Monday, June 15, 2009

Touch the Water Before It's Too Late!

Last weekend, my friend and I discovered the bowtie parcel of the Los Angeles River and found ourselves among the 'full house' of theatre goers for the LA River Play, Touch the Water.

This production by Cornerstone Theater was a surprisingly well-written and well-acted outdoor presentation, with quality audio and an amazing four piece band where I swear every musician was playing three or four different instruments each, including the accordian.

Touch the Water includes an interesting mixed cast of both professional singers/actors as well as community amateurs whose skills mesh together to tell the tale of living along the Los Angeles River in its current concrete prison. Through dialogue and song, the play recalls the River's natural history and verdant role in supporting indigeneous residents and later Angelenos

As I watched the sun set just prior to the play's opening, I couldn't help but wonder how Dan Turner's op-ed in the June 3rd LA Times might have turned out if he had actually gotten off the bike path and experienced the river through this play.

Sadly, what Turner and other naysayers miss is that there are compelling reasons why the Los Angeles River needs to be and will be restored. Unfortunately, many of these reasons deal with critical water transport shortages, sanitation TMDLs, and the heat island effect on a City where 34% of all surfaces are impervious materials ~ not the type of sexy issues that tend to garner the attention of the average Angeleno.

This is why poets like Lewis MacAdams of Friends of the Los Angeles River and other artists try to speak to our souls about the importance of urban nature and a restored ecosystem that can holistically support a thirsty region of 16 million residents while providing access to the outdoors in an era of extreme housing density.

Turner's piece ironically comes at the time of the death of cultural historian, Thomas Berry, one of the first thinkers who advocated that Earth's ecological crisis was in fact a crisis of the human spirit. I share Berry's philosophy and have observed throughout my life how individuals, families, and animals/birds of all kinds seem more at peace when they Touch the Water.

One of the sad legacies of early 21st Century California living is the almost total disconnect that most people, like Turner, have with the natural systems of our community. When I moved to Los Angeles almost 30 years ago, I was shocked to find both the River channelized and all schoolyards with asphalt, since this was so foreign to my Midwestern upbringing. In the ensuing years, I've sadly noticed that the friendly, laid-back personality of Angelenos has deteriorated, too, into a sort of 'Do Unto Others Before They Do Unto You' credo, underlined both by a massive population increase and a focus on secularist lifestyles in wealthier neighborhoods. (In fairness, some of this attitude is beginning to change because of the impact of our current financial difficulties.)

Happily, for 90 short minutes last weekend, I was able to sit among the stars (nature's ones), feel the cool breeze of the River on my face, and share the love that many of us have for connecting with the land and water that still underlys this great urban experiment.

I invite all of you to hurry over to see Touch the Water before it closes on June 21st. It's the best kind of play to go to: no need to dress up, there's free parking, and your admission is on a donation basis. I don't recommend the play for children under 14 due to some adult language and situations, but it's a real treat for those of us who love the river and those who want to learn how to love the river. Reservations here:

I want to hear from you, too, about how communing with water ~ both through the River Play and from direct experience along the LA River and the Arroyo Seco ~ has touched your spirit.

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