Saturday, November 28, 2009

At home in L.A.: Griffith Park community

"Maybe you should stop watching," my mom said over the phone line, listening to my sobs while I watched the news coverage of Griffith Park burning.

The 2007 wildfire that burned about 820 acres of one of the largest urban parks in North America, burned through the route I used to hike almost every morning with Stacy, my co-worker, friend and Los Feliz neighbor.   At 5a.m., armed with with a cup of instant oatmeal and bottle of water, I'd run out to meet Stacy, waiting in her warm Volvo idling in front of my house. We'd drive a couple minutes up the hill to park at the base of the tennis courts and start our walk in the dark.  In the winter we were bundled in hats, coats and scarves.

Unlike other more crowded L.A. hikes, where the object is to see and be seen, and half the women are working on their tans as well as their prominently displayed abs and glutes (Runyon Canyon, for those men who have a sudden urge to exercise), people at Griffith Park take the time to say hello.  Councilman Tom LaBonge was a regular on our walks, as were dogs and their humans, photographers, and Sol Shankman, a 93-year-old man when the Los Angeles Times wrote this piece about him. His back bent over his cane, he never missed his morning hike.  ("'... the way I see it, you've got two choices," he said the other day. "You can sit at home and weep for yourself. Or you can get out and do the best you can.'")

I've never felt such a gut connection to land.  I felt sick and out of control watching it burn, knowing animals were running from the fire destroying their green home.  Whenever I'd return from months away from L.A., I'd go "home," to my hike.  To smell the earth at the first dip in the trail, where it was always 10 degrees colder, shadowy and green in the midst of a glade of fir trees, just before the first big hill. It's more than a park, it's a place open to everyone, families picnic, kids discover both the majesty of the observatory and lizards on the trails.

Having moved out of the neighborhood, I don't hike Griffith as frequently as I used to.  I love public transportation, but it does enforce the idea of local living. This week, I'm giddy with the use of my friend's car while she's out of town, and planned a Griffith hike for this morning.  Waking up to the sound of the bush outside beating against my window, I knew the winds would blow all the smog out of the air.  Perfect day for Griffith Park.  Starting up the hill, I was welcomed with a "good morning" within the first climb, and huffingly grunted a greeting in reply.  Though there are still blackened skeletons of trees, and the hills are mostly bare, there is more green growth than when I was there a couple months ago.  My glade of fir trees is gone, and with it that specific smell of the dirt in the shade.  But it still feels like home.

(The former fir glade, a few trees survived.)

(The hillside today.)

(The unbelievably perfect puffy clouds today.)

(Top photos May 2007, L.A. Times, from TheScroogeReport)

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