Monday, April 30, 2018

For the Ducks

My first experience with the LA river was during a school trip that involved numerous failed pH tests and an astoundingly high number of cigarette butts. Though not the most pleasant description, I enjoyed the experience and looked forward to going again. The fact that this time I was expecting not only to clean up the LA river, but to collect trash to later use for art, was a two-fold source of interest for me. Unfortunately, I was unable to attend at available times and instead visited the Sepulveda Basin Wildlife Reserve.

I have been there a few times with my cousins––we make a habit of offering accented documentary commentary on the birds (primarily ducks) as they pass. They frequently walk ever so slightly faster as you approach in a facade of calm before taking off in a flustered panic. This time I went with my sister, the two of us equipped with gloves and a respective trash bag. As we maneuvered between the bushes to find more trash, we noticed traffic cones half submerged in water and a cluster of plastic bags plastered along the side of the creak. The ducks would sometimes approach only to quickly turn around and waddle across the dirt path to the larger lake.

I was pleasantly surprised to find little to no trash around the actual lake, a spot I used to eat sandwiches at with my cousins while our grandmother casually dropped nature facts. Perhaps it is wishful thinking, but I like to believe the cleaner lake area is due to the greater number of people congregating there (for example, a bird-watching group passed by with binoculars and near-identical hats). It seems there is environmental awareness among at least some Sepulveda Basin Wildlife Reserve patrons. This hypothesis is strengthened by the greater grouping of trash in less frequented areas without clear paths. There is hope for LA yet! Of course, the unexpectedly high number of food wrappers makes you wonder how much.

While admittedly not the expansive LA river, the Reserve still welcomes its share of visitors and like many (if not most) wildlife spots in Los Angeles, is in need of attention and care. I greatly enjoyed the opportunity to contribute to the cleanup effort and to specifically do so with my sister while an older gentleman talked about his favorite birds and offered us his binoculars should we like to join his birdwatching group (we did).

Rivers and Riches

            This past Saturday I had the opportunity to do my first L.A. River cleanup and got to fully understand the saying, "One man's trash is another man's treasure". As I entered the dirt road to find parking for the event I saw a huge line of volunteers of all ages eager to see change in the environment. The sun may have been weighing heavy on us all, but that didn't break anyone's spirit. The motivation to clean one of the staples of our beloved city was palpable in the air through the atmosphere created by volunteers. It was a very productive group of people who had bags filled to brim with including a little girl who was barely able to peak over her bag standing up. Aside from the devotion to the project, I could sense that it felt like a community project through little things such as strangers chatting as they were working, parents guiding their children through the rocks, and even a live musical performance in the heart of the river which was my favorite part. I felt as if I was part of this beautifully established community of nature protectors with my contribution of trash. The trash I found for the most part was quite average, but then I found this piece of concrete that has a checkered pattern on it which had me confused and intrigued so I took it home. Now, originally I meant it to be a part of my cool trash, but it didn't make the cut for our class project and I got to take it home and ever since then I have been wondering what the deal was behind this piece of trash. Everything there had a story and a worth that can be seen by the collector. There are so many great ways that a simple piece of trash can be something beautiful on display for all to see- as exemplified through our class art project. The experience overall was pretty fun and although I didn't see the conventional roaring rapids of a river I was still able to see an overflowing amount of kindness and consideration for what we know as the L.A. River.

Art and the LA River

Saturday, April 21, 2018

My class and I, alongside my professor, her husband, and her cute little dog, went to the FOLAR clean up. And if you do not have any idea on what FOLAR stands for, it means "Friends of the Los Angeles River." If you want me to be honest, our original motive for attending this clean up was to meet the honors college objective number 1, which is to basically be civically engaged in our community. However, by the end of this clean up everyone realized that this was a huge contribution to our local community because the amount of trash in this river, is probably enough trash to fill up 10 huge dumpsters or more!!!! Lets be honest here, that's an insane amount of trash....

Over the course of this clean- up, professor Jenny assigned to us one task. This task was while picking up the trash, we set aside interesting pieces that we can use for an art project. ( Well, would it really be considered trash then?) I guess some of my classmates took it literal when she said interesting because one student brought back a dead fish. HOW DISGUSTING!!!?? Besides this disturbing item there was simple things like old chips backs, and marbles. Quite frankly, I couldn't find anything that was deemed cool or good. How sad right ? HAHAHA! At least I managed to collect one full plastic bag of trash. This bag included but was not limited to chip bags, bow ties, a duffle bag, a blanket, and even a glass frame of some sort.

