LA County Arboretum & Botanic Garden
301 North Baldwin Avenue
Arcadia, CA 91007
9:00 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. (non-members)
8:00 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. (members)
When you first walk onto the grounds of the Los Angeles County Arboretum and Botanic Garden, you are promptly not-greeted by gorgeous peacocks who appear to be just a little annoyed that you are there. There are several, and they are not afraid of you, but they also do not care about you. They yell at each other like dying cats and fan their tails and look at you like you’re weird for taking a photo. If you are like me, you stand staring at them in eternal awe that these land birds drag around all this extra fabric twice as long as their bodies, and they just live this way all the time like it’s nothing. Peacocks are the Victorians of the animal kingdom. I want to pity them for the inconvenience of their beauty, but they look more confident and put together than I will ever be.
As far as I can tell, the peacocks stick to the front of the arboretum grounds, which is handy, because it’s easy for those of us with no inherent sense of direction to get lost in the tangle of beauty beyond, and I discovered you can find your way back by following the tortured call of the peacocks.
The gardens are beautiful. They’re also quiet, which is the second big draw for me when it comes to gardens. Gardens are like libraries and tea rooms–there are expectations of calm and consideration, and patrons oblige.
Lately, I find I’m constantly grasping for lovely and quiet things. Part of this may have to do with the fact that I live a few doors down from a bar and often lie awake on weekend nights, listening to drunk men argue about which of them is more generous with his weed, and drunk women tell each other they deserve better than “him” or “that” or “all of this.” At first, it was fun to have so many opportunities to eavesdrop, but soon I realized that twentysomethings leaving a bar at 2 a.m. all share the same three or four scripts, and the writing is painfully non-specific. A girl stands in my front lawn yelling, “You’re not going to do this! You’re not going to do this again, Derek!” She has no regard for the fact that there may be people on this residential street who’d like to sleep, or for the fact that we get nothing out of this drunken display if she doesn’t specify what Derek is doing.
I’ve also begun to worry that I’m aging out of my street, because I’m suddenly aware of young adults using their daytime voices on my front walk at midnight. Sometimes they even get louder, laughing and joking and teasing each other in that super demonstrative way that you do when you’re young and happy and fairly certain your revelry is endearing to all the world. At midnight. On a Tuesday. I’m not even sure if these young people just started showing up, or if they’ve always been there and I already crossed the threshold into an age where I am annoyed by 70% of everything, or if I personally just have too much internal noise in my life right now, and my desire to escape it magnifies every slight sound.
Walking through the arboretum and botanic gardens, I feel noise pressing on my brain–all the questions and worries I’m trying to take a break from. The sense that time keeps ticking forward and what if I don’t find the waterfall before I have to get back to work. The constant impulse to check Facebook for absolutely no reason whatsoever, other than the fact that my brain is now programmed to look for reward and reassurance there, even when I can’t imagine what reward I would have earned or pinpoint the reassurance I would need.
I see a bench tucked away in a secluded forest area. It looks serene. I don’t sit on it. I take a photo of it. And I can’t decide if this is more noise or not. I take a photo so I can show my mother, which I suspect is a quiet motive. I also take a photo so I can remind myself later that I experienced some quiet today. I can’t decide if that’s a quiet motive or not. I think about sharing the photo on Instagram. That’s noise. I know that much.
I keep putting my phone in my pocket even though I really want to hold it at the ready, because every step is a new angle on beauty. But I’m trying to at least draw boundaries, to not wander through every garden with a smart phone in my sweaty fist. I keep pressing forward, through the rose garden and the herb garden and among the water features up on Tallac Knoll, overlooking damn near everything. I stand by Baldwin Lake, the trees leaning out over the water. I disappear, because the arboretum is big enough for someone like me to get lost. And what a gift it is to be lost where it’s quiet.
Of course, one can’t live in an arboretum, so eventually, I maze my way back through all the trees, following the over-dramatic shriek of a peacock who is probably doing just fine, all things considered.
In addition to all the natural beauty you could ask for, the Los Angeles County Arboretum and Botanic Garden offers classes for adults and children, including school programs and summer camp. They also host regular events, so check out their calendar to see what’s up. Adult admission is $9, and parking is free.