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Winter Bright [Dec. 20th, 2007|09:57 pm]
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.

[User Picture]From: daisydumont
2007-12-21 01:30 pm (UTC)
i like your descriptions of the sky, would love to have seen that bright moon. (we have cloud cover a lot here.)

could you maybe put an old blanket under the pillow to form a windbreak around the kitty?

that flooding is impressive! i didn't realize LA had problems with flooding.
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[User Picture]From: flying_blind
2007-12-23 03:52 am (UTC)
Thanks. We usually have cloud cover through most of December here, too, but there've been several clear nights this year.

I don't know if the kitty would want his view blocked by a blanket. He's a very skittish cat, and I think one of the reasons he likes that chair is because it allows him a clear view in every direction. He's frequently awakening during his naps and checking out the surrounding territory before going back to sleep.

Flooding has long been one of L.A.s' worst problems. Before the construction of the current flood control systems, vast sections of the Los Angeles Basin would become temporary lakes during major storms. One of L.A.'s worst disasters ever was the New Year's Day flood of 1934, memorialized by Woody Guthrie in a well-known song. The exact number of fatalities caused by this flood is not known, but is comparable to the number killed by the Long Beach earthquake the year before.

A 19th century visitor describe Los Angeles as a place where the rivers ran underground for eleven months out of the year and through the streets the other month. Goatloads of money have been spent on flood control for Los Angeles, both by local authorities and the Army Corps of Engineers. This has paid for such projects as Sepulveda Basin, Santa Fe Dam, the Whittier Narrows Project, and Hansen Dam. And, of course, there's the famous paving of the Los Angeles River.

Even with all that, parts of town can still be flooded during heavy storms, and a 1000-year flood, in which much of the flood control system would most likely fail, could probably destroy as many houses in Los Angeles as Katrina did in New Orleans.
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[User Picture]From: daisydumont
2007-12-23 11:28 am (UTC)
wow, that's really interesting, and really scary. i think i've seen the paved LA River in movies (maybe Chinatown?). this reminds me of venice, which is a beautiful city built in a terrible location and at the mercy of nature.

good point about the kitty and vigilance. getting too cozy would be dangerous for him, bless his kitty heart.

thank you for replying with links! fascinating.
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