Prisoners

A Zoom neighborhood, at rush hour

We have reached the one year anniversary of 15 Days to Flatten the Curve.    Which, let’s be honest, has been a nationwide exercise in poor people delivering pleasures to the wealthy and privileged. Indefinitely.

A year of “journalists” berating the little people on behalf of billionaires and government workers and the professional classes.

A year of dhimmitude and mask theater and gaslighting.

A year of Karen screaming at people going about their business, outdoors, bothering no one.

Having surrendered sovereignty to unaccountable and hypocritical actors, how does one bloom in the new Post-Constitutional America™?

I think about this when I encounter trees growing in confined spaces.  Some species do better than others. They reach deeper into the soil. They break the concrete around them. Consider this liberty in action. Reach deeper. Don’t ask permission.

The alternative looks like this.

Be anti-fragile.  Bloom from the weephole in the scorching concrete.  Don’t ask permission.  Stop submitting.  Don’t be a prisoner.  Reach for the light. Take your mask off.

Like this guy.

Landlord, Miser, Tease

Enter, winter. Come, darling. How we have missed you.

Wash us down, we are parched.  A little Seattle goes a long way here.  Settle in. Make sport of us. We will roll on our back for you.  We will be your grateful rescue dog. Write a poem on our familiar streets.

Wait…is that sunlight in the distance?  But it’s only Day Two…

Enjoy it while we can.

And there it is. Spring bloom in January.  Our bittersweet three-day Los Angeles winter.

115° in The Nuys

Feral Cat 1, Sun 0.  Basking in a survivors’ victory at 7 pm…
I have no idea how they do it with a fur coat on. Nature is a genius.

The ficus didn’t do so well yesterday.  Watered it on Saturday. Less than 24 hours later, the top third of the hedge withered before my eyes as though God had sent down pestilence.

All things green shall by sundown be green no more, sayeth the Lord.

Spectrum News

Inevitably, there was another homeless encampment brush fire in the Sepulveda Basin, the second of the past month.  We have normalized this like summer weather.

Feral cats and meth heads are anti-fragile.  Los Angeles may fall into perdition in the next six months and they will make a slight adjustment and continue as before. The rest of us, in our green and ordered life, anchored by our need for safety and sustainability, scan the horizon line and wonder what It Portends.

Lord of the Devil’s Asshole

Back in the heatwave of June, I told an acquaintance on the nightclub side of the hill where I lived.  Van Nuys is the Devil’s asshole, he announced without hesitation.  He was referring to the heat, but his tone suggested something more.

Every kingdom has its Lord, I replied, half-joking.

If not I, what shape would this lord take?  Who would be the definitive representation of our sun-splashed, slightly noirish Brigadoon? He might have a weapon protruding from underneath him, like a tail. He might have his fist around a bottle of Jack Daniels, crisp jeans and a gold watch. He would be rusticating in the middle of the day, which is how I found him after I dropped $1100 on maintenance for my trusty Honda CRV, which makes me very much an un-Lordly figure.

Ziggy, on the other hand…he knows who’s the boss.

Stoker has no sense of irony, and zero pity. If you want a portrait of dominion, look no further.

Lords, all of them.  I welcome submissions and nominations.

When Hansen Dam Meant Boats and Bikinis

Wait. There was an actual lake there?  There was waterskiing? I can’t find it on Google Maps. When did that go away?

There were bathing beauties?  And trout fishing? Who took that way from us?

Nature.

Hansen Dam was erected in 1949 as a flood control mechanism.  By flood, it was intended to retain not only water, but sediment, giant boulders, chunks of trees, automobiles, houses, and everything else that came tumbling out of the mountains after a storm.

In layman terms it was built to be a giant garbage pail.  Slowly, inexorably, over the decades the pail filled in until the “lake” was reduced to a depth of several feet.

The original body of water, not unlike the Salton Sea, was an accident of construction, as burrow pits for obtaining gravel for the retaining wall filled with rainwater.  It was expected to last 50 years.

From the Los Angeles Times: “in 1969, Los Angeles County had some of the worst flooding in its history. Two bridges near the dam at Foothill Boulevard and Wentworth Street collapsed and seven homes in Big Tujunga Canyon were washed away….A forest fire and heavy rain in the winter of 1981 and the spring of 1982 brought 5 million to 10 million tons of sediment into the basin and the lake shrank to less than 30 acres, according to Corps documents. That summer the swimming beach was closed because the water had become stagnant and unhealthy.”

