Why creeks – a personal view

September 21, 2008 § 3 Comments


What shapes our understanding of the world, of LA?

What shapes our understanding of the world, of LA?

My last post, Rivers Lost to City, noted that we’ve been losing creeks for a long time. In fact, so many have been literally buried in the last century that most angelenos don’t even realize we ever had streams, much less that some still exist, and as a native I can also say that it’s hard to understand why it even matters.  In a city that has so many problems, why put time into this one?  

The answer for that will be highly individual, I can give you some institutional reasons, but will start with a personal one, which may take on the tone of a tent revival confessional.  

I grew up in Hawthorne, and as a kid never experienced nature there.  Hawthorne had some good people, but my impression of it was marked by a sterile landscape of front lawns and hostile grey streets, bullies & gangs, cruising perverts.  A mask of boredom concealed fear and anger.  My inheritance from this place was a desire for structure, safety, walkability, and beauty.  These things were interpreted within the limits of my experience, as they are for all of us, and I sought a career in architecture to manifest them.

The best days of my childhood were completely disconnected from this, spent in a creek in Kentucky, that ran next to my grandfather’s house.  We splashed, swam, caught tree frogs, dodged copperheads and imaginary cottonmouths, clambered along steep ledges, and tried to fish.  We’d collect fossils and old bricks that we found in the creek, screeching and oohing and ahhing over all the discoveries and stimulations of the place.  But that was Kentucky, there was nowhere here I knew of to transfer those vivid moments.

So fast-forwarding a bit, learning of a creek in Hancock Park touched something deep, and amidst the upwelling of questions about what LA was before we paved it, and how we came to make the decision to bury so many of our waterways, was a real sadness tinged with outrage, to think that there could have been places here for youthful exploration and escape, for me and so many other children. And indeed earlier generations have those memories and connections. This is vital, for it is through this play and discovery that we understand and interpret the world around us, relate to other creatures as beings with their own integrity, purpose, and right to exist, and perhaps most importantly, come to know what it means to feel alive. 

I won’t deceive you, I still have enough Hawthorne-infused cynicism to believe that creeks in our urban neighborhoods, like every other unsupervised place in the city, could become a dumping ground for illicit activity, and that they pose unique hazards of their own.  And so we obviously need to be vigilant and wise about how we introduce our children to waterways, and how we conduct ourselves.  

But creeks connect high and low, they unite neighbors, like the folks in Brookside Estates, who love and tend to their little creek in Hancock Park. They sustain life to a wide array of plants and animals, including us. Creeks are as old as the land itself, their vitality and character are essential to the sense of place so many long for in Los Angeles.

Do you love a creek?  Would you like to protect and restore our creeks?  Tell us!  


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§ 3 Responses to Why creeks – a personal view

  • alisray says:

    I enjoyed the post immensely. We are lucky enough to have a creek on our property here in rural NC. We have been treated to the sight of beaver, wood ducks and herons that we would otherwise have been without. But it was your story of the creeks of your childhood in your grandparents’ Kentucky that really struck a chord with me. Because it brought back memories of the tea-colored waters around the Ouachita River in central Arkansas, because that’s where the memories of fishing with my grandfather took place. And there, the water moccasins were quite real.

    Many thanks.

  • jishica says:

    Wonderful alisray! I envy you your creek and memories…even the water moccasins. Thanks for posting.

  • Deirdre says:

    We have a stream at the bottom of our farm. No snakes, but hand length little black eels and sprats. I have very happy memories of my sisters and I playing there in the dappled light.
    I remember the first time I visited LA, the last stop on a wonderful holiday down Route 1, I was shocked and saddened I was to see the LA river on its sterile, concrete course. As an international tourist, it gave me a very negative impression of LA. I’m delighted you and your group exsist to hopefully reverse the trend.

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