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Commentary: The friendly stream that became a runaway terror

Commentary: The friendly stream that became a runaway terror
Inveterate local hiker Reg Green notes the Arroyo Seco did not live up to its name on the weekend of Feb. 2 and 3, when heavy rains deluged the area. (Reg Green)

The Los Angeles basin. How clever our predecessors were to find so appropriate a name — and we’re awash in it.

On the other hand, those same clever people named another prominent feature in our community the Arroyo Seco. Hmm.

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You should have seen it last Sunday morning. I know you didn’t because for once on a Sunday it was empty. No joggers, no children, no couples out for a stroll.

I did see one other hiker dressed up like a man outfitted for a climb up Niagara Falls, but even he confessed he was there only because his dog had insisted — and she looked as though she was regretting the whole idea.

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We had by then had studio rain for a full day and it was still pouring — steadily, heavily, sullenly.

There are two convenient ways into this valley that I know of. One starts near the Jet Propulsion Lab. where it opens — or dare I say, debouches — onto the plain and this is where most people start. It is a gradual climb, the gurgling water alongside.

This is the only year-round stream for the whole massive bowl of mountains in our area, but so sparse is the rainfall from May through October (non-existent would be closer to it) that even from such a huge catchment area the stream is so modest for most of the year that you catch just glimpses of it through the thick woods.

The other way in is a test even for the fit. It starts from the road to Palmdale at the point where the very last houses in Greater Los Angeles stand. From there driving north there is virtually no habitation for 40 miles. The way down into the valley is a dirt road, steep enough that you are having to hold back the entire mile to the river. It’s even steeper coming back.

It has always been fissured, but the recent rains have dramatically widened and deepened every weak spot on the surface. I stood in one brute of a crevasse more than 3 feet deep and nearly 2 across with water pouring into it and scouring it deeper still as I watched. An unwary step as you tried to skirt it could have you in the emergency room with multiple fractures, whenever the next person came that way to take you there, perhaps in a few hours, perhaps the next day.

But it was the river itself that turned a testing hike into an adventure. Normally it moves along at the speed not much different from that of a man walking; a week or so ago after the first bout of heavy rain it had turned into a man running; after the latest downpour it was like a stampede of wild horses, with a power almost impossible to reconcile with its usual self, like a kindly uncle who suddenly takes a meat cleaver out of his vegan shopping bag.

As I stood there and looked at the 1,000-foot valley sides towering upwards, the tops lost in the clouds, water streaming everywhere, and reflected that only a week or two ago everything looked parched and dried up I marveled, as I have done literally hundreds of times before, at the diversity all round us. As Louis Armstrong sang, “What a wonderful world.”

Reg Green lives in La Cañada. His latest book is “90 And Not Dead Yet.”

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