The Concrete River

I grew up not far from the Los Angeles River. My grandparent’s block butted up against it and back then, I could easily ride my bike down, get off it and squeeze it through a hole in the fence to get to the concrete embankments. Many a summer day I spent sitting on the concrete, writing in my composition notebooks full of stories or reading my Complete Works of Shakespeare that always traveled in my bike’s basket.

In the 1970’s there were tons of frogs in that river. Green frogs, tadpoles, bullfrogs…I’d hear their croaking combined with the ever-present sounds of ducks, geese and snowy egrets. If I lingered just after sunset I might see an owl or two. The hillsides of nearby Griffith Park sometimes showed me the faces of shy deer gazing down. I don’t see frogs anymore, nor do I see the deer. There is however, an abundance of geese and ducks, the rowdy crows and ravens, red-tailed hawks gliding in the sky above and the always elegant and graceful snowy egrets. There are also homeless people living in tents hidden by bent and trash-covered trees.

Last night was lovely. A friend picked me up from work and we decided to take a walk along the river. My friend is from Italy and he was amazed that there was such a thing as the river here in the heart of Los Angeles. We walked and talked almost to Burbank, stopping here and there to identify plants, watch horses and their riders and startle the ducks and geese. Palmed in my hand was my little Droid Mini and I spent most of the two-hour walk snapping away as we walked. My friend was fascinated with how the water was cracking open the concrete and seeping out aggressively in some spots, so I video’ed some of the things that made him laugh out loud.

I miss the frogs. Their rhythmic croaking used to be my company on lonely summer afternoons when all I had was my pen, a notebook and my thoughts. They were the music and muse of my writing back then and I wonder where they’ve gone. Still, the memory of the frogs is there in the river and the color of their skin is now the color of the algae-covered rocks. It is as if the river remembers them too.

L.A. can be a harsh and aggressive place, but it has it’s peaceful places too. Our walk along the river was zen-like in its quiescence and soothing to a troubled soul. I left work as tight as a drum, stressed out and worried. By the end of our walk I was light as a feather, feeling young again and fully energized. My Droid made it possible for me to capture the river’s peace for those days I don’t walk alongside it, and also possible to share the same with my friend. He’ll have a bevy of photos and video of his first time seeing our concrete river and I hope both he and the frogs come back to visit.

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