Monday, February 8, 2016

High Winds Help Palm Frond Skitter Across Canoga Park And Into Record Books

By Michale Hemmingway, Quilt staff

An ambitious frond of the aptly-named Washingtonia robusta genus of palm trees broke free from its natural mooring, with the help of strong Santa Ana winds, and continued on its way throughout the streets of Canoga Park this weekend, setting a new distance record.

Phileas Frondd? Jules Verne himself couldn't have concocted a story as fantastic as the voyage of
this unassuming palm frond that traveled around Canoga Park in not 80 days but 1 day. Staff photo.
The dry, desiccated stem and leaf structure left the crown of a 68’ tall palm tree along Remmet Avenue early Sunday morning after hours of cascading winds succeeded in loosening its basal sheath enough that the weight of the three-year old frond tore the remaining dead filaments attaching it to the tree’s trunk causing a complete separation.

Rather than dropping straight to the ground, the frond sailed in a northwesterly direction across the street and landed an impressive thirty-two feet from the base of its tree of origin, even taking the time to glance off the hood of a parked 1995 Toyota 4Runner and snap its antenna, before touching down.

Fronds in High Places: The record-breaking frond hails from this palm, center (and inset). Staff photo.
Walking to the street from his front yard, Paolo “Slider” Cervasio witnessed the frond’s amazing descent. “Aw, f_ckeen thing hit my f_ckeen car, yo! Not cool! F_ckeen, I’m going to sue the f_ckeen city. Someone has to f_ckeen pay, you know?” the 26 year-old gym locker room bolt-cutter operator said. 

Cervasio notes that the frond lay next to the driver’s side door of his SUV and that he pushed it out of the way with his foot — and into the middle of the street — as he got into his vehicle. “Someone else’s f_ckeen problem now, yo,” he explained before driving away.

A map detailing the frond's journey
around Canoga Park. Google Maps.
But that seemingly insignificant shove was all that “the little palm frond that could” needed: A sudden, low-reaching blast of wind sent the frond shuddering 28 yards down the road where, serendipitously, it found itself right in the middle of the intersection of Remmet and Valerio just as an unidentified woman in a 2008 Civic blew through the stop sign and ran over the frond. Its large curved sheath, however, managed to hook under the chassis of her Honda and remained there, being dragged along, as she drove onward to Owensmouth. 

Had it not been for a near collision, it’s likely the frond would have continued west indefinitely, since the driver, unaware of her undercarriage stowaway, was busy texting as she continued into the intersection, stopping only when a car barreling north on Owensmouth laid on its horn as it blew through its stop sign. 

Slamming on the brakes seems to have dislodged the frond from the bottom of the Civic, and it spent the next three hours being buffeted and run over by dozens of automobiles tearing through the four-way stop. Only when a Mercedes whose driver — evidently unfamiliar with the intersection — inexplicably performed a full stop did the frond continue on its journey: The car rolled over the frond at the edge of its stem, or petiole, turning the oversized leaf on its side long enough for the wind to catch it. It was on its way again, skittering up Owensmouth all the way across Saticoy.

The Long Road Ahead: The palm frond seems to contemplate its next move
before continuing its arduous trek through the streets of Canoga Park. Staff photo.
From there, through a chance series of heady wind gusts, cars with low chassises, a six year-old child who dragged it along by a leaf tip until his mother slapped his hand, and various other means, the frond made its way east on Strathern, north on Canoga, and east again on Nordhoff. 

The frond reached DeSoto with the help of a local pit bull who, unable to grasp the concept of the breeze gently rustling its leaflets, saw it moving seemingly of its own volition and immediately attacked it. However, even the adorably life-crushing jaws of the playful, unleashed 'pit' was no match for the frond’s serrated, thorn-edged petiole and it quickly let go with a whimper after just a few dozen yards. 

After being incorporated into an impromptu workout by a crossfit trainer on Strathern Avenue,
the frond lays curbside, looking exhausted. But the roadwork helped it achieve massive gains:
The frond found itself an additional 480 feet down the road by the end of the class. Staff photo.
Another few gusts coupled with the wind generated by speeding cars and the frond ended up along a storm drain near Parthenia.

“Yeah, I totally noticed it from the window of my apartment...?” says Brian Rauschebart, 28. “And it looked, like, so forlorn stuck there against the sewer grate...? I pried it loose and pulled out all the crap that was stuck to it. I like to think it was trying to get to the LA River and then on to the ocean, like a, uh, modern-day Thor Heyerdahl. I cleaned it up and tossed it into the middle of the street so it can resume its brave journey. 

“Plus now I have material for that poetry slam tonight.”

Clockwise from left: The frond heads up Canoga, a brief respite along Eton;
on Variel Ave, heading north; a message appeared on the frond following a visit
with a helpful resident on DeSoto; a car runs over the frond at Sherman Way.
(Click for larger images.) Staff photos exc. lower left courtesy Brian Rauschebart.
The frond continued heading south on DeSoto for nearly two miles until a Metro bus ran over it as it attempted to cross Sherman Way. It remained there for the next six hours, rocking back and forth from the breeze, almost in thoughtful consideration as to whether to head into El Gallo Giro for one of their tortas. 

Once a strong breeze kicked up, however, it was on the move again — Sherman Way to Eton to Ingomar to Variel to Roscoe, then on towards Topanga Canyon Boulevard. 

Look Both Ways, Then Proceed: The frond slid to a stop at the edge of Topanga Canyon Boul-
evard; later, near journey's end, the wind helped it creep along Schoolcraft Avenue. Staff Photo.
Skidding across Topanga on a sudden gust courtesy the Santa Anas, its curved sheath hitched a ride on the bumper of  black Nissan 240SX, which was merrily roaring down the Boulevard — a roadway quickly becoming one of the area’s most popular thoroughfares for street racing.

Staff photo.
A blast of westerly wind from Hart Street as well as darting, unsignaled lane changes helped pry the frond loose as the Nissan roared past Schoolcraft Street where it continued down that road, up to Nita Avenue, back onto Schoolcraft and finally across Shoup and out of Canoga Park where the frond’s amazing trek came to an end, when a West Hills resident noticed it on the street and picked it up. 

“We keep things tidy here in West Hills,” Gretchen Biery said as she deposited it in her green bin.

It may not have made it to the ocean, but it earned a place in the record books: The palm frond had traveled 10.14 miles in just under 11 hours, beating the previous record-holder, a frond from a desert fan palm on Elkwood Street, by 2.36 miles and 1 hour, 14 minutes.

As for its future, the frond considers itself retired from traveling and looks forward to a future of slowly decaying in a landfill.