Voices of L.A. Nature: An Interview with Erik Yesayan

April 12, 2019

Welcome to our new series, "Voices of L.A. Nature," where we'll hear stories from a diverse range of Angelenos about their relationships with nature in L.A. This month we'll focus on Armenian Americans living in Los Angeles to help us celebrate Armenian History Month. Stay tuned throughout the year, for more Voices of L.A. Nature!

Interview by Lila Higgins

Erik Yesayan hiking in Griffith Park. Photo by Alex Calleros

Erik Yesayan is an urban planner who likes to focus on the intersection between transportation equity and affordable housing. He is currently working on the Eco-Rapid Transit + West-Santa Ana Transit corridor that will link Union Station to communities in southeast L.A. Erik incorporates nature into his daily life by making sure he always notices the trees around him, and gets out onto his local trails for weekly hikes.  

Erik, you rate yourself a 10/10 on the "I love nature scale," has your love for nature changed over time? 

Ironically, my love for nature was a little less when I was a Boy Scout. Visiting nature as a Scout felt more obligatory than fun. I preferred to stay home and play video games instead. Things really changed when I was in college. I started to go backpacking and camping with friends, and have continued doing these things throughout California.  

Do you incorporate nature into your daily life? In what ways, and why?

I mostly incorporate nature in my daily life by looking up and observing the trees on every street I walk along. Even if you don’t notice the trees that surround you, they make a big subconcious difference to your quality of life. Streets without trees feel like they have a little less love and joy. They also have a lot less shade, which can be brutal during the L.A. summer heat. I also try to hike local trails at least a couple times a week.

What nature places did you explore as a kid in L.A.?

I grew up in Glendale and my backyard had a hillside behind it. I used to climb that hill all the time searching for wildlife and rocks. I remember hearing coyotes howl at night, trying to catch lizards, and seeing families of California Quail walking together in my neighborhood. 

Can you share a memory of nature from when you were a kid?

On a hot summer day in 1990 when I was 5 years old, I remember vividly looking up into the sky and seeing black smoke take over. The hillside I loved was on fire! A wildfire had jumped over a freeway and was starting to take over. We evacuated immediately and our house was fortunately saved. Other homes in the neighborhood were not as lucky. Turns out the fire was one of many around L.A. that were intentionally started by a former fire captain and arson investigator of the Glendale Fire Department. He’s in jail now and there is an HBO show about him. It’s a crazy story and an early lesson for me on how we can’t take our lives and nature for granted. Things can literally change in overnight!

Erik's favorite trail, the Catalina Verdugo trail in the San Rafael Hills.

What is your favorite nature space to visit in L.A.? What do you do there, and why do you go?

I love hiking the Catalina Verdugo trail in Glendale. It’s only about 3 miles long, but it’s close to where I live and easy to access whenever I want. It connects to the Mountain Do Trail, which is ADA accessible! There's great wildlife on both trails. I was there recently and took the photo above. The trail was so alive with wildflowers, and I love the stunning views of all the mountain chains around L.A.!

What is your favourite plant/animal/fungus/slime mold/other organism in Los Angeles?

Oak trees! I always stop and admire them whenever I see one. I love how expansive the branches can get and how much shade they provide. Most of all, I love how native they are to L.A. My favorite park in Glendale, the Catalina Verdugo Adobe, is not only filled with my favorite oaks here, but also features the most famous oak in the region, the "Oak of Peace." It is considered the birthplace of California, where the end of the Mexican-American war occurred. Sadly, all that is left of the oak is a stump, it died of disease years ago. 

Nesting hummingbirds outside Erik's sister's house. Photo by Erik Yesayan

Do you have a funny story about a nature experience you had in L.A.?

I’m not sure how funny this story is, but a House Finch once set up a nest right outside the window of my room. They laid eggs and I was ecstatic by the idea of seeing the eggs hatch. However, one day I noticed the eggs had disappeared. I was totally perplexed by it, but a few days later I noticed a crow looking into the nest and realized it must have stolen the eggs. I've since learned that crows do indeed steal and eat eggs of song birds. It can be a tough world for small birds. 

How do you think we can make nature in L.A. more accessible for everyone? What are some of the biggest barriers?

We really need more access to nature, especially in our dense communities with lack of nearby parks and green space. We have a big disparity between access to private backyard nature for homeowners and public access to nature if you live in an apartment. Unfortunately, the people often making decisions have access to private backyards so the disparity is not always clear. But a quick look at a Google satellite image of L.A. neighborhoods, and you will quickly see the difference between lack of green in dense areas versus in single-family neighborhoods.  Another thing we can do in the most dense parts of the city, add more trees. Trees don’t cost much but can do a lot to improve our quality of life by adding them to streets that don’t have any. 

Erik and his fiancee Ramela love hiking local trails together whenever they get a chance. Photo by Alex Calleros

Follow Erik on social media:

Instagram: @erikyesayan

(Posted by: Lila Higgins)


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