I started reading The Dovekeepers last night, and being set in ancient Jerusalem, it has quickly reminded me of the magic to be found in the natural world. A magic I want to see and experience every day.
A magic I feel I need now more than ever.
That is one of many reasons why I think our recent move has been such a gift … even if we didn’t want to move.
Yep, J and I moved. A few weeks back, when we were rather dutifully informed we were not allowed to have a dog in our (now previous) apartment. Which was news to us since our neighbors down the hall had a dog. But c’est la vie. As I said above: it has been such a gift. Not only is our new apartment so much nicer, and our complex so much nicer, but we are in a fabulous neighborhood with amazing amenities right down the street.
Plus, we have a dishwasher now.
I cannot stress enough how exciting this is for me.
We are also two quick and easy blocks away from the Los Angeles River. This has been a boon for Charlie as we can take him down to the walking path that runs right alongside the river and let him off his leash. He hasn’t quite worked up the courage to go down into the water, but he loves running along the path sniffing every bush he passes, and rolling around in horse dung.
Because, yes, directly on the other side of the walking path from the river is a large equestrian center, and the riders will bring their mounts out quite regularly. So plenty of horse s—t for Charlie to explore.
And while Charlie is thus engaged, I am watching the wildlife along the river.
I know it is hard to believe that a concrete jungle like Los Angeles even has a river, let alone one with wildlife in it, but let me just say: something had to attract people here in the first place. And considering that LA really is nothing more than a giant pit in the center of a circle of mountain ranges, I can tell you that what attracted those first people was not the scenery.
It was the river. What used to be a large, lush, fertile, and occasionally overflowing river that runs an astonishing 50 miles from the Santa Susana Mountains north of the San Fernando Valley down to Long Beach. Before the Spanish explorers arrived in the 1760s, the Tongva had lived peacefully along the river in a series of approximately 50 villages for thousands of years, relying on the waters as a source of food, drink, and hygiene. When the Spaniards, under the leadership of Gaspar de Portola arrived in 1769 – scouting out Alta California on behalf of Spain – the explorers named it the Rio Porciuncula after a popular Spanish feast day. Just 11 years later, another expedition was sent to Alta California, this time under the flag of Spanish governor Felipe de Neve, and it included 44 settlers. Spain was trying to establish a firmer control over their northern New World territories, so the settlers’ quest was to establish a nice, peaceful town in the Alta California wilderness. When they selected a spot near the Rio Porciuncula, they named their new settlement, El Pueblo de la Nuestra Senora la Reina de los Angeles del Rio de Porciuncula.
It’s easy to see how that mouthful eventually came to be known as LA, right?
As Los Angeles grew and developed, the LA River’s propensity to flood and shift course kept causing problems. And by problems, I mean widespread devastation. After a particularly bad flood in 1938, the Army Corp of Engineers came in and encased the entire riverbed in concrete (with few exceptions). This project, which included storm drains, helps keep the modern-day LA River down to a miniscule trickle.
There are certain areas, however, like the stretch of the river alongside Griffith Park, that are not fully encased in concrete, and therefore, more lush in the vegetation and wildlife front. It is along this stretch that I take Charlie for his long and leisurely off-leash walks. And it is along this stretch that I bike (because, lo and behold, there is a bike path on the opposite side of the river from the walking path!) home every day from the train station.
So every day, I get to bask in the magic of wildlife right outside my door. I see my favorite LA birds, the black-necked stilt and the great blue heron… and I saw a coyote! Running alongside the river as if he were another off-leash dog. Luckily, he didn’t spot Charlie, or I might have lost the little guy that day. But what a beautiful creature. What a grace and majesty to his movements.
I have also been introduced to new birds: the great white egret. The spotted sandpiper. The killdeer! An absolutely gorgeous bird with distinctive black bands across its throat.
I could watch them all for days. But instead, I take any spottings as a sign of good luck. If I see the great blue heron, it’s going to be a good day. If I see the black-necked stilt, it is going to be a great day.
And I remember the legend of the albatross I learned on my cruise around Cape Horn several months back: the spirits of those we have lost come back as birds. I love that magic. My great blue herons and my black-necked stilts are souls watching out for me.
I can live with that.
And maybe I’ll get Charlie to stop rolling around in horse s—t while I’m at it.