Beth Ellenwood Newhan’s “accepted mode of transportation….”

Originally from Iowa, Mrs. Beth Ellenwood Newhan settled in Eagle Rock in 1902. The Ellenwoods’ home was situated on the corner of Hill and Ellenwood, and their property encompassed 32.5 acres around. After marriage, she moved a short distance to Central (Eagle Rock Boulevard) north of Colorado.

In Beth Ellenwood Newhan’s memoir at the Eagle Rock Valley Historical Society, it is recorded:

At one time the family attended the services of the Methodist Church in Glendale at Brand and Wilson… In those days walking was the accepted mode of transportation in Eagle Rock. As an example the Ellenwoods walked to and from church. Glendale no less, and they would often bring friends home with them, hike to the Eagle Rock and back, and afterwards walk back to Glendale with their friends.

In the days when the expanse north of Colorado was punctuated with streams and spring brought wildflowers to be picked by the bouquet; walking to Glendale, then to the Eagle Rock and back to Glendale before returning home might not be an unpleasant way to spend a quiet Sunday, especially if the end result was to spend time with family and friends by connecting the dots to a favorite picnic location such as the Eagle Rock Park.

By the end of each Sunday, according to Google Maps, the Ellenwoods would have walked more than thirteen miles.

Personally, I really enjoy many things the past 100 years have brought: libraries, schools, the internet, yummy fruit available year-round in stores, enough people to create an unpredictable mix of conversation, and even a tiny little bit of cultural diversity. But when reading Mrs. Beth Ellenwood Newhan’s interview, I do feel a bit of envy. I’m not going to give up my phone or my computer. But having lived in Los Angeles for way more than a decade, I really do miss the slower sense of time of a carless day; that sense of leisure one feels when the events of the day grow out of an organic flow, some parts predictable, other parts unpredictable.

This is in contrast to the organization of time which my family’s weekday commuter lifestyle entails, where destinations are connected by the brutally quick and straight line that driving from one place to another entails. Where hardly any surprises sidetrack us, because we’ve determined the schedule, and the routes in advance.

Driving from location to location accentuates that sense of impatience and disconnection that my kids and I tend to develop when we spend too much time watching tv, or at the computer.

But in my experience, days of walking entail discovery. Walking is inherently unpredictable. Walking is how my tiny son and I discovered one winter that almost a dozen birds had built nests in the crape myrtle trees on the Townsend hill–  dense spherical bundles of twigs standing out from the sky as soon as trees dropped their leaves for the winter. Walking is how I learned that same hill which appears devoid of any natural vegetation due to yearly clearing by  city workers, is actually populated by native white sage, elderberry, marah, and one of my favorite native annuals, Gnaphalium. Walking is how I briefly spotted a great horned owl at dusk, its huge wings a dark silent shadow against the sky. Last week at night, my friend E. and I passed under a camphor tree on which every branch seemed to hold a silent raccoon watching us from above.

Walking is how I’ve explored cities like New York, Paris, Taipei, Hong Kong, Minneapolis, Fort-de-France and now Los Angeles.

My city boys are driven around during the week, and not used to this level of physical activity. During last week’s walk to the library, my son suggested frequent rest stops. In this city outfitted for cars, rather than people, resting took a little creativity.  On the steep part of Townsend, the best we managed was to sit on the sidewalk in the shade of a tiny oak tree. Along Colorado, the only bench we encountered was meant for bus riders. My son feared sitting on the bench lest a bus come to pick us up. Thankfully, a brick planter the right height was nearby. Half a mile further we are always grateful for the handful of tables and benches outside of the Rock cafe. Besides at the playground of Yosemite Park,  these may very well be the only benches within a mile around where anyone can sit without being pressured to buy an expensive caffeinated beverage, and without unwittingly causing a bus to pull over.

Though we live in the middle of what some call the art and culture capital of the world, it was amazing to think that in the two miles we walked on a balmy Sunday afternoon, over the course of an hour and a half we probably saw hundreds of cars speeding by, but less than ten people on the sidewalk.

When my next door neighbor C., pulled to the side of the road and offered us a ride home in a PT Cruiser, we gladly accepted. But I was glad that I’d had a couple hours of walking and bonding with my boy, and had made a couple discoveries along the way.

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One Response to Beth Ellenwood Newhan’s “accepted mode of transportation….”

  1. Bob Gotham says:

    A primary goal of the Take Back the Boulevard initiative is to refine Colorado Boulevard so it does a better job of serving the entire community – pedestrians, bicyclists, and automobiles. Please attend the second Take Back the Boulevard Community Meeting on Thursday, Jan. 19 at 7:00PM at the Center for the Arts, Eagle Rock. More information at http://www.takebacktheblvd.org.

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