Column: A hike to L.A.’s Wisdom Tree calms post-election nerves. And the view is perfect

Hikers visit the Wisdom Tree in Griffith Park on Wednesday.
(Christina House/Los Angeles Times)

The modern-day vote counting process is not easy on the nerves, is it?

You’d think that in the digital age, in which you can take your own EKG in 30 seconds and have sushi delivered in 30 minutes, there’d be a faster system in place. But instead we’re forced into limbo as the fate of the city and nation hang in the balance while votes are tabulated.

Could be days before we know what’s what. Might be weeks.

But the sun returned after the storm had passed — just our luck that in a drought-stricken city, we get torrents on election day, of all days — so I decided to go for a walk the day after the polls closed.

Los Angeles resident Brian Park takes a break after hiking to the Wisdom Tree in Griffith Park.
(Christina House/Los Angeles Times)

And not just any walk.

There’s a tree in Griffith Park that’s known as the Wisdom Tree. People go there to think, dream, find inspiration, maybe pray for a candidate or a political healing. There’s a pad and pen next to the tree, and you can leave notes if you like, or read the musings of others.

Times photographer Christina House and I parked on Lake Hollywood Drive and walked up to Wonder View Drive, which leads to the trailhead. The hike is steep, curvy and rocky — I rate it three ibuprofen on a scale of one to five — but I’d been to the top before and knew the trek would be worth the effort.

Philip John, a personal trainer, passed us on the way down and said he’d voted for Rick Caruso for mayor of Los Angeles. He just has confidence that the shopping mall developer can deliver.

A few hundred yards up the mountain, I asked Ray Massara who he’s pulling for.

Ray Massara of Burbank chats about election day while hiking in Griffith Park.
(Christina House/Los Angeles Times)

“I’m pulling for democracy, that’s the big issue,” he said. “Right behind that, this planet. All the other BS doesn’t matter. But democracy is on the line … there are still so many people who believe liars. When two and two doesn’t equal four anymore, there is no discussion. You just gotta throw your hands up in anguish.”

I felt a bit guilty. This poor guy went out into the sunshine to enjoy the wonder of the natural world, and I pulled him right back to the grim reality that a bottomless crack runs through the republic.


The combination of stakes and suspense might make you feel a little anxious. Uncertainty stresses us out, but there are ways to manage it.

Nov. 10, 2022

The next man descending the trail, Erik Godal, said homelessness is the big issue and he voted for Karen Bass. And as for Caruso, “I’m not a fan. I’m tired of hearing Sinatra music.”

For those who have not been to the Grove or Americana on Brand, that’s a reference to the piped-in Rat Pack music. I don’t mind it myself, but if Caruso wins, will we get “My Way” and “Come Fly With Me” on a soundtrack loop at City Hall?

“I don’t have a lot of faith in billionaires in general coming in and saying they can take care of all types of issues,” Godal added.

A couple from Canada came crunching down the trail. A family from the Czech Republic was headed up. You can follow the path all the way to Cahuenga Peak and the Hollywood sign, the block-lettered magnet that pulls people in from around the world.

I had to stop a few times to catch my breath and tighten the bolts in my rebuilt knees, but the higher you go, the better the view. It just keeps unraveling, like a sprawling 3-D photo album. Lake Hollywood glistened, downtown L.A. sprouted skyscrapers and Santa Monica Bay was painted with sunlight.

Notebooks sit beneath the Wisdom Tree in Griffith Park.
(Christina House/Los Angeles Times)

At the summit, the payoff was worth more than the $100-million Caruso spent on his campaign — a panoramic postcard of Los Angeles, with distant clouds to frame the picture. You can see Santa Catalina Island bobbing in the Pacific, the San Fernando Valley stretching to eternity, the cranes rising over the Port of Long Beach.

Up here, you float above the traffic and trouble, and the city is nothing but possibility from mountain to sea. You can’t see potholes or tents, you can’t hear petty division or the ugly words of City Hall scandal.

Up here, you can reset, take a deep breath, feel your heartbeat.

The Wisdom Tree, which survived the devastating Barham fire of 2007, stands as deeply rooted and resilient as ever, like the last soldier in the war against the planet.

A torn United States flag overlooks Los Angeles the day after Election Day, at the end of a trail near the Wisdom Tree
A torn United States flag overlooks Los Angeles the day after the election, at the end of a trail near the Wisdom Tree in Griffith Park.
(Christina House/Los Angeles Times)

An American flag is planted on the plateau, its fabric torn as if to make a point. It flapped over a young man who sat on a stool of neatly stacked stones, silently taking in the glory of the continent’s union with the sea.

“I just love the Wisdom Tree and I feel like every time I come up here, good things happen,” said Brian Park, who lives not far from the Grove and favors Caruso for mayor.

L.A. County generally releases new vote totals only twice a week. That allows for more substantial updates, rather than incremental ones ‘where things are bouncing back and forth,’ the county’s top voting official said.

Nov. 10, 2022

He said he was a pitcher on the baseball team at Mt. San Antonio College and is hoping to get recruited to a Division 1 team — USC would be his dream school. On his last visit to the peak, he said, he made an entry in the notebook that sits under the Wisdom Tree.

“Just my goals, what I was looking forward to,” Park said.

In the past, the notebook has dangled from a branch of the tree in a bag, for protection, and miraculously, fresh notebooks replace old ones. I don’t know what happens to the filled notebooks, but it’s worth a return trip or two so I can try to solve the mystery.

This time, two notebooks lay on the ground under the tree, along with a few pens. The pages were soaked from the rain, but you could still make out some of the words in bleeding ink.

Someone who signed simply as C wrote this: “Wisdom Tree … Please allow me to live my life and yours next to the love of my life. Please give her happiness and health because I wish to marry her .…”

“We are all so very lucky to appreciate the beauty of the Wisdom Tree” and the “glorious view to help clear the mind & head,” wrote G. “Let’s all respect nature and keep her clean & take care of Mother Earth’s resources for our children & their children.”

A signer named Barbara quoted Shakespeare, scrawling a message to be heeded by all of us, including those who hold office and those who stand next in line, waiting for the votes to be counted.

“Be great in act as you have been in thought,” Barbara wrote.

She added this:

“Love and compassion is the best chance we’ve got.”