Just Another Thursday in L.A.

Antelope Valley Poppy Reserve

(Slideshow at end of post.)

Believe it or not, there is a long list of places I still want to visit here in L.A. While I do my best to make new experiences and visiting new places a priority, it seems that with each things-to-see-and-do I check off, I’m exposed to two new things-to-see-and-do to add to the list. One step forward. Two steps back. I’m not complaining. It’s a nice problem to have.

This past Thursday, I finally got to the Antelope Valley Poppy Reserve for the annual spring poppy bloom. I fully intended to hit up the place last year and even penned in a date with my neighbor, Raynee, on my calendar. But 2009 turned out to be a bad poppy year—low rain fall, high temps, and extreme wind—and by early April, the poppies were all, “I’m outta here.” The opportunity whizzed past us faster than a hummingbird heading for a feeder and Raynee and I were forced to cancel the excursion.

On the heels of a wonderful wildflower experience at Anza Borrego, I wasn’t necessarily going out of my way to make a special trip out the Poppy Reserve this year. It wasn’t until I was driving home on the 110 Freeway last week when I passed by a section of poppy clusters in full bloom on the side of the road (there unabashedly in all their beautiful construction-orange glory amongst bland trash, gray cyclone fencing, and black tar) that my intention was remembered. And then everything else seemed to fall in place...weather, wind (is that part of weather?), work (yes, I do work despite not working for the man). Next thing I knew, I was trying to decide if I should take the 14 Freeway or cut through the Angeles National Forest on San Francisquito Canyon Road to get to the Poppy Reserve and filling my hiking backpack with sunscreen, my journal, and lunch.

I fully expected to see “carpets of orange,” as the Reserve is often described as. Yet, when I did, when the first glimpse of the vast prairie-like valley merging into the hills hit my retina, it took my breath away and brought a tear to my eye. And I was completely taken back by this reaction. I knew it was coming but it still took me by surprise. I can sit here and try to describe the scenery to you but it will never, ever even come close to the real experience itself. So I won’t even try.

But there are two dizzying things I will try to impress upon you. The first is that with all that commanding orange and ostentatious goblet-like features of the poppy, there is a tendency to miss the less flashy, more subtle beauty at the reserve. And that would be a shame. A pure, Catholic shame. Once I realized that there was more to the Reserve than its beloved California poppy, I got dizzy from constantly refocusing my mind and senses on the other glorious details…a meadowlark’s call, a single silver puff flower (the only one I saw!) amongst hundreds of poppies, a painted lady butterfly enjoying the bounty, the seasonally orange belly of the western fence lizard (returning to ash-brown when the poppies die off), and the ladybug that perched on my knee while I ate my lunch. There were so many layers to the park to enjoy that a leisurely walk through just a small section of trail left you exhausted.

The second mind stirring event came when a section of poppies quivered for a brief 10 seconds. The Antelope Valley is known as a wind tunnel, completely immune to gentle breezes and instead home to unforgiving wind gusts that make Katrina look like a walk in the park. But on Thursday, the wind taking an unheard of break, the poppies suddenly stirred as something passed through and they made a sound like whispering grade schoolers discovering that chocolate milk was on the lunch menu. Or maybe it was more like the sound of rustling tissue paper as a bride opens her wedding gifts. In either case, it literally stopped me in my tracks and I waited for more. But it never came.

And that’s what I love about California; if you blink, you could miss something. And it’s that “what am I missing” feeling that compels me to explore, compels me to make a list I know I’ll never complete, compels me to seize an opportunity when I sense it, even if it means cancelling appointments and rescheduling my week, getting behind on work and writing projects, and driving three hours round trip for a four-hour visit to a poppy reserve that I’ve been wanting to visit for years.

Excuse me while I happily take two steps back.