PALISADIAN-POST -- January 30, 2003

"Topanga Poets' Visions of Art, Love, Abandonment"

By Libby Motika
Photos by Rich Schmitt


The poems in Idlers of the Bamboo Grove, edited by Pablo Capra and illustrated by James Mathers includes the work of nine Lower Topanga poets, some of whom describe life in the close-knit community, while others lament the loss of the last outpost of the Topanga bohemian hippie lifestyle.

The title of the book is taken from 8th century Chinese poet Li Po's "Six Idlers of the Bamboo Grove," which celebrated nature, wine, friendship, solitude, and the passage of time in Tang Dynasty times.

Idlers of the Bamboo Grove can be found at Village Books, Dutton's, Vidiots in Santa Monica, and Howell Green Fine Art Gallery in Topanga Canyon.

Topanga poets will read from the book at Village Books on Swarthmore next Thursday, February 6, at 7:30 p.m..

From the "Introduction" to Idlers of the Bamboo Grove, by Pablo Capra

Lower Topanga is home to a rural community of artists and surfers that begins at Topanga State Beach and includes the first mile of Topanga Canyon. It lies on the border of the city of Malibu. Approximately 120 residents rent low-cost houses near, or in, the flood plain of the Topanga Creek. They maintain these houses without assistance: sometimes digging them out of the mud after floods, or setting backfires to prevent a spreading wildfire from burning down their neighborhood. The roads are unpaved and must be repaired annually.

Fires, floods, and good times too have helped make the Lower Topanga community close-knit. Poets, painters, and filmmakers share and collaborate with each other. Neighbors are best friends.

The Chumash considered Lower Topanga a sacred, economic, and cultural meeting place for tribes all along the coast. One of the main areas, the "Rodeo Grounds," takes its name from an actual rodeo arena that existed there on a Mexican Ranch in the 1800s. In the early 1900s, Lower Topanga was a Japanese fishing village, and artifacts from that time can still be seen.

For the last 50 years Lower Topanga was owned by the Los Angeles Athletic Club, and has remained virtually unchanged because the flooding creek makes the land undevelopable. There are actually fewer houses in Lower Topanga today than there were 50 years ago. Most of the houses were built as weekend beach shacks. Famous actors such as Humphrey Bogart, Peter Lorre, Charlie Chaplin, Carole Lombard, and Ida Lupino spent time there.

Today Lower Topanga is unique as one of the last outposts of the classic Topanga Canyon bohemian hippie lifestyle where the village raises the child while promoting anti-materialist attitudes, freedom of expression, and living in harmony with nature. Also, the Lower Topanga 24-hour architectural style (built quickly because illegally) of creative add-ons to the beach shacks has high aesthetic value.

In 2001, Lower Topanga was sold to State Parks. Even though the Lower Topanga community occupies less than 2% of the total purchased land, State Parks has an aggressive policy to relocate everyone, and bulldoze all of the houses. Arundo, a type of bamboo that characterizes the Lower Topanga landscape, has become a totemic plant for the residents because it is first on a long list of "non-native" plants that State Parks has also condemned to be uprooted (and even poisoned!) in an attempt to restore the land to its "natural" state.

Many Upper Topanga residents (including the local Native American population) realize that the destruction of the Lower Topanga community will be a terrible cultural loss. Most Lower Topanga residents have lived there for over 20 years - some for 40 and 50 years! But the relocation process has already begun.

Lower Topanga residents are currently fighting forced relocation in court, but their community is vanishing quickly.

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