Actually a River [Hippie Squared]

After almost thirty years in LA, I’m still discovering new things. Whole new worlds even. Last Sunday we took a nice walk with Riverworld on our left and Golf World on our right, and then watched astonished as Golf World gave way to Horse & Cowboy World.

Our dogs had cabin fever. My wife Elise had heard about a good place to walk dogs along the LA River in Los Feliz. I’m ashamed to say, though we live in Cypress Park/Mt. Washington, not far from the majestic Great Heron Gates to the paths along the river, we’ve never really explored it.

This was yet another access point, though, behind Los Feliz Cafe, which shares a parking lot with the lovely little Los Feliz Golf Course, a 9-hole 3-par municipal course. One of the great things that our taxes do for us. Rich people, of course, don’t need public golf courses. They have their own country clubs. We’re not allowed in. So they spend lots of money trying to talk the rest of us into believing that taxes are theft. But here’s a little gem of a gift from our taxes–a present that we’ve sweetly given to each other.

Sure enough, we scrambled up a little dirt slope and there it was, a paved path along the LA River. And here’s the crazy thing: it’s actually a real river. Yes, it’s famously hemmed in by concrete for much of its length, with sides sloping down at about a 45 degree angle. But in recent years it’s been allowed to go native, to return partly to the wild, with vegetation growing up within it and around it; with big rocks sitting in it, water rushing by making little white water rapids; with little islands along the banks and even in the flow; big trees with trunks bent downriver by the wind.

It’s a real river. With rushing water. With little islands. With dirt banks. Moss. Rushes. Trees with trunks bent downriver by the wind. With white water rapids, little steps down white water rapids over rocks in the stream. Ducks sleeping. Herons flying low above the water.

Our dog Molly, the black lab mix, certainly believed it was a real river. She kept trying to sneak down the banks. On this stretch of the river walk the sloping banks aren’t smooth. This is just my guess, but it seems that the original smooth concrete has been set with rocks, then more concrete poured as mortar. So the effect now is almost like a real rock face. There’s texture, places to put your feet to walk down the slope to the river. 

Molly didn’t seem to notice the freeway rushing by just past the river. Or the canopy of graffitied electric towers along the path. It was certainly easy to forget those signs of the urban environment. To let your eyes go instead to the big round hill of Griffith Park on the other side of the freeway, a minor mountain really, brown and dotted with green.

We came to a section where a flat concrete shelf extended out into the river past the bottom of the angled slope. So we let Molly run down there. Less fear that she’d fall into the river and get swept away. There she became victim of another illusion. A blanket of bright green moss sat on the water’s surface there and came right up to the bank. Molly seems to have thought it was grass, because she stepped right onto it and plunged into the water up to her chest. She had to scramble back up onto the concrete. She ran farther along, to where the moss was even thicker, and tried again. Same mistake. Twice was enough for her to learn, though, and she came skulking and dripping back up the slope to us, embarrassed, a green fringe of wet moss hanging off her harness.

The birds think it’s a real river. Wild ducks slept on a little grassy island. We saw a hawk land on a rock, and fold his wings, standing there with that particular carriage of a bird of prey, that seems to us so proud. Bright white herons skimmed along the water.

It was Elise that noticed a big bird, almost too big to be seen, because so unexpected, camouflaged against the dark green river and the dark gray rock: a great blue heron. Long spindly legs and a long   curving neck, stiletto beak. Beautitul.

Now the first part of our walk, we’ve got the river on our left, and the golf course on our right, other side of a tall chainlink fence. But like I said, it was a city course. So the clientele were real LA city folk. No slacks, caps, and pastel golf shirts, clattering golf shoes and low, quiet voices. The group I saw playing through was about six young Latino guys in t-shirts and baggy pants, smoking cigarettes and talking trash.

As we walked along we’d seen periodic clumps and piles of horseshit. So we knew there were horses around somewhere. What we didn’t expect, was that when Golfworld ended on the right, Horseworld began. First we noticed a dirt clearing, ringed with trailers, including a few horse trailers. Then we saw stables. A double row of little red barn stables with horse’s heads sticking out on both sides, looking at each other. I pictured all the horses gossiping among themselves. Horseworld went on and on. We saw a little caretaker’s house with a fenced in yard. Circular fenced-in dirt exercise yards. Open areas big enough to host a rodeo. Another low red wooden building, like the Los Feliz Cafe, with tables and chairs outside, and a bunch of real live cowboys sitting out there, in vest and boots and cowboy hats. And the stables went on and on, dozens and dozens of them.

It was a whole, self-contained world right in the heart of a hip and fashionable section of the city, right across from Griffith Park, a whole world of horses, horse-owners and horse-tenders, cowboys and cowgirls. I’d never even known it existed before, but I could imagine that it’s central for those who inhabit it.

We finally saw a big wooden side painted with “River Ranch Stables, Boarding Only.” Later at home I googled that name and couldn’t find it. Instead I found The Paddock Riding Club, clearly the same place. The website said Under New Management. Sounds like they’re trying to up the snoot factor, lure a more upscale crowd, the horsey set out of Kentucky or something. But right now, they’ve got themselves some cowboys.

And this is one of the things I love most about LA. They say it’s not a real city, because it’s too spread out. But it’s very vastness contributes to its richness. It’s quality of worlds upon worlds within worlds overlapping other worlds. After almost thirty years here I’m still discovering these worlds. True, someone more ambitious and enterprising than I might have discovered more faster. But the point remains. There’s so much here to be discovered, mapped and explored.