rejectomorph (flying_blind) wrote,

Winter Bright

This morning, the eastern sky was like molten silver stirred into steel, incongruously heaped over with mounds of fluffy clouds. This afternoon the bright sun made me squint and sneeze. This evening the light lingered noticeably longer than it did last week. Now all the clouds have vanished and the moon is bright, and the air icy. I was surprised when at six o'clock I discovered that the gray cat was once again napping in the chair on my back porch. I haven't seen him there for many weeks. I'm glad to have him back, but it must be terribly cold for him out there. The chair is a canvas-backed director's type and is thus entirely open around the pillow I've put on the seat. At least the air is utterly still tonight. If a breeze comes up then kitty will probably seek a more sheltered spot.

The cold made me think of the smudge pots with which citrus growers in Southern California used to warm the air in their groves on frosty nights. I remember seeing them, and hearing the adults blame the winter smog entirely on smudge despite the fact that only some of the pots were smoky oil-burners, and a majority were comparatively clean kerosene burners. Eventually the smudge pots were banned, but the smog remained. Today the growers (long since squeezed out of the early citrus belt and plying their trade mostly in the more-frost-prone southern San Joaquin Valley) protect their trees from frost by using newer techniques such as stirring the air with large fans on tall poles to prevent the coldest air from settling into the trees and, before the fruit has set, spraying the blossoms or buds with water which freezes and forms a cocoon of ice around them, which actually stays warmer than the surrounding air can be.

Anyway, I found photos of smudge pots at the USC Archives. Here's a close view of one, just lit by the guy standing next to it. Here's a whole row of them, flaming away. These are from January of 1952. Search the site with the term "smudge" and click on the 1952 thumbnail to see 23 more images of smudge pots from that month. 1952 had a very cold winter.

Later that month there was a fierce rainstorm which caused extensive flooding. Here's the intersection of 2nd and Figueroa just west of downtown Los Angeles on the night of January 17. The clock on the corner drug store gives the time as 10:30. The L.A. Transit Lines bus headed for Beverly Boulevard was probably running very late, and looks like it had standees. Traffic had probably been snarled all over downtown for hours. That same night, a photographer snapped a picture of a Pacific Electric Railway PCC car, probably bound for Glendale, as it passed by Angelus Temple in the Echo Park district. I wonder if it arrived at its destination that night, or found even worse flooding blocking its route farther along?

The following day, water continued rushing through Eaton Wash in suburban San Gabriel, where a stretch of the bulkhead lining the channel had been washed away and the surrounding land eroded. Boulders and chunks of concrete washed downstream by the flood provided a source of material with which a hastily-constructed replacement bulkhead could be shored up, helping to stem the erosion which threatened to undermine a nearby apartment complex. This location was a couple of miles from my parents' house. In my earliest memories of the wash at that point, it was lined with new concrete walls and floor.

Search the USC archive with the terms "flood 1952" and see dozens more photos of Los Angeles in a traditional disastrous state.

It's been long time since I've seen flooding of Los Angelean proportions. We just don't get that sort of hours-long downpour here, and there isn't so much watershed draining into the streets of this town anyway. Everything washes toward the adjacent canyons. They get some dandy floods down in the valley, though. I guess the kitty on the back porch could be worse off than he is napping on a pillow, even if the temperature is going to approach freezing tonight. At least he's in no danger of being swept away in a flood.

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