I had a doctor’s appointment at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) Medical Center a couple of weeks ago. After the appointment it was still early in the day and I didn’t have to be anywhere until the afternoon. As I had been fasting for 12 hours in order to take a blood test, I decided to cross the campus to Lu Valle Commons and hope there was some available food.
Summer session was due to start the following week, so the campus was pretty much deserted except for groups of what looked like ten-year-olds on orientation tours for their upcoming admission to the university. It is a strange phenomenon that the older I get, the younger these groups of students look. Pretty soon, the incoming students will be pushed around in strollers!
I was in luck as breakfast was being served at Lu Valle. I ordered the veggie omelette with home-style potatoes for under four dollars. The same meal would cost twice that much just a short distance away in Westwood Village.
I sat outside under the trees and felt very peaceful. As there was no need to rush back to my real life, I decided a walk through campus would be in order. I circled back to the Medical Center and as I made the turn on to the road towards the Village and my bus, memories came flooding back.
More decades ago than I care to number, I was an undergrad student at UCLA. As I had to pay for my own tuition, I was in the work-study program. I worked part time in the administration office at the hospital, sorting through invoices, and attended classes full time. It was an excrutiatingly dull job, only made bearable by working alongside other students whose schedules coincided with mine.
One of those students happened to be a star football player, so I was told. I don’t remember his name because I was never interested in collegiate sports. But I do remember that he would punch in at the time clock in the morning, immediately leave by the back door, return to punch out for lunch, come back after lunch to punch back in, leave again, and at the end of the day, return to punch out! Everybody knew he was doing this and nobody said a word.
Across the street from the hospital was the botanical garden. The garden was named The Mildred E. Mathias Botanical Garden (MEMBG) in 1979 to honor a former director. It was my little oasis. For my lunch break, I would take my brown bag and run over to the garden. I never wanted to miss a minute.
The toughest part of my day was extricating myself from the garden. I wanted to stay outside in the midst of the trees and flowers and streams and squirrels, and not spend my precious hours buried deep in the bowels of the hospital.
Had I known at the time there were other opportunities to actually work outdoors, or at least semi-outdoors, or to do something the tiniest bit creative, I would have jumped at the opportunity. But my parents were life-long office workers. That is all they knew. And that is all I knew of the working world. And it was, unfortunately, a glimpse into my future.
But on this day, decades later in my life, I was happy to be back at the botanical garden. And I didn’t even have to worry about punching in at the time clock in 30 minutes. My time was my own.
I have been back to the garden over the years. I believe the last time may have been in the mid ’90s or early 2000s when I was taking an art class at UCLA Extension. I’m not sure. On that occasion I sat in one place for several hours sketching a gnarly tree trunk. I tried to locate the tree but too many years had passed.
But there are plenty of interesting looking trees. The peeling bark on this one was too appealing to pass up… sorry, my inner child loves puns even though I don’t.
I noticed some improvements had been made since my last visit. Steps, retaining walls and fences had been built but all in keeping with the natural ambience… nothing intrusive.
MEMBG was created in 1929 as an educational nature museum for the university and to promote research and the appreciation of plant life for visitors from all over the world. Literally thousands of species of plants call this seven-acre jungle home, including many that cannot be found anywhere else in California.
Among the plants are included tropical and subtropical trees, Australian plants, conifers and Hawaiian species.
One of the nice features of this civilized jungle is that all the trees and plants are labeled so, if like me, you are tree and plant challenged you don’t have to wish you were a horticulturist.
You may have noticed, I love taking photos of trees.
Salamanders, turtles, lizards and koi coexist happily in the garden.
Darn, I was so looking forward to teasing the squirrels!
Looking out of the sanctuary into the city. Wandering around the pathways, it is so idyllic and bucolic, it is easy to forget that traffic is just a few feet away.
A special kind of bamboo that self-decorates with graffiti!
In January, Morton La Kretz, a UCLA alumnus, philanthropist and environmentalist, gifted the university with one million dollars to renovate and upgrade the botanical garden. I will definitely be paying a visit again to see what one million dollars of improvements looks like!
Following are a few more random shots of the garden.
It was a lovely interlude and as it happened, I still had plenty of time to make another stop in Westwood Village, just a short walk from UCLA. So that will be my next post.
Please click on all the photos for a larger view.
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