The L.A. River is one of those fascinating things I keep meaning to learn more about but never quite get around to, like Spanish, or ironing. Here it is, running through and named after the second-largest city in the U.S., like it’s some kind of big deal. But the first time you actually see it, part of you dies. It kinda seems like a sick joke to even call it a river, since for most of its length, it’s a narrow, shallow trickle through a concrete bed. Yes, concrete. Wide, sloping banks of graffitied concrete, bleak enough to fit nicely into any near-future urban dystopia you might encounter.
But sometimes you learn stuff without trying. Yesterday I was scoping out my favorite birding patch along the river when I saw some splashing in my peripheral. Thinking it might be a duck, I spun around with impressive speed to get my binos on it. But… well, it weren’t no duck. WTF? Some sort of horrid sea creature… possibly a young kraken.
Or, OK… on closer inspection, it turned out to be a fish. And there were others. In water that couldn’t be more than two inches deep, these fat fish were fighting their way upstream…. to spawn?

So I’m no wildlife biologist, but I’m pretty sure I’ve seen all the relevant episodes of Marty Stouffer’s Wild America (hilarious website BTW), and this type of thing is supposed to happen in Alaska. You take one of those sketchy-ass biplanes with a salty old pilot who doesn’t let on how scared he is about the storm that’s coming, but then he lands you safely and wishes you good luck, and you hike for ten days to get to the perfect spot where Grizzly Bears and Bald Eagles are all over the place, eating just the eyeballs off millions of dying post-coital salmon. That’s just how it works.

This trickle through a trash heap, in the shadow of a major, gridlocked freeway, surely could not be the setting for one of nature’s great spectacles. But it was. (Sort of.)
Back home, a quick bit of googling confirmed that this was a real thing (cool blog BTW). The fish were non-native carp, and from the sound of it, some of them actually succeed in making it to a lake upstream. God knows it ain’t easy. Out of the dozen or so fish that I watched, a couple of them seemed to just give up and head back downstream on purpose.
Well, you gotta know your limits. Other clichés illustrated by these fish include “Where there’s a will, there’s a way,” and “When life hands you lemons, make lemonade.” You see, the degraded river is the lemons, and spawning is the lemonade. My not seeing any blog-worthy birds is also lemons, and blogging about spawning and trash-rivers is lemonade. You, lucky reader, are the customer at my lemonade stand, only I’m giving the lemonade away for free. And if you think taking free lemonade from a random dude in Los Angeles is a good life choice…. well, I’ve got a gorgeous river to show you sometime.


03/22/2013 2:57pm

Giving up's for chumps. Let none of us ever be like that second carp.

03/22/2013 3:17pm

I don't know. They say discretion is the better part of valor. Maybe it just decided staying home to catch up on Game of Thrones was a more rational choice than risking its life for a quick lay.


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