In praise of Altadena Hiker and Karin Bugge

Posted on | March 29, 2018 | 24 Comments

Karin Bugge

Granted, it was odd that Jeanne Moreau would be in front of my house in northern Altadena that afternoon in 2011, but there she was, standing in the street not ten feet away, regarding me with a slow, crooked smile unfolding beneath her sunglasses. Barely visible between parked cars, there was a black Labrador retriever by her side. Who knew that the star of Jules et Jim was a dog person?

“Sit, Albert.”

Or that Jeanne Moreau’s dog was called Albert? Pronounced the American way?

Pushing hair from my eyes and pocketing the reading glasses needed in the garden to differentiate rye seedlings from blue-eyed grass, I clambered to my feet to realize, no, it wasn’t Jeanne Moreau. Some other wild beauty had stopped to make sure that the lady prostrate next to her iris bed was weeding, not dying. My rescuer, whose fine hair was escaping in wisps from what remained of a loosely knotted bun was, it turned out, Karin Bugge, a noted local blogger. The creator of Altadena Hiker was doing what she did on so many afternoons: dodging cars with Albert on the steep and sidewalk-less last blocks of Fair Oaks Avenue before the road disappeared into the winding mountain paths of the Angeles National Forest.

That first meeting with Karin won’t stop replaying in my mind this week as friends struggle to absorb news of her death at what her close friend, reporter Kelly Russell, guesses was only age 58.* Having known Karin in person a little, and having read her a lot over the last seven years, she stands unique in my experience of friends and fellow writers. In my imagination, she somehow never lost that first meeting’s sense of mystery and allure. Rather, it increased.

I still shake my head at learning in that first encounter that during the aughts, Bugge, like me, had worked for the LA Times. It was a bigger paper back then, but not so much bigger that you miss the Jeanne Moreaus of the world. Odder still was learning that Bugge, a born writer, wasn’t employed to write there, but worked in some other capacity, memory fails which. Was it advertising or special projects or personnel? Russell tells the story of what might be the ultimate loss when it came to Karin’s writing. There was a draft of a novel on her laptop when it was  stolen from her car. “There wasn’t a print copy or back-up,” added Russell.

That Karin’s talent eventually busted loose is down to Karin, sweet timing, and Google. In 2008, at the height of the golden age of blogging, Bugge used the Blogspot template to create Altadena Hiker. Here, until 2016, she posted regularly in a feed so delicious that meet ups with local friends invariably brought some wry recitation of her latest riff. Zeitgeist, baby. While there were hikes and hiking tips reported — nb, it’s etiquette on narrow trails for those descending to yield to those climbing – her subject matter ranged freely in posts that read like letters from a playful and erudite friend. For example, in Me and Harper Lee, she mused,

I’ve read cereal boxes, comic books, toilet paper wrappers, junk mail, license plates, the labels on my fruit. Not instructional manuals, I never read instructions. I feel I’m the only one who can write them well. I could be wrong, since I never read instructions.

Soon after the launch she was part of a foothill community of writers and bloggers, a gang who met at a coffee house and, recalled Russell, even staged “trespasser picnics” on the grounds of empty mansions in San Marino. Russell’s favorite Bugge-inspired outing was to rise at dawn the first Wednesday of the month to watch racehorses workout at Santa Anita.

When was she born? Russell suspects 1960. Where did she go to school? Illinois, maybe. I didn’t press her. I can’t bring myself to reward Bugge’s friendship or insult Russell’s grief by prying, at least too much prying. 

This little painting started as a still life and failed. When the aristocratic nose and elegant eyes of the woman I painted into it reminded me of Karin, I couldn’t bring myself to gesso it over, so I added a black Labrador retriever and sent it to her. 

What Karin kept private, she kept so private, said Russell, that not even her family knew she was dying from cancer until she was dead. And she was not above misdirection. She was never, contrary to her Facebook page’s given profession, “first chair trumpet at the Bakersfield Conservatory.”  

Was there a man, or parade of them, banging down the door of Jeanne Moreau of the foothills? I have no idea. As a reader, the only males I was aware of in her life were Albert the Labrador and a female cat that, after the first trip to the veterinarian, turned out to have testicles. Her late horse Vandy, a 900-lb “delicate flower,” was a she.

