looking around my environment and had been missing all these things right under my nose. I would imagine it’s because I was busy looking at other things, as we tend to see what we are looking for, and don’t see what we are NOT looking for.

The irony is that this comes after a long week of debating a potential move to one of four places: San Francisco, Portland, Seattle, or Boston. I’ve been feeling very restless and have wanted to live in a bigger city for awhile now, even though I know I’m a small-ish town girl at heart. I’ve done my thing in, and am done with,  New York City and Denver, but these other places have always had a certain appeal to me. As it stands now, I have a strong employment prospect in Boston. An old company I did much work for in the past, has now spun off into a newer company that is doing quite well, and they contacted me and dangled a carrot. At first, I nearly said “yes” without much consideration, but then I realized two things. First, I love the work I’m doing now and second, I love the west coast. I’ve been signed up for job ads for Portland, Seattle, and San Francisco for years, but the right job never came along that could lure me from this community I’ve called “home” for 15 years. Pretty unbelievable considering I was the girl who never planned on settling down anywhere. But the magic of this place has slowly been subsiding for me over the last few years…that is until I started exploring the world around me again.

So, will a waterfall, some oak trees, and a nearby seal sanctuary be enough to keep me here forever? Probably not. But then again, the grass always seems greener somewhere else. All I know is that my happiness needs to come from inside me, and has nothing to do with where I am physically located on this planet. So, in addition to exploring the world around me more, I’ve also started exploring those things that truly make me happy from the inside out. Like taking photos of this mom seal cautiously guarding her pup, and watching my dog leap ecstatically through a field of flowers after tiny creatures. I can’t predict my future, but now that my eyes are wide open, and I’m seeing what I’ve been missing – I’m on a mission to explore as much as possible. As a result, I’m looking at the world as if for the first time and I’m excited by all there is to see.

Dublin the Dog and I braved the beach while others remained hidden away in upper level apartments or at higher elevations throughout Ventura, after heeding weather warnings of a potential tsunami slamming the Pacific coast. After all, a little tsunami is no match for Hurricane Samara who has already left a trail of destruction wherever she’s been. So I figured, why not go face to face with the rain and wind and join the helicopters looming over the ocean waters of Ventura, in hopes of glimpsing one of Mother Nature’s most devastating forces. So here we were, woman with wildly wind-swept hair and canine with hilariously wind-swept ears, watching the tiniest of waves tumbling under a dark, stormy sky. Would a huge monster of a wave rise from the sediment-laden turbulence of the Pacific Ocean? Would we be suddenly thrust onto the ocean floor, as a whirl of buildings and cars floated above us? Would we see our house, steadily losing buoyancy, drop down beside us – as the contents of our simple lives spilled forth from the windows, doors, and chimney? Would the dozens upon dozens of heart-shaped rocks I’ve salvaged from the beach over the years also pour out from our once firmly-planted dwelling, to be rightly returned to the deep, blue waters from which they came? Caught up in the fascination of it all, I was jolted back into reality upon returning to my house and finding it upright and unchanged. Of course, this reality is a good thing, but I still can’t suppress the excitement I feel whenever Mother Nature takes control. I’ve always hoped that when I die it will be by some trick from her magically powerful hands. I’m just glad it didn’t happen today. 🙂

Llamas and dogs make friends, but just how deep do they bond? When Gaze, the llama, gets out of sight of his constant companion, Baylord, the llama, he kicks at the dirt, pulls on the leash, and gets downright unpleasant. Dublin and Checkers met for the first time on the weekend this photo was taken, but these dogs were instant best friends…a reaction that neither dog has shown with any other canine in her or his life. No one can doubt the mutual affection and attachment that is so readily apparent between these two sets of furry beings, but how deep does that well run? I imagine it runs as deep as that between human friendships. And it probably never hits a rough patch, or dissolves suddenly during emotional turmoil.  My guess is that friendship amongst the four-legged is an unlabeled, unconditional phenomena that is never given a second thought, and that’s probably how it weathers every storm.

(NOTE: The video at the end of this post contains a story spoiler. So, please read this first…)

My day started off the same as every other this month. Feeling the weight of depression that only a broken relationship can impart, I dragged myself out of bed and blamed myself immediately for the ugly state of the world. It’s a good thing for my dog, or I might not even bother waking up and feeling sorry for myself. So, this is progress. But the reality is, it does get much easier every day and I notice that I don’t miss the person nearly as much as I agonize over what I did wrong or could have done better. Always the ruminating overachiever.  However, today was a little different, because I really didn’t care about over achievement either. I just wanted to get on with my life again. And never was there a better way to start doing that then to immerse myself in the situation that was about to unfold on this sunny California morning.

