The Arcadia Woodlands: In Memoriam

January 14, 2011 § 11 Comments

A view into a cathedral-like canopy that exists only in memory as of Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Indulge my sorrow for a moment by pondering this: as a complex and regenerative living system, the Arcadia Woodlands did not have a date of birth. Yes, technically the site contained trees that could be counted and carbon dated to determine age, but this approach fails to take into account the perpetuity of life and death that had existed there for thousands of years. The Woodlands were born long before the human concept of birth, before our concept of tree. This dynamic ensemble of life bore witness to countless iterations of diversity and evolution. The Woodlands were, at one time, undoubtedly inhabited by species we will never have the opportunity to name. They were shaped by wind, water, fire, plate tectonics and natural selection, forces far beyond the influence of the minuscule Homo sapiens, the seldom-wise-but-often-arrogant man. Yet, in less than one day, this ecology that knows no time was irreverently reduced to a memory by a construction crew swinging steel arms, and by officials wielding twisted words and hasty pens.

What took centuries or, to be more accurate, millenia to grow was obliterated in a matter of hours.

As humans, we tend to attribute wisdom and knowledge exclusively to ourselves (you may thank Rene Descartes for this). However, despite the ever-present dichotomy of human and nature, the occupations of a tree might be considered ingenious were a person to do them all simultaneously. The hopelessly time-strapped individual would be burdened by the following to-do list:

  • Manufacture energy from sunlight at near-perfect efficiency
  • Manufacture oxygen and filter impurities in the air
  • Collect, store and cleanse water that falls as rain or passes by as stormwater
  • Support hundreds of species of animals (perhaps thousands of individuals) at once by manufacturing food and shelter
  • Provide shade and moderate surrounding temperatures
  • Build healthy soil by manufacturing organic fertilizer and by excavating pore spaces to promote air/gas exchange
  • Encourage insect pollination; disperse thousands of seeds after they are fertilized; provide shelter for children while alive and nourishment for children after death
  • Look pretty whilst completing all of the tasks above

DNA is the student and evolution is the teacher in the institution of arboreal scholarship. The wealth of accumulated local knowledge relating to climate, soil conditions, reproduction, interpersonal relationships with neighboring species, disease resistance, etc. stored in a single acorn would gobble up gigabytes faster than the county cuts trees. The decimation of such a botanical library is a felony perpetrated by individuals who will never face prosecution.

This self-sustaining, thriving oak woodland will be fed into the cold steel teeth of macninery that will digest it in a matter of seconds.

The tragic loss of the Arcadia Woodlands is exponentially compounded by the magnitude of complacency that led to this moment. The County of Los Angeles purchased the property in the 1950s for the purpose of “sediment placement”, parallel to the development of color television. The following six decades produced remarkable achievements: space exploration, the personal computer, the internet, cellular phones, the human genome project. Yet after more than half a century, time that could have been used to conceive of and implement a comprehensive, sustainable, long-term watershed management plan, officials were instead compelled to follow through on a short-sighted sixty-year-old plan with brutal and absolute force.

Ultimately, the responsibility for the destruction of the Arcadia Woodlands lies with the regulatory process. If residents and stakeholders can be blind-sided and misinformed by agencies that are in full compliance with applicable law, it is the law that must change. Short-cutters and convenience-seekers should not be afforded the opportunity to find shelter behind a statute of limitations. Citizens that pay the salaries of those in decision-making positions should have the right to unfiltered information relating to issues in their community, before equipment and vehicles are delivered to the construction site.

Let the irreplaceable assortment of life that perished on January 12, 2011 serve as an inspirational force toward developing a new land ethic.

At some point, while reporting developments and passing along information, I became personally invested in this. The experience of engaging and becoming enthralled with the Arcadia Woodlands (and the subsequent devastation of knowing they were gone) culminated in a single moment. At around 9:40AM on January 12th, the morning demolition began, I called Cam Stone for an update while I searched for a vantage point with a clear view toward the Woodlands. When I asked what was happening, he replied in a grief-stricken tone, “it’s happening, they’re doing it”. My heart sank and I immediately walked back to my car to make my way to the main gate where supporters and the media were gathered. As I started my car, the radio came on. The dial was tuned to the KCRW show Morning Becomes Eclectic, and I immediately heard a song that I had never heard before.

Some moments make you question the ironies of life and the very idea of coincidence. The only other musical correlative I have experienced is when Ozomatli released the album “Embrace the Chaos” on September 11, 2001. I became extremely emotional listening to the song and processing it all. After a bit of research later in the day, I found out that the song was a new release by the Decemberists called “Rise to Me“. The full album, The King is Dead, is scheduled for release this Tuesday (January 18th). The lyrics follow:

Big mountain, wide river
There’s an ancient pull
These tree trunks, these stream beds
Leave our bellies full

They sing out:
I am going to stand my ground
You rise to me and I’ll blow you down
I am going to stand my ground
You rise to me and I’ll blow you down

Supporters of the Arcadia Woodlands hold a candlelight vigil in memory of the oaks and sycamores that fell earlier in the day.

I would like to extend a sincere thank you to all of the individuals involved in the plight to save the Arcadia Woodlands, including Glen Owens (Monrovia Planning Commission) and David Czamanske (Sierra Club) who led the effort. This newly formed group of supporters will undoubtedly gain from this experience and galvanize once again to lead future efforts. Thanks to Matt Burch of the Arcadia Patch for covering the Arcadia Woodlands story in such depth from start to finish. Lastly, I reserve my biggest thanks for another leader of the effort, Cam Stone who, in sharing his childhood memories and taking us into the Woodlands, revived my spirits and realigned my focus.

Since demolition day, I have admittedly not followed much media coverage. I do not plan on visiting the site again, mainly because I want to remember it as it was. I have, however, compiled the links below from emails and quick Google searches. Unfortunately, the explosion of media coverage the Arcadia Woodlands finally received came as the carnage ensued, beyond the point of stopping it:


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