Thursday, July 16, 2015
Fryman Canyon LA
Los Angeles has a series of pocket parks that run along both sides of the Hollywood and Beverly Hills ridgeline. If you look at a map they seem to hang from Mulholland drive - flanking green patches scattered between the massif of Griffith Park and the immensity of the Santa Monica preserve west of the 405.
If all you did was drive by them, you'd never know they were there.
I didn't for years.
They're Godsends. Public space hidden within the tightly guarded real estate of West LA.
They're great because once you're inside them you can smell California and not California traffic.
California flora when it bakes in the sun for weeks and months has a kind of intoxicating tang. It's neither sweet nor acrid, it's a little of both. Some eucalyptus oil poured over cooked desert flowers and the rich bark of live oaks. The air warmed with this atomized duff.
And because there's so little water, scent is reduced to what it actually is - an inhalant, particles of things, living and dead, coating the lining of your mouth and your nose. Which all seems a little creepy, but California's creepy. It's an absurdly beautiful and absurdly cruel landscape. It's attractive and dangerous. It's rich beyond measure and dumbfoundingly wasteful. And you read all this in a glance. As was said about a famous Hollywood magnate "he won't stab you in the back he'll stab you in the chest." So goes the Golden State.
The same thing occurs when you first cross the Mojave, or see El Capitan, or crest the Tehachapi pass and there's the Central Valley, or stand beneath the surf at Half Moon Bay, or enter a room at Universal with 10 executives who control your fate and a network that spans the globe....the reaction is twofold... "my God what power". And ...."I'm gonna die here."
But in a tiny twisting little park, hanging off the back of the Hollywood Hills, cut between estates and cul de sacs you can enjoy California lite and get a decent work out among shrubbery and trees that once in awhile obscure the fact you are dead center of a 7 million person metropolis.
Which is something that always astounds me.
I was on the return leg of my loop and, for 30 minutes, I saw and passed no one.
Not a single person.
I can't quite wrap my head around this fact; that you can still find yourself alone in LA, or New York, or San Fran or any of these mega cities, it just doesn't seem likely, but then there you are, following a trail, riding thru Central Park at 10 pm, crossing the Golden Gate in a decent wind, and somehow you are the only one there.
It's a gift. A little grace parceled out to each city and I suppose if you seek enough your karma it sometimes finds you.
At the far end of my loop I'd gone searching for a special spot, a sort of box canyon some friends had shown me years before. You had to climb past what supposedly was George Clooney's old house lined with security cameras, and then up a steep staircase, weave along a trail which ran below more mansions, one of which was the beauty built by Jennifer Aniston for Brad Pitt that ended up being the empty shell built to honor Angelina Jolie's beauty. But 3/4's of a mile on you'd find a place where water almost always ran, real water not sewage, coming off the escarpment of LA and creating a tiny tropical corner. Maybe half an acre but in there everything is green. The eucalyptus trees are 100 feet tall, the Oaks three people at the base couldn't get their arms around. The place seems just a little bit like home, back East, where parks should have trees and trees and trees not just scrub.
It was still there, still green, or "greenish" as California's drought has turned all its dirt to a dust as fine as sand on the moon and its plant life into a kind of kindling, but the stream was running and the leaves on the ground were alive. I felt like I was in a borrowed version of Frick Park, the city park in Pittsburgh I most like to pretend I can still get lost in. So I lingered, I saw the remains of a rope swing my friends and I had used 10 years before, laughing that we still loved this shit at our age. I wanted to grab it now.
And then George Clooney walked by.
I looked up when I heard someone coming toward me. Saw an older man, pretty fit, knee braces, silver back hair, led by one of those fabulous dogs only the coolest people keep- half husky, half something with half an ear gone and one eye blue, one yellow. A dog that looks like it's always smiling. And a dog that looks like it could drag you out of a crevasse.
Of course it wasn't Clooney it was that other guy who looks like Clooney but even more like an ex football player from the 70s, not quite big enough but bigger than you, the duller Clooney clone who didn't quite get the parts - you'd know him if you saw him.
I said something like "Now that's a dog." and the guy half smiled and I thought, yeah I'm wearing my Steeler's shirt and either you get "GO PITTSBURGH!!!!" or you get that quiet jealous smirk from all the losers who somehow decided to throw in with Oakland or Dallas or Denver and he was one of the latter. So big deal.
And then I realized, No, he's not smiling because for a few minutes he'd been alone and blissful and then this dude showed up who looked like that actor from...."Well, you'd know him if you saw him", he probably told his wife when he got back.
I realized, we'd found each other and cancelled ourselves out.
I put my head down and made no sign I'd done the same thing everyone usually does to both of us.
Just another day in Los Angeles.