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02/16/2011: "In the Heart of the City"
LA River, Frogtown, seen from the bike path
Click to enlarge
Even in the heart of the city, a few short miles from downtown, in a channel lined with old houses, small factories, railyards, and freeways, beauty persists.

This is the much-maligned Los Angeles River, which I rode along yesterday on my way home from South Pasadena. This section of bike path opened only a few weeks ago, and it almost immediately became my preferred route for the return half of my usual Tuesday journey.

It's far from perfect beauty--I cropped the concrete banks out of the picture, and the white flecks you see are styrofoam cups, the debris of drive-through culture--but perfect beauty is far less interesting than that symphonic elegance that "grace under pressure" composes out of a tension of opposites. (Hemingway used the phrase to define courage, but I think it serves admirably to describe as well the persistence of natural harmonies even in a most unnatural setting.)

The river persists, with its lives small and large, from bugs, fish, and birds to the arching trees that grow in the river bottom.

The water table is high here, and the river couldn't be completely paved, so we have these miles of grace, now accessible to almost all by means of the bike path.

It makes a good fast trip as well, faster than the parallel streets, with their intersections and red lights.

The path is far from perfect too: I wrote on the Flying Pigeon LA blog a little while ago to complain that there are no street signs to let you know where on the path you are, except at the biggest boulevards. I suspect that will be corrected eventually.

Meanwhile, it's still a great new path. I wish it went all the way to downtown, and probably it will someday, as well as onward to the path that starts a few miles south of the city center and continues on to Long Beach at the mouth of the river. At least it's another increment in the (very) slow process that began back in the '70s, when the first section of riverside bike path was put in. I'll enjoy it now, while hoping (and working) for more in the near future.

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