The entire country (world?), if it’s heard of the L.A. River at all, knows of it only as a joke…
…or as the site of occasional tragedy during flood season. Why, just this week, I passed another sort of tragedy along its banks:
I grew up playing in the woods, every single day. Real woods, with wild apple trees, strawberries, blackberries, grapes, daylilies, roses, damp brown dirt, rich brown bark, and lots and lots of green: Deciduous trees and bushes everywhere you looked, and some pine tossed in for the smell. Water? We had a splashing stream, and a whole reservoir to fish in.
Now, the tradeoff for living in sun 10 months of the year is to give up ever seeing Mommy Nature at her finest. I live in a desert wasteland. Even in non-drought conditions, the hills are ALWAYS brown and ugly. The “woods” are barren. And what L.A. calls a river…
But this post is not about how awful the river is. I have learned to appreciate the L.A. River. I walk often along its riparian concrete banks. I am glad it’s there. Do I wish it were more attractive? Yes. So do lots of people.
The city plans to return a great swath of it to nature. Conveniently for the city, this is the part of it which is already closest to nature, already filled with greenery and wildlife–
NOT the part where I live.
But although I am stuck with a graffiti’d concrete ditch, I needn’t focus on the ugly aspects of my walks. Instead, let me introduce you to my L.A. river:
You might have to look a just a bit more closely for them than when next to a “real” river (okay, it is just possible you might have to peer through fences, and over walls) but they’re there (really!).
Because you’re often at a distance from the water, you might need a German camera’s telefoto lens to see what KIND of avian creature is flying or wading by, but you will see winged wildlife on your walks. Down at the ritzy Santa Monica end of the ditch–oops, river–there are always lots of ducks and coots. When I walk west, I enjoy stopping to watch for a minute. Yesterday, the coots had exclusive use of the baby-bird rapids and were group-surfing:
My favorite sight is of birds gliding low over the water:
But birds using their feetsies are nice, too:
These seagulls must be a special species with very long legs, for their feet are resting all the way on the bottom of the river, but their bodies are way up top:
So far, this is the only one I’ve spotted, but it’s a beaut:
This aspect of the concrete canal might not appeal to you neurotypicals (folks who don’t have Asperger’s), but for me, it is one of the saving graces of the otherwise almost-barren walk. There are many places along the route where the intersections of shapes form a beautiful geometry which, if you imagine the scene 2-dimensional and hung in a gallery (or my home!), could constitute world-class art:
Yes! Intriguing mysteries! Well, at least for a total nerd. Inquiring mind wanted to know the answer to several geeky-type things, so I fired off an email to the Army Corps of Engineers. Literally not five minutes had passed before my phone rang and a Mr. Jay Field from the Los Angeles Corps office was kindly taking the time to try to answer my nerdiosity:
(1) WHAT are the big plugs spaced out along the riverbanks (about 2 feet in diameter)?
Are these there only to attach rescue lines for that one time a year when it rains so hard the water is dangerous to curious children and foolish adults? And were the plugs designed to be there originally, or were they added later?
ANSWER: Yes to the first question, and probably “added later”, to the second, because the special rescue team that does this didn’t exist when the Army Corps of Engineers first constructed the riverbed.
(2) WHAT are the square holes spaced out along the banks, cut through the concrete all the way down to the dirt? (Until someone disposed of their leftover cement in one–tsk.)
ANSWER: When the river is rushing and swollen, the pressure of the water is so great that even the concrete banks are threatened. These seep holes allow some of the water through to the soil to relieve some of the pressure.
(3) I was guessing that the double-yellow lines on the river bottom in Culver City were left over from the days the Army Corps drove up and down on the bed while forming it, but why do some of the lines lead a vehicle’s driver into the riverbank wall?!
ANSWER: Mr. Field wasn’t familiar with these lines until I mentioned them. Because there aren’t double-yellows all along the river, he guessed they might have been painted there for a film shoot, like “Terminator II”. I think that is an excellent guess, since I’ve seen them so far only in Culver City, known for its film studios.
Thank you, Mr. Field. What a nice man you are.
There is still one more mystery to uncover: One which likely falls outside the Army Corps’ area of expertise.
(4) WHAT is this backyard shrine a shrine TO?
The yard is packed full with yellow plastic lei-draped trees, bushes, and statuary, and many of the walkers and riders who pass stop to wonder aloud about its purpose. I’ve decided that I intend to find out. I’ll revise this post to let you know if I learn anything!
I’ll end now with two gifts for you:
First, I was unable to yet capture an image of a great heron striding near me so that you could see one in its natural cement environs, but the L.A. River administrators, it turns out, have one in an unnatural setting. Here is a heron in the lobby of their offices on San Fernando Road in Cypress Park:
When I arrived in said lobby, no one was to be found. All the staff had retreated to the upstairs offices. Can you blame them?
Finally, I’ll leave you with the sound of the river when it is low, like now: The gentle sound of falling water:
*** WARNING! *** WARNING! *** WARNING! ***
*** ==== BEWARE RIVER SKEPS ==== ***
The All-Time Top River Credits
(1) All pics were taken (by yours truly) with an Iphone 4S or 5C.
(2) Thank you to the L.A. River office administrator whose name I was too impolite to note down who suggested I contact the Army Corps of Engineers directly with my questions.
The All-Time Top River Song Site
Top 20 River Songs of All Time
The All-Time Top River Documentary
The All-Time Top Helpful River Link for Angelinos
KCET’s River Notes: Latest River Improvements & Recreation News
The All-Time Top River Advice From Friends
2014-03-16–My friend A. said “Change the order of the opening–don’t open with the bulldozer.” So I did.
2014-03-17–Another friend J. said today said “Change the order of the opening–open with the bulldozer.” So I did.
Any more friends can just shut their faces.