Monday, November 3, 2008

THE ROOTS OF URBAN WILD


On a camping trip to Idylwild, CA 1954. The little sharpshooter in the middle is me. (I have long since given up my fascination for firearms!)


My Pop--'the rockhound'--prospecting in the California desert early 1950s.


Mom at Camp Richardson, Lake Tahoe, CA (about 1959). My brother is on the right.

THE ROOTS OF URBAN WILD

I took some time to ruminate this weekend on just how I came to be such an outdoor nut. The answer was quite simple: my parents were outdoor nuts! My father grew up in Michigan, my mother in Vermont and New Hampshire. Both my parents have regaled me with stories of their outdoor adventures over the years. And back in their era, kids spent more time outside than most do now. (Heck, even when I was a kid, we spent more time outside than kids do now!)

Consequently, they entertained my brother and I often with activities that involved being outside. My earliest memory of camping was at age 4; though I am told I went camping when my mom was still pregnant with me. One of the photos above is from one such trip, to Idyllwild, with a neighbor family, when I was 4.

We kids were messing around the campsite, kicking up dust, and one of the parents said, “Why don’t you kids get lost?” So we did! We took this as permission to take off, and went rambling about in the forest for hours, and at dusk eventually ending up in town. There we were greeted by the local fire department and our parents who were worried sick. We’ve had many a chuckle over this as adults, but at the time I don’t think anyone thought it was too funny.

Subsequent trips to Idyllwild and Lake Tahoe over the years kept me very happy, as well as the weekend adventures in the Madrona Marsh area of Torrance, which is mostly now covered by the Del Amo Shopping Center (“They paved paradise, and put up a parking lot!”). Both my parents were casual bird watchers and taught us the more common ones, among them Meadowlarks, Red-winged Blackbirds, and Killdeer. I was given my first Peterson’s bird guide at age 12.

Getting outdoors is a healthy and important activity for children and my mom was a great proponent of fresh air. Consequently, we were allowed to roam long and far in search of adventure.

When we moved to the San Fernando Valley in 1964, I was devastated; I loved it in Torrance, where we were close to the beach. But Canoga Park grew on me, especially when I realized all the open space that was there at the northern end of Vanowen Street—nothing but fields and hills as far as I could see. I did a lot of wandering and horseback riding in those hills over the years and I’m glad I got to know them when I did, for they are mostly covered with houses now.

As an adult, I continued to prefer the outdoor life and often went camping with friends who were like-minded. Fortunately, there are many good places to go within reasonable driving distance of Los Angeles: Santa Ynez Valley, Sequoia, Lone Pine, Bishop, Big Bear, Joshua Tree, and Idyllwild to name but a few. It is, however, getting harder to find places that aren’t crawling with people with the same idea. And with people come noise, littering, and alas, sometimes violence.

But little bits of heaven can be found, such as hikes in Topanga Canyon and Whitney Canyon. I’ve been to both these places early in the morning and rarely seen many other people on the trails. Usually arriving early gets you some solitude—and it’s worth getting up early to get it.


And I have my parents to thank for all the great outdoor adventures they took us kids on. I was very lucky that they loved and appreciated all it had to offer. We may not have had a lot back then, but it felt like we owned the whole outdoors.

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