What I can relate from reading her blog, and with help from Russell, is that Karin’s parents were first-generation Norwegian immigrants who led a semi-itinerant life across America including stints in the Midwest and the Pacific Northwest. One of Karin’s more wistful posts about her family mentions her mother’s passion for the Grand Traverse Mall, so it’s a guess that Michigan was in the mix. It’s also clear that their relationship was strained. Karin left home at age 17 and never graduated college. While Karin joked on her blog that “music didn’t run in my family, it fled,” at her own home, Russell said, Bugge’s radio was constantly tuned to classical KUSC. Music, above all, may have been her passion. It seems impossible that only two weeks ago, after I posted a flash flood warning for Southern California on Facebook, Karin responded, “A little fast for my taste,” then added a link to Chopin’s “Raindrop.”

For those of you who haven’t read Karin’s work, I offer it as a prime example of how, all the noisy cyber-turmoil aside, the Internet did indeed usher in a golden age of American letters. In the case of Blogspot’s Altadena Hiker, it even allowed an intensely private woman to remain a mystery while becoming the voice of her community.

Click here for Kelly Russell’s West Coast Grrlie Blather post about Karin.

*3/31/18 Update/Correction: Many thanks to another friend of Karin’s, Ron Rosen, who wrote saying his Internet searches indicate that Karin was in fact 63. “Her actual birthday, like so much else with Karin, was something of a mystery,” he added.


24 Responses to “In praise of Altadena Hiker and Karin Bugge”

  1. Janet Castro
    March 29th, 2018 @ 6:39 pm

    Oh Emily. My heart aches that I never got to meet her. Glad she had your painting just as I am glad I have mine. You need to help fill the void. Write more, paint more and all will be better for it.

  2. Ron Rosen
    March 31st, 2018 @ 11:55 am

    Thanks for the wonderful tribute to Karin. She was a pretty good friend of mine too. I googled her the other day, and several sources reveal that her age was 63. Her actual birthday, like so much else with Karin, was something of a mystery. She implied one time that it was in November, but it was never clear. She never wanted the attention that would come with us knowing her birthday.

  3. Lincoln Castricone
    April 2nd, 2018 @ 2:35 pm

    Wonderful eulogy! I was a friend of Karin’s online and would like to see Kelly’s piece, but the link requires a password I don’t have.

  4. Ron Rosen
    April 3rd, 2018 @ 4:02 pm

    I found out that her birthday was November 13.

  5. Jeanne Singleton
    April 4th, 2018 @ 7:00 pm

    Anyone know of there will be a service of any kind for Karin?

  6. MaryJo Lomax
    April 13th, 2018 @ 10:24 am

    I just happened upon your blog this morning and was struck by this beautiful tribute. Thank you.

  7. Sharon
    April 19th, 2018 @ 4:23 pm

    I have been back to read this more than once and appreciate that you wrote such a lovely tribute. I knew Karin through her blog and FB, and I had hoped to meet her someday, either in California or Maine. She is missed by so many, those who knew her in person and those who knew her only through her writing.

  8. ShirleyJo Robison
    April 28th, 2018 @ 5:52 pm

    Thank you for this lovely tribute to Karin. I just found out today that she passed away. I had not seen any posts from her on Facebook for awhile. Missing her humor and wit, I went to her wall to check in and say hello. Other posts indicated she had passed, your tribute confirms it. I worked with Karin at the LA Times for many years. She wrote the only training manual I ever read. Always a mystery with those deep blue almond eyes and that perfectly messy hair. Carpe damn diem my friend. I will miss you.

  9. Anne Turner
    April 28th, 2018 @ 8:39 pm

    Thank you for a wonderful and Karinesque tribute. I will miss Karin’s writing and wit but mostly I’ll miss a friend. I feel sure Karin is running a sharp commentary wherever she may be. Go in peace my friend – you made a difference.