So, I dragged myself out of bed,  threw on whatever would get me out to the beach (obviously aware that there would be no fashion show) and leashed up Dublin the Dog for our regular morning outing. I walked with a neighbor woman for most of the walk up the beach and talked about work, life, and dogs. I’m not one to walk and talk for a long part of my morning venture, but today I just felt like the company. If I were to analyze the workings of the universe, that should have been my first indicator something was different. I dropped the woman off at her spot on the beach and then turned around to begin the walk home. Dublin the Dog turned with me and stayed really close on my heels, not obsessively exploring the sand dunes as she normally would. That would be hint number two that something was about to happen.

So, I walked and walked and suddenly realized I hadn’t looked back at Dublin in a while. When I did finally turn to locate her, I couldn’t believe what I saw. Back  a 100 paces in the sand sat Dublin, upright on her hiney, and directly to her left sat a baby…penguin. Well, that’s what my eyes first witnessed, but upon closer inspection I realized that Dublin was actually sitting side by side with a black and white seabird of some sort – that just happened to be sitting up on its haunches like a penguin. So there sat my cattle/bird dog, sitting beside this penguin impostor, as though they were in a movie theater watching a very boring film of me. As I moved in closer I instinctively knew, from having rescued many birds before, that this bird was not sitting by a bird-eating dog by choice. He was sitting there because he was detained against his will. By the time I was near enough to touch the bird, I had already pulled off my Geoffrey Beene vest that had become my standard bird catching apparatus on these morning walks. As I moved in quickly to cover the bird and pick him up, Dublin the Dog became very vocal and threatening upon seeing the “baby penguin” start to move. But this bird was so calm, cool, and collected, that both Dublin and myself seemed to pick up his vibe and we both instantly mellowed out. As I walked with this fabulously round, quite heavy creature tucked away in my vest, with only his sweet face and beak peeking out, I became overwhelmed by the smell of petroleum. At first I thought I must have walked past a heavily tarred area in the sand, but then I realized the smell was so overpowering, it seemed to follow us down the length of the beach. Suddenly it hit me, and my heart sunk – this little bird was  a victim of an oil spill. Sure enough, when I got him home and pulled him out of my vest, I saw that both of my hands had been completely blackened by the thick coat of petroleum on his underside. I was absolutely sickened that this poor, innocent creature should have to endure this misery because some careless captain, or boater or whoever the hell had spilled this deadly substance into the ocean – this poison that renders a bird’s feathers and thermal protection completely ineffective, leaving them to die a slow agonizing death by hypothermia.

Fortunately, this bird was lucky. I knew from experience that Patagonia, that wonderful outdoor clothing company with a conscience, takes birds and other injured or orphaned animals right at the front desk of their Ventura headquarters. With my bird friend in the back seat, I headed down to Patagonia, nearly suffocating from the  stench of tar infiltrating every nook and cranny of my car. I couldn’t  believe one little bird had absorbed so much of this black poison. When I got him to Patagonia, Kim Stroud, the tireless Director of the Ojai Raptor Center (, met me at the front desk and whisked him off to a courier who would bring him to Santa Barbara for a special intense cleaning process, and then further on up the coast for rehabilitation. Kim informed me that this bird was a Murre and that these guys live far out in the waters of Channel Islands and beyond, and are rarely seen on the coast unless injured. Evidently, they are so used to living in seclusion that they seem to sense no fear from dogs or humans, and that’s why this creature never once tried to poke my or Dublin’s eye out with his dagger-like beak. When I left him with Kim, he was peaceful, yet still spunky, and ready to get back to the day to day business of being a seabird. It is my belief that he will get to do that very soon.

People, please, if you see an animal in despair, do your best to help it. Don’t convince yourself there’s nothing wrong or that the animal can help itself. If something feels wrong to you,  it probably is wrong. An injured seabird is likely to be mauled to death by a dog, or suffer horrendously for days on end as its system slowly shuts down. Think ahead and store the numbers on your cell phone for the rescue groups in your area that provide resources for injured or orphaned wildlife. The help you can provide one of these fallen creatures, often just by making a simple phone call,  is tremendous. It’s almost always the difference between life and death. And if able to make a conscious choice, I guarantee  you that seabird would choose life. Absolutely and without a doubt.

The Philosopher

Samara Iodice is a writer, multimedia producer, and hobby musician living in Southern California. She has created marketing and training productions for such clients as London Business School, the U.S. Navy, Rice University, Southern California Edison, and WellPoint. She is currently employed as a Training Producer for In her spare time she is a self-confessed photography addict and loves walking for miles and miles with her very silly cattle dog, Dublin. She is also a dedicated environmentalist and animal welfare advocate. Find out more at

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Days of yore…

April 2020