Category: Places

Franklin Canyon + Descanso Gardens

I thought this was a Speckled Skink at first then found that’s not so common in California. They’re natives of New Zealand. Turns out juveniles of the Alligator Lizard are mistaken as Skinks. So a baby Alligator Lizard then? There’s a bunch of fascinating reptiles on this site and I spent my morning teatime staring at them. Which was surprisingly refreshing. As opposed to Facebook, I mean.

This was at Franklin Canyon which sits at the center of Los Angeles city, 605 acres of park land, a lake, a pond with turtles and ducks. The park is also part of the Pacific Flyway, a major north-south migratory route for birds. The lake has some nice tall grasses and rushes on its banks which you can walk through/under and it’s all very children’s adventure book at this point.

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The pond is civilized and easy for kids to do some turtle spotting. They are not shy, the turtles (not the kids–I don’t know about the kids). The turtles are very photogenic and very obliging. True LA turtles.

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Also, visited the Descanso Gardens — not the best time of year but their rosarium was pretty. I love the climbing roses. The oak forest is a wild canopy. And the tree ferns in the ‘ancient forest were beautiful.

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History from wikipedia: In 1942, while the Japanese and Japanese-Americans living on the West Coast of the United States were being sent to internment camps, Boddy bought out two local successful Japanese nurseries. According to different sources, he acquired somewhere between 60,000 and 100,000 camellias.

Immense parental guilt: at some point we realized our daughter wasn’t feeling well. She had seemed reluctant in the morning but she wasn’t warm and we thought it was just childish laziness. So we  jollied her out of bed and went off “exploring”. Now, she was lying down on a rickety bench under the trees, saying she wanted to rest. Of course, we abandoned the ‘ancient forest’ at Descanso and hustled home. I keep thinking of it though. Old redwoods.  Tree ferns bursting all over the place. The forest features plant species that Descanso gardens calls ‘prehistoric’. From this page: Today cycads, ferns, redwoods and other ancient plants persist relatively unchanged. They have survived dramatic changes in the world’s geography, competition from other plant species and major extinctions – including that of the dinosaurs.

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Solstice Canyon, LA

July was full of walks.  At Solstice Canyon, the sun was harsh but a couple of easy walks took us into shade and toward un-scorched plants. The canyon is in Malibu, just off the coast and it’s a short way to the ocean which means it has coastal vegetation alongside other types.

Here’s a Japanese Red Elder (Elderberry) blooming and a bee flailing about in the blooms. Most parts of this plant are toxic for us but apparently they can be eaten after cooking. Toxins exist to protect plants and we circumvent that through fire.  Not always but sometimes.

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Not sure what trees these are but they formed a wall of shimmering green near a dry creek.  This canyon is part of the Santa Monica Mountains. Plants and animals here are suffering because of climate change but   “possible plant responses include: tolerating new climate conditions, adaptation in place, migration to a more suitable environment, or extirpation.” (from here.) The more you adapt the more you can adapt. Which is to say those that have done it before will do it again. Many California plant species have experienced wide fluctuations in climate recently so they have a chance. New communities of plants may happen as the world changes around them.

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A tiger lily growing in the wild. Tiger lilies are also called ditch lilies because they grow easily in ditches in America. Old Korean legend has it that a hermit helped a wounded tiger by removing an arrow from its body. The tiger asked him to make sure they remained friends forever. When the tiger died, he became a flower. But the hermit died of drowning and his body was lost. The tiger lily is still looking for his friend, in all the ditches and corners of the world.

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Lizard, camouflage:

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In the desert, we don’t know our names

It’s been eventful. We went to Death Valley and I was suitably overwhelmed by the salt, wildflowers, snow, sand and ‘lowness’ of the place. Death Valley is below sea-level and the sense of constantly traveling on land that once wasn’t land hung over me as we traveled across the miles of it. Lots has been said about the magnificence of the place — it’s all true. It’s surreal. It’s majestic. It made me sad.

