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Yxta Maya Murray

Fire/Flood: A Southern California Pastoral

Photo: Mitch Diamond (Photodisc/Getty Images)

Yxta Maya Murray | Longreads | August 2020 | 4,990 words (20 minutes)


— with thanks to Dr. Alex Pivovaroff


Chaparral spreads its hard, green shine over the hills and valleys of Southern California. This tough-leafed shrub community established itself as part of the local plant landscape millions of years ago. It flourishes during the area’s rainy springs, and survives droughts by plunging its sturdy roots deep into granite bedrock, which can hold a surprising amount of water.

Chaparral also bears a reputation for fire. These plants have adapted to the types of blazes Southern California’s semi-arid landscape has historically endured, and some varieties of chaparral evolved a literally incendiary mode of survival: their seeds need to burn in order to sprout. After wildfires scorch the land, the chaparral bursts into a glossy biome, hosting fire-follower poppy blossoms that fan out over the blackened hills.


Los Angeles has always lacked an adequate supply of indigenous water.

This problem brings out the worst in its settlers, who adapt to the landscape with as much scorched-earth ingenuity as does the chaparral.
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