As so much of the post-war Valley, Hansen Lake was disposable, built to last a generation. Now it’s a dense thicket of shrubbery concealing horse trails and homeless encampments. Burrow into the depths and one loses all sense of geography and time, like a secret a passage to Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. 

There was an attempt during the seminal year of 1994 to fund a dredging and restoration, but it met with local resistance wary of attracting “outsiders”.

Outsiders = dusky hordes of immigrants who don’t have swimming pools. So, no lake.  Short California history lesson: that didn’t stop the dusky hordes.

Today the picnic areas on Sunday are filled to capacity with competing banda troupes, horse dancing charros, smoking grills of barbacoa, and peasant women wandering through the grass picking wild chard.

The top of the dam itself is a popular jogging trail, which was not its original function, either.

Valley 2.0: all will be re-purposed.

Historical photos courtesy of CSUN archives

Impatience

On this day one year ago, thinking myself very resourceful, I felled the massive, perpetually dying elm tree in my front yard. It took weeks to break the rounds into free firewood, garden plinths, and green bin waste.    Then it was gone.

What to do with the newly created void in the yard?   Eager for more punishment, I thought: why not move the grapefruit tree there?  It’s too close to the house already and will triangulate spatially with the tangerine by the sidewalk and the lime by the driveway.  Our yard would have the stamp of design upon it, which it never has.    Chez UpintheValley is forever improv, paid for with donkey toil, followed by second thoughts.

So I dug up the grapefruit tree.  I cut the root ball down to the size of a large ottoman and rolled the whole thing across the yard, into a waiting hole.

Boy, was it ever unhappy. It shed leaves like the deathly sprig in Waiting for Godot. I told myself, give it a few months and it will put out fresh shoots. It knows I moved it for a reason.

The summer went by, no shoots. I nipped the branches, seeking proof of life.   It wasn’t dead. But that’s all I could say for it. Fall passed, then winter. Nothing. Not a solitary green leaf.  I watered it slavishly. I squatted in its arthritic shadow as confounded as Vladimir and Estragon.

How is it possible greenery can pop from asphalt in triple-digit heat,  without a drop of moisture? How can Tapia palms erupt from weep holes in the sidewalk and refuse to be eradicated, while my grapefruit tree failed to thrive under my care and feeding?

Clearly, that spot in the yard bore a curse. Nothing could thrive there. In a fit of whiny pique, I decided to kill the tree.  To teach nature a lesson, and to break the curse, I would offer a ritual sacrifice.

Then the rains came, forestalling my plans.  A few warm days and this happened. Hundreds of flowers. Hundreds…each putting forth a bulb of grapefruit.

In my impatience, I assumed the branches would emerge first, and from the branches the flowering of new fruit. But it’s the other way around. Moving the tree made me feel like I was running things, which I wasn’t.  I’m just the gardener.  Spring makes cosmic insignificance sort of delightful.

Barbed Wire, Bougainvillea and a Box of Bees

Van Nuys, simplified: Nature and utility at war.  Beauty is forever encroaching upon blight here.

Inscrutable dogs park their disembodied heads atop concrete block walls and stare at us as we walk past.

Funghi popcorns from tree bark to announce an early spring.

…and people leave their bees nests in a box by the sidewalk.

The bees don’t stay in the box, believe it or not.  They move five feet to the utility pole, and begin a new hive.  They wiggle furiously into the seams. Unless I’m mistaken, these are honey bees, a diminishing natural resource. Are they queen-less now? Will they survive to re-pollinate the neighborhood, or collapse?

In Van Nuys we say ‘meh’ to nature, and nature ignores our indifference in return.

Last Empty Lot in Van Nuys

Not quite, but almost.  At the current pace of redevelopment there won’t be a single weedy lot left, not one orphaned tree marooned between apartment buildings, bereft and wishing for the company of crows, the itchy scrape of feral cats.

Sprawl has flipped on its side and moves on a vertical axis now. Down two stories for the parking, then up four for the apartments. Four being the height limit for non-treated wood frame construction in LA.   This right here used to be the infamous Voyager Motel, which perished in a “fire” two years ago and is being replaced with a 160-unit building. Either it is going to be steel frame or the right people got greased, because the renderings indicate a structure six stories tall.