The long afternoon’s worth of rain had passed before nightfall, and when I left work near 7 p.m. I was eager to see what increase there might be to Ballona Creek’s water level.Â The good news is it wasn’t enough to warrant the locking of the bikeway entrance gates. The bad news is it wasn’t enough to warrant the locking of the bikeway entrance gates. But the creek was still up and moving with a swift intensity, and that was enough to warrant me stopping in fascination just to listen to and watch the rushing water, and get the above 15-second exposure.
You have to understand, as a native of Los Angeles with its channelized river no one talked about much less paid attention to unless a dead body turned up in it, I grew up in absolute awe of moving water wherever I could find it. During or after a rain I would often occupy my afternoon hours in the gutters on the streets I lived on, either just watching the water or launching paper boats I’d made and chasing them downstream until they either got snagged on debris or got too close for comfort to the sewer entrance waiting to swallow them up.
The first time I saw a real river, I was 7, staying with my aunt and uncle and cousins for the summer. It was the Tennessee as it curves through Chattanooga. It was full and flowing through the city and entirely blew my tiny mind.
I remember one time, maybe I was 8 or 9. It was a Saturday and it had been raining hard all Friday. So my friend Danny Lindell and I spent the better part of the morning hammering and glueing together these ridiculous flat-bottomed boats out of some junked wood pieces that we found in a nearby alley with the intent of sailing them along the small rivulet of a creek that used to run through the park behind LACMA, only a few blocks east from where we lived on Tower Drive south of Wilshire on the literal eastern edge of the slums of Beverly Hills. The 90212.
Once we were finished we marched over there, thrilled to find the tiny waterway much more full thanks to the storm. Of course, our boats were way too big and heavy to float — and on top of that being so close to the La Brea Tar Pits there was tar everywhere that Danny and I succeeded in getting all over our hands and shoes and clothes. And the boats, which we threw in the trash.
Was the excursion a failure? As shipbuilders, totally. And boy did our moms think so when we got home soaked and tar-caoted. But to me, not at all. Because of the water. The moving water.
So that’s why, 40 years later I still seek it out when I can. I still stop alongside it. I close my eyes and listen to it. I’m fascinated by it. I get out my camera and try to balance it still on fence posts in attempts to capture it. Because in LA it’ll be gone tomorrow and who knows when it’ll be back.