Monday, September 10, 2007

Happenings: Watch out, POTRs!

This is one of the drier reaches of the Santa Clara. Water can flow for as little as a few weeks each year.

I’ve always known that people live in the river. At the risk of stating the obvious, I’m referring to the Santa Clara River; it’s the only one us Santa Claritans have to refer to. Along parts of its range, the Santa Clara runs only after winter storms. The rest of the year it’s a still, sandy wash. These predominately dry stretches are the favored haunts of POTRs[1] (a POTR is a “Person Of The River”; POTRs the plural form), those enigmatic individuals who spend part of their lives walking, eating, sleeping, (defecating), etc… along the riverbed.

While I’ve always known about POTRs[2], I’ve never actually seen one. There have been traces, though. Tucked into a stand of willows I found a plastic chaise lounge that served as a cot for a blue nylon sleeping bag. On another occasion there were two pairs of recently laundered socks hung out to dry on some twigs. More commonly, I’ll see food wrappers and discarded bottles. But still, I’ve never seen an actual person. Given the frequency with which Newhall gang members, dirt bikes, and dog walkers invade the riverbed, I imagine those living there must move around a lot.

For POTRs, a dry year is a good year. By this standard, 2007 had been very good indeed. The lack of rain has meant no flooded homes, no scouring away of personal effects, and no need to seek shelter elsewhere. Unfortunately, SCOPE[3] and other organizations are sponsoring the annual river clean-up this Saturday[4] that once again threatens the POTR way of life.



Exhibits A (the bench); B (trash from assumed teens); and C (trash from assumed full-time POTR).

Any student of POTRs would know that pictured above is a bench, but river cleaners often mistake such constructions for garbage. Judging by the litter that surrounds it, I’d wager the bench belongs to opportunistic teenage POTRs. A lot of cheap branded beer cans and cigarettes suggests this is a place to imbibe illegally. This assertion, however, must be reconciled with the presence of a few store-brand cans of corn and water bottles—items more suggestive of full-time POTRs who need nourishment apart from beer. Perhaps a full-timer uses the teenagers’ hang-out to dine when it’s not occupied. Regardless, this entire enclave is doomed once river cleaners are unleashed.

Taking away someone’s shelter of tires and driftwood is a serious matter (I've even seen tents being disposed of in years past), especially to the someone to whom they belong. To be fair, however, river clean-ups come but once a year and are not always complete disasters to river folk. Their timing actually minimizes damage to POTRS. Sure, they lose their chairs, but within as little as a couple months rains cause the river to run again and force them to higher ground anyways. And just as the flooding of the Nile nourished Egyptian crops with silt, the flooding of the Santa Clara nourishes POTRs with car tires, 2” x 4”s, and other essentials.

In conclusion, the clean-up reminds POTRs that life in a seasonal river is a balancing act. But if they’re able to fight flood, find food, and hide from environmentalists, they might just make it.

[1]Pronounced “Potter”, just like the boy who lived. It's important to note that they're not homeless; the river is their home.
[2]This based on frequent trips to the Santa Clara from a young age; it’s one of the places I heart most in SCV—and with minimal irony.
[3]Santa Clarita Organization for Planning the Environment, a Lynne Plambeck production

[4]More information here

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