  10. Cindy Parish
    April 29th, 2018 @ 11:03 am

    A few months ago she sent me a lovely message telling me how much she’d enjoyed working for me at the LAT. I’d rescued her from a job she was too good for in the Circulation Department and she became a terrific instructional designer and technical writer on the ICIS project, around 1987. Obviously her writing skills went well beyond those tasks. She insisted, in her message, that she wasn’t just blowing smoke up my ass, or something Karin-esque like that. I knew she wasn’t as she’d told me before. I didn’t know that would be our last exchange, and don’t know if I saved it.

  11. Ron Rosen
    April 30th, 2018 @ 7:00 pm

    I don’t think Karin ever blew smoke up people’s asses, at least in the context that I knew her, as a friend.

  12. Ron Rosen
    April 30th, 2018 @ 7:02 pm

    Someone asked about a service. It’s possible there will be a service in the Altadena area in a while. I will make sure as many people as possible are informed.

  13. Sandy Conaway
    May 14th, 2018 @ 11:02 pm

    I too worked with Karin at the LATimes as an Instructional Designer. We became good friends and shared a lot of interests. I spent time with her and Vandy many times. She was a very private person as many of you mentioned. She had a great heart and a lover of animals. She bird sat my cockatiel and feel in love with her. Soon after she got her own cockatiel, named Annie. I can still her sing, “No, No No! as Karin would say to her.

    We had lost touch, but reconnected through Facebook. I had no idea she had been ill. We lost another ex-LATimer (Linda Crum) that shared a great personal and working relationship with Karin. They both will be missed!

  14. Janet Castro
    May 17th, 2018 @ 4:47 pm

    Sandy – I just got off the phone with one of Karin’s neighbors. They are looking for a home for Karin’s massive oak dining table. Is there any chance you would be interested or know someone who is? Please respond to me if so. Thank you, Janet Castro.

    P.S. – Emily, you have really found some love for Karin, haven’t you?

  15. Ron Rosen
    May 17th, 2018 @ 4:51 pm

    I will put out the word to her local friends. Whom do they contact about the table?

  16. Janet Castro
    May 17th, 2018 @ 5:44 pm

    Ron – They can contact Victoria Carbe or me and I can have Victoria’s number at the ready as I don’t at the moment.

  17. Janet Castro
    May 17th, 2018 @ 5:53 pm

    Re: Karin’s oak dining table, contact Victoria.
    Cell is 626/688-7045, home is 626/794-6105

  18. Melina Sempill Watts
    June 4th, 2018 @ 8:45 am

    How lucky she was to have you see her so truly.

  19. john houghton
    November 11th, 2018 @ 7:36 pm

    I’m moved and not surprised that Karin touched so many people. She and I were close and had an –on and off– relationship that lasted from 1975 to 1995 (maybe a little longer) We even got married once and couple years later got it annulled. We both liked that program.

    We both arrived in LA about the same time and we liked each others company a lot. So we sort of discovered a lot here together.

    What is so interesting to me is about April of this year I got a sort of metaphysical message to go see how she was doing. It felt weird but drove to her house and then realized that to simply pop in after almost 20 years was thoughtless and she probably would not like it — I’m sure now that was a wrong thought–so decided not to knock on the door. Too Bad… I guess I should have followed my instincts. It would have been very nice to see her again… a last time.

    I am grateful so many people were touched by her presence –You all have good taste — she had a wonderful heart!!

  20. Susan C
    December 12th, 2018 @ 4:59 pm

    Hi John, Thank you for commenting. I’m sad to report that even if you had knocked on Karin’s
    door, you would have not found her there in April.

    If you are ever in the Pasadena or Altadena area again, please let us know. Many of Karin’s friends and admirers would love to meet you.


  21. john houghton
    December 29th, 2018 @ 4:30 pm

    to susan c.
    thank you very much –i will let you know — probably be down that way again in January. by the way — there is that great pic of her and ‘Mambru’ (wonderful dog) — i remember when we took it. It’s a great shot that does justice to her spirit.

  22. John Houghton
    November 13th, 2020 @ 7:39 am

    Happy Birthday Karin!
    We all think about you with good thoughts.

  23. EmilyGreen
    November 13th, 2020 @ 11:47 am

    Yes, happy birthday, Karin. We all miss you. Every day.

  24. Sharon
    August 2nd, 2023 @ 8:29 pm

    I have been thinking about Karin this week, missing her writing and wisdom. Thank you for keeping this post available.

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