In this below-sea-level basin, steady drought and record summer heat make Death Valley a land of extremes. Yet, each extreme has a striking contrast. Towering peaks are frosted with winter snow. Rare rainstorms bring vast fields of wildflowers. Lush oases harbor tiny fish and refuge for wildlife and humans. Despite its morbid name, a great diversity of life survives in Death Valley.

Yes, I reminded myself of the diversity of life, and the yellow wildflowers were coming up in many places. Apparently, there will be an explosion of them this year.

Then we got stuck in the desert. We were driving to the ghost town of Ballarat and on a washed-out stretch of gravelly dirt road, our car made horrible noises and died. It was just past noon, the sun in the sky. Things I thought of: bread, cheese, bananas (food in the car); water (six small bottles); knitting, books (entertainment for me); crayons (entertainment for my daughter). We settled in to hail passing cars. There was one every half hour or so.

We stopped three or four, asked them to contact a ranger. They assured us they would. We took it on faith. Nobody looked keen to give us a lift. We didn’t ask. We decided if help hadn’t come by 4 pm, we would. We took turns guesstimating how long help would arrive in. I aimed at knitting 12 inches before help arrived, then 18 inches.  Our almost-four-year-old tried to sleep in the backseat. I had washed her face and neck with water and taken off her jeans. She was ok.

Help arrived at around 4 pm, about an hour before sunset. The cop (turned out this was actually outside park limits and not in the ranger’s area) said there had been three or four calls about us. He bumped the car to the side of the road, called a tow truck, gave us a lift to the nearest desert motel. Cell phone signal–aha! We drank beer and ate a lot of fries. We let our daughter make a meal of fries and ice cream.

It was after dark when the tow truck arrived and we drove back to the same spot to pick up the car. The desert was silent, we passed no cars for miles. I don’t remember passing any but maybe I missed the one or two that I did. Or maybe there really were no cars. Sam, the driver of the tow truck, turned up the music and jigged about. He sounded annoyed when my daughter was chatty. I shushed her. We sat in silence, except for the music, for two hours, bumping along, the towed car hulking behind us. When we reached Ridgecrest, a town with lights and shops and grocery stores, I laughed nervously. Even Sam seemed to thaw. “We even have a Hilton,” he said.

Here is a far scarier story about Death Valley.

And from this article:

“It’s important for people to know that only a tiny portion of Death Valley has cell phone reception,” search and rescue coordinator Micah Alley wrote in an e-mail. “GPS units are not only fallible but send people across the desert where no road exists.”

Over the past 15 years, at least a dozen people have died in Death Valley from heat-related illnesses, and many others have come close. Another hiker vanished last June in Joshua Tree National Park. His body has not yet been found.

These are not just stories of unimaginable suffering. They are reminders that even with a growing suite of digital devices at our side, technology cannot guarantee survival in the wild. Worse, it is giving many a false sense of security and luring some into danger and death.

Transplants, Essays

A lovely short essay by David L. Ulin on the California Incline here:

Transplants have to stay somewhere for a while to make it theirs. For me, the Incline has become a shabby-chic monument to this idea. Now it is closed for reconstruction, and I worry about what will be left when work is done. Will it still resemble the landmark I invested with weight, the road I drove with my children? Will I recognize it, recognize my memories, or will all that be erased? Southern California, its critics like to insist, is a landscape of forgetting, but I no longer believe this to be the case. Rather, like the Incline, it is a landscape of association, in which the connections we make, our attachments, are what render us native.

And a rather hefty list of the 100 best Articles and Essays of 2014 and 2015.

Where I live now

Driving into a freeway is like diving—the roar in my ears, a sense of being submerged, almost drowning, and somehow, I’ve surfaced onto the right lane. I coast along, buffeted by a force greater than me, like wind, the collective will of people wanting to get somewhere.