Overall, this was an amazing experience, but yes I do mind doing it again, only because it was super hot and yucky. This was definitely a different experience for me because the type of community service I take part in, involves sitting in fancy chairs in the Senate or House building in D.C, advocating for the youth in my community.  I did learn that, art is everywhere around you. Like literally everywhere and can be seen in the most rarest forms. And you wont view it as art until you change your perception and definition of what art really is!
Image result for folar logo

L.A. River Clean-Up

This was both my very first river clean-up and my first time stepping foot in the L.A. River as opposed to traveling alongside it. Tons of people were there, so I felt like that helped a lot in the environmental difference that we were trying to make. Personally, I had a lot of fun with the river clean-up because not only was I performing a good civic service in my community, but I was also looking for trash that could be recycled as art or put together to make a work of art.
From this clean-up, I learned that the L.A. River holds more trash than I previously assumed and that a lot of homeless people live along the river or leave their past belongings in the river. I also came to understand the "river smell" that everyone was talking about because by the time that I had gotten home after the clean-up, I could smell it all over my clothes. Lastly, I learned that trash in the L.A. River will almost always be there, and even though we have these days where the community will reach out in a joined effort to remove that trash, it will most likely be replenished within the next few days.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

A City of Its Own

FoLAR Clean-Up 2018

When I first heard about the objective of having to go clean the LA River, I could say that I was definitely excited to find trash that I could eventually use to create a sculpture of some sort- making what was once classified as garbage, now art. Looking back, however, when I learned about this activity, I never thought about cleaning the LA River as a way to further help preserve the environment we Angelenos live in, instead, I simply thought of this as a way to explore my artistic creativity.

The overall experience of going to clean the LA River was emotionally rewarding such that it felt good to put in my time and effort to do my part and help clean a significant area in the city. Secondly, I think what made it even more rewarding is that the next day was Earth Day- so even though I could only help by cleaning a few bags worth of trash, I feel like I did my part to help clean LA and the Earth as a whole.

On a different note, when we went down into the basin to begin cleaning the river, I expected to find plastic bottles, plastic bags and other trash of that sort, yet, while walking along the river bank, I came across all sorts of tattered clothing which is what inspired me to build a person out of the trash. Some of the clothes we found were simple pants or shirts but we also found a wedding dress, which I interpreted as the river to serve as a home for its own personal community- in which to an extent is true. The items of clothing were all representative of different people. Unlike my interpretation of the trash that I found, there are actual people that live in the river basin and I think that is a significant observation I made as the streets and the 48 miles for which LA river runs are home to the underprivileged communities in Los Angeles.

I'm grateful to have gone to participate in this event, and if possible, I'd like to continue going to help clan this city but also learn more about the culture that lies within.

Art and the LA River

The theme of this class is art, especially in how it pertains to Los Angeles. Prior to arriving at the clean up, I mainly thought about the LA River in the context of art as the project that we would be doing. We were told to pick up cool pieces of trash because we were going to make an art piece out of it. But once I arrived at the Bowtie Parcel, I was a little bit early, so I went into the River Truck / Museum (I forget what it was called). Basically, it was a little exhibit in an RV-type vehicle that told the history of the Los Angeles River and the plans for renovation. It was in this exhibit that I saw other ways that the river and FOLAR can be seen as art.

Firstly, the founding of FOLAR was sparked by performance art. The exhibit said that the three founders of FOLAR trespassed by cutting a hole in a chain-link fence and declared the river open to the public, and this performance art piece lead to the creation of FOLAR. In this way, art is a part of the history of FOLAR which determines the future of the river.

Secondly, one of the founders, Lewis MacAdams, is an artist himself through poetry. He sees the river restoration as a long-term art project, calling it "40 Year Art Work." This made me see the restoration and the river in new ways as well. Looking at the pictures of the future LA River, I see extravagant designs, futuristic architecture, playgrounds and bikepaths, beautiful green space, etc. The design plans themselves are like artwork, but once implemented, they will make the river its own piece of art. Cleaning and revitlizaing it will make the Los Angeles River into "Los Angeles art."

By going to the clean up and "greening up" the river as a class, we are artists in the "40 Year Art Work." We are the artists contributing to the masterpiece that will be the LA River.

Saturday, April 28, 2018

From Kayaking to Cleaning

As someone who has kayaked and cleaned the L.A. River before it always shocks me the amount of trash (mainly plastic) that collect along the riverbed.  Since the "ban" on plastic bags there are less shopping bags in the river but the amount of plastic from food and other products remains consistent.  One reason I believe the river is home to so much trash is that very few L.A. natives are aware of the state of the river and that it actually functions like a river.  While not all of the trash comes from the city a large portion of the trash comes from street drainage that leads to the river and ultimately the ocean.  While we see "No Dumping" signs every day if you don't see where the trash goes it is merely a suggestion instead of a rule to most people.

Some changes that I have seen in the past years include the number of homeless encampments along the river.  I started doing the clean up when I was in elementary school nearly ten years ago.  Although I have not gone every year I have seen an increase in the number of homeless encampments in the river and it is a sad reminder of the poverty in L.A.  I've also seen positive changes at the river.  Since my family started doing the cleanup I have seen more wildlife and vegetation in the river and when we kayaked down sections of the river a few years ago I noticed that many fish and birds have returned to the river.  Another change, and perhaps the best one, I have seen is the amount of people that attend the river clean up.  FOLAR has done an amazing job of organizing the clean up and providing materials to all the participants.  I have at least five FOLAR t-shirts and can remember years when I was able to take two since the attendance was low.  This year the clean up was packed and it was nice to see so many people from different companies and backgrounds come together and do something good for the community.

To sum it all up the FOLAR river clean up is always a good opportunity to see a new side of L.A. and give back to the community.  The river clean up really opens your eyes to magnitude and diversity of the city and is a great way to get involved without traveling too far.