Monday, July 19, 2010

How a River Makes You Free

I imagine that since time immortal curious people who have come upon a riverway have asked, 'I wonder where it goes.'  This certainly has been a question that has led to lot of my personal explorations.

Americans love to talk about freedom, and nothing is freer than a natural river course flowing through the countryside or urban landscape. It's also usually free (no cost) to wander along its river banks while observing nature, creating art (music, plein air painting, photography, video), recreating (bicycling, golfing, horseback riding), meditating (yoga, tai chi) or picnicking with friends.

Rivers teach us so much about the flow of life, if we stop by their shores and contemplate enough about the ecosystem of which they are the centerpiece. Lessons like the power of gravity, the tremendous change achieved over a long period of time (tree growth, worn rock, eggs to tadpoles to frogs), and the 'moods' of water (angry, raging flows ~ bubbling brooks ~ languid glassy weirs).

In fact, much of America was 'discovered' as explorers followed riverways to see where they led. The Lewis & Clark Expedition to the Northwest Passage is a great example.

In modern times, though, we've put down roots and harnessed the power of the rivers for our drinking water, transportation corridor, and sanitation needs.

Often lost in our attempts to be 'civilized' is giving ourselves permission to be free. Because virtually all communities are established next to rivers, accessing river trails, bridges, and river parks is usually pretty easy.

And that is one of the great joys of the Arroyo Seco in Southern California.  For much of its 26+ mile journey from the Angeles National Forest to its confluence with the Los Angeles River, the Arroyo Seco is free and accessible by foot, horseback or bicycle.

Its northernmost shores are natural riparian habitat, with plenty of shade trees, song birds, and small wildlife, creating a bucolic idyll in the midst of the City of Pasadena and surrounding areas.

Its central shores focus on recreation with the Rose Bowl, soccer fields, and three golf courses providing outdoor fun within view of the river's edge, often overlooked because of the concrete channel in which it now flows. Yes, The Arroyo Seco, which flows through Brookside Golf Course, is even a water hazard and intrepid 'fishermen' are often seen retrieving golf balls from its stream.

Along the lower channelized Arroyo Seco in Los Angeles, there's the chance to walk/bicycle right next to the streambed along the approxinmately 2 mile Arroyo Seco Bikeway that connects York Blvd. to Avenue 43 via the river. (See my July 12, 2009 post on the Bikeway)

Yes, the river truly opens us to our free-est selves when we meander its shores. Yet none of us will truly be free until all our rivers flow free as well.  And that's why I work so hard to restore our urban riverways to their natural states.

Have you visited your river recently?

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