environment


In the 12-plus years I’ve been a-blogging, I don’t think I’ve ever gone more than a week or two without posting SOMETHING. So you can imagine my shock when I saw I’d last been seen here basically more than three weeks ago.

The funny thing is, I’ve still been communicating, but mostly on Facebook, which for reasons known only to Mark Zuckerberg has been able to squirrel its way in to becoming something of my defacto mode of e-communication. I don’t even tweet much anymore.

But enough about that. Without any further preambling, here’s some of the stuff I’ve been doing of late:

1) Kayaking The Los Angeles River

As part of a pilot program this summer, a section of the long-lost Los Angeles River coursing through Elysian Valley was reopened to the public for use as a recreational resource, an opportunity angelenos have not had since the 1930s when the river’s channelization was begun to prevent flooding.

As a boy I accidentally discovered the river, and from that single experience I have never stopped being enamored with and zealously protective of what so many others have dismissed as our city’s woeful waterway — little more than a drainage ditch to the sea. Though I’ve been aware of its potential, I never imagined that one day I’d see such a sea change in perception so that  the river would made accessible and embraced not as a prohibited place but as public parkland to be explored and experienced and as something to connect with after so long a disconnect.

kayakroute

So for me, thanks to L.A. River Expeditions (Facebook), to be among the first wave during this historic first season and doing what you see in these clips at the top and after the jump: putting a kayak into its waters and putting my butt into that kayak and paddling — however awkwardly — downstream for a water-level perspective of my beloved river, it’s not a dream come true. Because I never dared to dream this could ever happen. Not in my lifetime.

No, it’s much more than that. To me it’s nothing short of a glorious miracle. And for that I’m thankful to everyone who has fought so tirelessly and valiantly over the years to get the city’s much-maligned and misbegotten river recreated in enough influential minds so that it can now be leisurely recreated upon.

Physically and soulfully these waters were very moving.

2) Unrocking The parkway in front of our house

I can’t remember if it was four or five years ago, but it all began when our next door neighbor contacted me to tell me he was redoing the section of parkway in front of his house with river rocks, and would I be interested in going in for half of the cost and doing mine as well to give the two parkways some continuity.

I figured why not. It would look better than the dirt and dead grass that had been there and it would be an opportunity to do something positive with the guy with whom, frankly, I’m not on the best of terms.

So a few weeks later he shows up with a metric ton of the palm-sized rocks and we pour them out, and the continuity lasted for all of as long as it took for the grasses and weeds to grow from between our rocks. See, he keeps his section of the parkway completely sterile, using gardeners he’s instructed to pluck pretty much even the slightest growth of green. Me? I’m my own gardener and I instructed myself not to give a hoot about what grows.

The only thing I’d been meticulous about is putting the rocks back that people for some stupid reason can’t resist kicking or tossing all over the place: the gutter, the street, the sidewalk, our front steps. And yes, I’ve even confronted people I’ve witnessed taking the rocks – literally picking up several and walking off as if there’s a “Free Rocks — All You Can Carry!” sign posted.

Fast forward to this week, and I’m finally done with these rocks. Agreeing to partner this design option for our parkways did nothing to improve things with the neighbor, and so I decided that it’s time to reclaim or refresh our decidedly seedy section of the parkway and remove the river rocks.

I started yesterday (August 12), and quickly discovered that it was something easier said than done. What I thought would take a couple hours of clearing the roughly 40′ x 4′ area, is going to take about eight or more… mostly because over the ensuing rainy seasons, what started as one layer of rocks on the surface of the soil is now in places two or three layers of rocks that have been buried by the flow of water and soil, hastened by those people who’ve tromped on them and pushed them deeper. It’s really quite remarkable how low some of these rocks have gone.

I found out during the first four/five foot long section I cleared from the driveway apron to the magnolia tree, which also involved digging up all the dead patches of grass. And there are a LOT of dead patches of grass.

Soooo, what you’re seeing here in this timelapse is roughly 45 minutes of me attacking with little more than a spade and begloved hands the second four/five foot section between the magnolia tree and the brick walkway. Ended up filling the bucket three times. That’s a lotta rocks. And I’ll do it again tomorrow. And the day after. Until it’s done.

Not sure yet what I plan to do once it’s all cleared. I may just leave it bare. I may plant something. Or I may supersaturate the soil and set the rocks back into the wet dirt side by side like so many tiles. At least that way if some idiot wants to take one or toss one  it’ll require a little more effort than just bending over and getting grabby.

