Glass, Steel, Rails and Wildflowers: A Walk in Manhattan Beach

Lately whenever I take my car in for maintenance, I end up taking the car-free morning away from home as an excuse to walk down to the Manhattan Beach Pier. The last time was right after a Halloween storm, which was gorgeous, but this time it was a gloomy morning, and I took the opportunity to explore a little more.

Modern Beach Town

Manhattan House mural.

This mural wasn’t there the last time I walked by, and may not have been there the last time I drove by either. The restaurant is new, and it seems like it would be hard to miss. I like the mix of two cities: the one I was standing in, and its namesake on the other side of the country.

Also: a pirate shipwreck. Yarr!

Believe it or not, this next photo is not a double exposure:

Traffic Sign REflection

I don’t think I’d ever seen this type of traffic sign up close before. At first I was intrigued by the five-LED pattern used for each pixel, but as I started to line up a photo, I noticed the layered effect reflecting the street and the buildings on the far side.

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Fuzzy Memories of Duck Food Danger

Duck! When I was around four years old, I went on a field trip to a park with a pond, and we fed the ducks. Unfortunately the duck food included peanuts. I rubbed my eyes after handling it, and they swelled shut. Fortunately this was long before my food allergies got really bad, so I only had to go into the doctor’s office, not the emergency room.

It might be my oldest memory related to food allergies, though it was something my parents and I already knew about. (I’ve quite literally had this allergy as long as I remember.)

Last month I went with my four-year-old son’s preschool class on a field trip to a park with a pond, and they fed the ducks.

It was a little unnerving!

Nothing happened this time around.

It got me thinking, though. I tried to remember as much as I could about the incident. Since I was so young, I’m not entirely sure how much is first-hand and how much is just remembering the story as it’s been retold. Memory is a tricky thing, nowhere near as accurate or stable as we’d like to think.

I wrote down the fragments I do remember, then asked my parents to tell me what they remembered about it. It was interesting to see what did — and didn’t — line up.

I remember a wide, curved pond, encircled by a wide sidewalk, with dense trees on the far side. The day is overcast, possibly drizzling a bit. A red box sits on a post, a vending machine for the duck food.

My parents are pretty sure it was the Woodbridge neighborhood in Irvine, which has two artificial lakes. The breadth and curvature fit. I’m not so sure about the trees, and the distance across seems too far, but it’s a big enough area that some part of the lake might fit.

My dad also remembers duck food dispensers “like gumball machines” along the shore, so I didn’t make those up.

OTOH, it was a summer day camp, so I’m probably wrong about the jackets and weather…but then I spent most of this week in June gloom, so who knows?

I remember looking at my face in a mirror. Not what I looked like, though I’m told I laughed like it was the most hilarious thing I’d ever seen.

The odd thing is that I picture a wall-mounted mirror on a tile background, but my dad remembers a handheld mirror.

I vaguely recall a crowd of children walking around in jackets, with maybe two or three adults, and the feeling of itchy, swollen eyes.

I didn’t remember the paramedics or my dad taking me to the doctor. Though now I can dredge up a faint memory of a van and an EMT looking at me. I picture an awning connected to a building, like you’d find at the drop-off point of a hospital or entryway of a hotel, with yellowish or off-white walls and glass doors. I’m not sure that location makes sense, though.

And one mystery that had baffled me: Why were there peanuts in the duck food? Was it like trail mix? Was it some sort of pellets with peanut butter as the glue?

It turns out we ran out of food from the dispenser and started tossing in bits of another kid’s peanut butter sandwich.

That’s kind of weird, because this time around, when we stopped for a snack, the child who sat nearest to us had a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

It’s probably just as well that I made sure not to touch my eyes after helping feed the ducks.

Constructed Wilderness: A Tale of Two Parks

In the last few weeks I’ve visited two “wilderness” parks in the South Bay area near Los Angeles. Both are islands of nature surrounded by suburbs, but they have opposite goals.

Madrona Marsh Preserve in Torrance is first and foremost a preserve. It’s the last remnant of the seasonal marshes that once covered the western part of the LA basin. It’s carefully maintained, but the goal is to assist the natural environment. Ponds form naturally during the winter and spring rains and dry out over summer. All kinds of waterfowl visit the pools during the wet season. The visitor center is outside the preserve, across the street, and the gates shut at 5 pm. Facilities inside the preserve consist of a storage shed, dirt trails, and an awning to shade plants that are being prepared for one section or another of the ecosystem. I took a zillion photos and narrowed it down to an of album of 25. Here are a few shots to show the range of habitats.

Green Reflection Outstanding in its field Yellow Flowers CA geese in the other CA

Hopkins Wilderness Park in Redondo Beach is much more focused on giving people the experience of nature. It looks and feels like some of the regional parks I’ve hiked, hilly with trees and chaparral, but an artificial stream runs into a concrete-lined pond near the entrance, stocked with koi and turtles and floating water plants. Food is available for feeding the fish and ducks. (Or maybe the teacher brought it – we were there with my son’s preschool class.) Some of the trails are paved with gravel. Overnight campsites with picnic tables and restrooms dot the park, and a large concrete amphitheater sits against one hill.

Wilderness Park Gnarly Tree Duck Pond Dry pond and stairs

Both parks are nice to just get away from the city for an hour or two and relax. Neither is big enough to get lost in (or to be too far from the restrooms).

If you have a big group of kids, Hopkins is the way to go. It’s shadier, has picnic facilities, and when it comes down to it, the park is made for us. Pack your trash out, but feel free to sit on the logs, feed the fish, whatever. I’d only really recommend it to locals, though – there isn’t much to set it apart from other parks.

Madrona felt more like I was an observer: accepted, but apart. There’s more wild in it, which makes it more fascinating. Plus it’s so different from the hill/canyon sparsely-wooded parks I’m used to. I’d love to go back and see how different it is in summer, or after the ponds dry up for the year, or in a wetter spring.