Arroy Seco Parkway. Credit: Wikipedia

The 110 or Pasadena Freeway is also called the Arroyo Parkway because in parts it runs next to the Arroyo Seco, a seasonal river and canyon, literally “dry stream” in Spanish and now after four years of drought in California, certainly dry in most parts. Being a Parkway (a road that connects to a park), it’s prettier than many freeways and more dangerous. This was the first freeway in the western United States, the first of the great American roads on this strip of coast. It’s a dangerous distinction. It was built for 45 miles per hour; cars swoosh past at 70 miles per hour. Because it opened in 1940, and because America is a new country, the Parkway is lovingly called the ‘Historic’ Parkway. Coming from a country where we take history for granted, we find this both amusing and faintly moving. We live on a hill above the freeway—Adsmy husband of fifteen years, our  daughter, almost four, and I.

We moved to Los Angeles in September 2014 so I could study screenwriting at UCLA film school. Ads didn’t get his work permit for 6 months. For those months, we lived in a one-bedroom apartment in Hollywood, surrounded by aspiring models, actors and writers, and some lovely seniors. Outside our gates, there were junkies, homeless people and other aspiring models, actors and writers. We were at the heart of all the glamour, traffic, beauty, sleaze and messiness. It was a good introduction to LA.

Fall turned to winter. I went to class, learned about Hollywood–the industry and the place, went to the gym. There were movies at Arclight, at the Dolby Theater (where the Oscars are held), Hindi movies at Burbank. I wrote my screenplay. We rationed our money, ate and drank cheap, explored parks, drove the Pacific Coastal Highway, drove the canyons, prayed for the work permit. Once the initial glow of tourism faded, I missed Indian food, Indian textiles, Indian film, warm weather. I felt awkward among the blonde models at the gym. I was tired of being broke. Our roof fell down. Or rather, the layer of plaster that had been caked on cheaply and thickly, fell down and lay about our living room in huge heaps of debris and dust. it took a week to repair.

It was February. Our dog got sick. He was old, 13. The doctors didn’t know what was wrong. It could be an infection, they said. It could be cancer. We fed him pills, thought he was improving. Three days before my birthday, he died.  He died in the night, between 3 am when I went to sleep and 7 am when Ads woke up. I was not with him.

We drove around Hollywood, trying not to see the pet shops, we cried, we ate at Canters, wordless. On my birthday, Ads dragged me out of bed and drove me to Malibu where we stared at the sea and ate oysters. After that, I stayed in for a long time. During this time, I learned how to crochet, pouring energy into balls of wool and acrylic. They helped me cope with a house that gradually emptied of dog fur, the empty spot near my feet where our dog used to curl up.

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As spring came, so did the work permit. I wrote my second screenplay. We moved east to a house that was a little bigger and came with no appliances, but had a stretch of bare, brown land around it and a view of the hills. I looked at the land and the hills and said yes even before going in. I grew succulents, drought-resistant grass, vegetables. We put chairs in the porch and sat there all summer. We went to flea markets, art shows, museums.

Up here, the cars are a hum in the background. The birds of the surrounding Arroyo Park visit our garden. Squirrels dig up lettuce, hunting nuts they’ve buried. I find the nuts sometimes, odd half globes of hope. Cats sleep. The windows look out on surrounding hills, the houses on the hills. There is a chair by the window, sunlit. There is a basket of yarn by its side, a book, a throw I knitted in memory of our dog. A mug of tea sits on the window sill.

It has been a place of healing and adventure, beauty and discovery. It has become home.

A month from now, we will pack our bags, abandon our plants, close the house and leave. We may come back. It’s not up to us.

This is to do with gods and immigration authorities. I suspect the two may be the same.

The title of this post says ‘where i live now’ and of course, ‘now’ is the important word. It seems like a strange time to start blogging again. This space–the blog–has been abandoned, quiet and dusty as an empty apartment, for almost two years. Maybe it’s precisely because I’m losing my moorings in actual space, that I feel the need for this space again. What is a website?–An anchor hanging in nothing, in air. And yet, an address.

I admire people who have less need for an address. Who feel comfortable traveling because whatever they need, they carry it with them. Maybe they are so comfortable in their own skin, that all they need is to carry themselves.

Lower Arroyo Seco Park

Colorado Bridge

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