Menial labor? Meaningful labor? Bit of both from where I’m toiling.

Ranger’s bark by the backdoor yesterday brought me to her to find something absolutely awesome: A large transient bee swarm had came from who knows where to literally hang out in the backyard fig tree for a spell, and of course I got footage of the experience from various angles, accompanied by my narration that won’t be making David Attenborough or Jeff Corwin nervous anytime soon.

In this first clip, being such an awesomely unusual event of course I ventured outside among them for a closer look:

After checking them out from the ground (in part 1), I went upstairs to look out the bathroom window and get a brief and closer look at where the bees had massed in the fig tree:

Then I set up the cam  with the  spotting scope to get an up-close look at the teeming bee mass up in the tree:

Lastly and most coolly, I was onhand about an hour later when the bees decided it was time to move on. What I most like about this clip is that as the group breaks up you can see what lies beheath: the living infrastructure they’ve built amongst each other to hold the mass together:

This time of year I can usually count on finding the occasional one maybe two dead bees in the vicinity of the patio table, but this morning the number of corpses (11 seen below, 17 total) concentrated in such a small area represented a cataclysmic and enigmatic die-off as far as our backyard is concerned:

UPDATED (1:37 p.m.): Twenty-four more found scattered around the patio table.  Could it be the bees are being bitten by and then rejected by spiders living in the fig tree branches extending over the patio area?

The historic Paddle The Los Angeles River pilot program begins next weekend (continuing Saturdays and Sundays through September 25) in which the public will be legally allowed to kayak/canoe in the Los Angeles River for the first time in I don’t even know how long… decades, at least.

Now, it’s not something as easy as dropping a raft anywhere along the river that you’re willing and able.  The event, a culmination of efforts between city officials, the Los Angeles Conservation Corps, the US Army Corps of Engineers, and a variety of volunteer and environmental organizations, is hyper-organized, super-supervised, and takes place specifically along the section of the river in the Sepulveda Basin Recreation Area between Balboa and Burbank boulevards. And it’s not cheap. Tickets run $53.74 a person.

None of that hindered the 280* tickets available from quickly selling out after they went on sale this morning. Given how dear I hold the river to my heart, of course I was there at my computer when they became available at 7 a.m., reloading the registration page impatiently until it went live and I was able to order up two for August 21. A lot of other people weren’t as lucky. Less than an hour later they were all gone.

*Why so few? This inaugural program aims to assess the feasibility of the river for future recreational
uses, and its short timeframe only allows for a limited number of participants.

On this edition of “Will Rides The River Bed — Again!” this time I’m joined by my friend Andrew and together we did something that I think is pretty unique in the annals of Los Angeles cycling, we bridged the long (roughly 8-mile, as the water flows) gap from the southern end of the Los Angeles River Bikeway in Elysian Valley to where it begins again in Maywood, by riding entirely in the river bed between the two points.

The winter storms worked wonders for the channelized waterway known as Ballona Creek, leaving its banks cleaner and its wet stuff clearer than I’ve ever seen it, such as here at the water’s edge near the pedestrian/bike bridge that spans it between Overland and Sepulveda in Culver City.

But unless the rains that are forecast to fall in the next day or so are substantial enough for one last flush then things are going to get ugly and fast. The algae that’s already sprouted and growing rapidly beneath the surface (fed in part by nitrogen-rich runoff) is going to explode at its inevitable exponential rate.

Oh well. It was nice while it lasted.

There is something about rampaging unstoppable wildfires and the literal and figurative pall they cast that both agitates and depresses me to marked degrees. It’s like such disasters create an internal tug-of-war wherein I want to got to irrational extremes — on one end I want to seek out destroy anyone even remotely resembling a past, present or future arsonist, and on the other I want to move to a place of permafrost and ice wherein there’s no chance of such disasters happening to me.

Because they do happen to me. Sure I’m not someone in the inferno’s path who’s lost property or suffered injury, but however indirectly and from whatever distance I am from the devastation I am nonetheless deeply affected by it.

As the following timelapse video of the Station Fire shows, I’m physically far away. From the roof of our Silver Lake home I set up the camera and captured the footage, condensed down to four minutes from an hour that passed last night beginning at 5 p.m.

It’s not very dramatic from a visual level, but with the spewing white plumes that power up above the hanging haze of ash and smoke, it makes me imagine gargantuan steam locomotives unseen behind a curtain of poison, destroying everything in their predatory paths. And it breaks my heart.

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