Several years ago I took a guided tour of the L.A. River, which runs from Canoga Park to Long Beach and cuts a mostly unseen, mostly unremarked upon, largely under-utilized (though all that has been changing) 51-mile swath through the city. I kept telling myself I was going to go back, but for whatever reason(s), I hadn't since.
Then, one afternoon last week, a friend who walks along the river frequently said "Let's go," so we did, and I couldn't believe how lush and magical it was down there! The sun was shining, and a breeze was riffling the water, and all over were birds! Cormorants, egrets, mallard ducks, great blue herons. Floating, soaring, cawing, perching on rocks, skimming over the water. Also little red crayfish, like miniature lobsters, with spotted claws, schools of small black darting fish, and many half-submerged mud-covered golf balls from the nearby Los Feliz 3-Par Golf Course.
We poked sticks into the shallows, and jumped over puddles, and marveled over the flight of the great blues...
Just as we were almost back to our starting point we came upon a little man who was feeding a giant flock of pigeons, their sleek purple-green heads forming a kind of thrillingly iridescent sea. Whether we startled them, or the man gave a sign, or it was St. Francis himself come to bestow a blessing, as if with one mind the birds suddenly with a sedate flapping of wings rose, wheeled left, up, around and back, narrowly missing our heads, and settled down again, and then for good measure, did the same thing once more. It was incredible to see so many arrow-like bodies performing their pigeonly maneuvers in unison, regimental and balletic at the same time.
Later I thought about how the river was like being two places at once: in the city, with the semis rolling by above, and in the wilderness, down below with the grebes; on earth, with plastic bags snagged on the reeds, and in heaven, where the birds fly free; in time, where every afternoon eventually ends, and in eternity, where we walk--let us hope--forever with a Friend.
I went back the next night, alone: vespers with the herons.