Kage Baker loved spring in California.
She was aware that it was popularly supposed not to exist. She knew all the jokes about the faux seasons of California. She regarded them as some of the many ignorances (which ought to be a word, if it is not) and calumnies spread by an East Coast that was still basing its image of the West Coast on lurid tabloid cowboy stories.
The cattle industry in California predated the Yankee immigrants to the state, anyway; it was the gracious ranching culture of the rancheros that dominated California. You can still see the remnants of it in rodeos and civic festivals all over California – Old Mission Days, Vaquero Fiestas. You can even still get glimpses in the cows – in Central California there are heritage herds of beautiful old lyre-horned cattle, dew-lapped and hunch-backed and coloured like the wild bulls on French cave walls.
California spring is likewise esoteric. It can start as soon as New Year’s and run until May Day, or it can go up in cold flames over the course of three weeks. It’s sudden and glorious and not attached to a human calendar; it’s a wet season, a rainy season, a madly determined green season. The hills go emerald and wildflowers blossom everywhere – in silty roof gutters, on freeway verges, between the carefully selected tame plants in office lobbies. Downtown is first covered by the green lace of vines – copa de oro, convolvulus, wild rose and the very queen of flowering vines, morning glory. And then every old wall and abandoned warehouse is covered with gold, vermillion, pink, white, and that deep, oceanic, heart-stopping blue …
Our spring hits its stride in February and March. By the time the Vernal Equinox spins into view, the wild oats are already in their silvered beards. By May Day the hills are a golden sea. And if you’re not used to it, you can mistake it for some tropical oddity of winter. You may not notice it at all, especially if you’re sheltering under an umbrella while our entire annual share of rain falls in a month.
Those proto-Euro cows can be seen in the spring, hock deep in flooded meadows. The fields here turn green and break out in lupin and poppies, and paleolithic cattle wade breast-high through them like boulders in a glacier. Kage loved to drive North this time of year. The blossoming orchards, the flowers on every bank and hollow, filled her like wine. She would roll down the window and let the cold new winds fill the car with perfume. Also rain, the only time she’d consent to get wet in the rain. The water would bead in her hair like pearls and crystal, and under it her hair would darken to improbable shades of burgundy and scarlet. She’d put De Falla’s El Amor Brujo on the CD player and shout the Spanish lyrics into the storm. Oh, it was wild!
This year – well, it’s been a dry couple of years here in the Eye of the Sun. In January, we had a heat wave, temperatures running over 80; I hid in the house and became a crepuscular organism. February was cooler, but it was conspicuously not damp. But in the North the rains began; the green tide began creeping South to us here in the Los Angeles Basin, and finally – it rained. Yestreday. Last night, too. Even more importantly, though less carnally delightful for us, it snowed in the mountains. And since that is where our summer water sleeps the winter out, every inch of that snow is literally a godsend.
We need all the rain we can get. In all likelihood, we’ll get more – not enough, but “not enough rain” is the default setting here. In fact, the only other setting is “far, far too much”. But I don’t think the hills are likely to walk this year, nor Highway 1 fall off the edge of the continent (as it often does). The rain will be sparse and soft. The gasping earth will soak it up instead of drowning. The wildflowers have started, the hills are going green. In the Northern coastal meadows, calves and foals and lambs are beginning to skitter.
As Kage was wont to say, casting her eyes skyward: “Whichever one of You is responsible – Thank You!”
February has only just begun. There’s still a chanced for more rain. We devoutly hope.
I am sure we’ll get more rain. But I think this is a “not enough” year rather than a “way too much” one. Most of the time, California does not exist in the Goldilocks Zone.
Kathleen, how lyrical and wonderful your post was to read this morning.
My own plants, here in frozen southeastern Washington, have opened one eye in their winter’s slumber, grateful for the amazement of SNOW (nearly five inches now, in the past few days). Every drop of moisture that stays here on the west coast is one more drop that doesn’t torment the mid west, or the east coast. It’s a blessing all around.
They’re predicting an El Nino, later in the year. Here’s to more gentle rainfalls, and green hills.
Is that lupine?
Here in central New Jersey it’s 13 degrees F.
Yes, Lupin or lupine; my garden books spell it both ways. I use the spelling I learned as a kid. Lupin is a wonderful, wonderful flower – good ground cover, and it grows wild literally everywhere in California, in every colour of the visible spectrum. It’s not much good for picking, as the petals fall off too easily; but it figures largely in little-kid bouquets, because it grows in every empty lot and winterized flower bed.
It’s vetch, you know – a pea. The seeds are toxic, like sweet peas, but they’re a decent size for pea shooters or rubber band trebuchets …
Here in Los Angeles, it’s currently 61 degrees – sweater weather, for us! And there is a 30% chance of rain, if the atmospheric river presently pouring out on San Francisco moves just a wee bit.
Ever try the seed bomb slingshot from Poketo? Eighteen bucks buys you hours of seed slingin’ fun.
And crown vetch, are those seeds toxic, too?
A seed slingshot! Gosh, Kage would have adore that – she loved slingshots, and was a deadly if erratic shot with eucalyptus nuts when we were kids.
Crown vetch – I know it’s supposed to be toxic to horses, but I don’t know about generally. It’s not a true vetch, and it’s a notoriously hardy invasive species, so I’ve never encountered it in California.
I can guarantee you it will be pouring tons and tons next weekend. Why? Because I have to drive for several hours to go to a con and I’ll be scared to death driving in driving rain for that amount of time. OF COURSE it will rain, no question 😛
I’m sorry to hear you’re anticipating a scary drive. Maybe it’ll spare you on the road, and rain during the con when you are safely inside. I do hope so.
Bless California weather. We were in the worst drought ever as the weathermen say. Then the weekend. Santa Rosa (northern California) had 10 inches of rain in the past 48 hours. Flooding in Rohnert Park, a small highway intersection shut down for a couple of days, highway in Fort Ross has been undermined by the water and has collapsed. But a week ago we didn’t know if we’d have enough water to last until summer. We’e had enough since Friday (it’s Monday morning as I write this) that the people with short memories are complaining about the annoyance that is our current rain. Sigh.
California has two rain settings – not enough, and way too much. And we can go from one to the other in the space of a single season. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if we end up with a normal rainfall amount by April or May – but we’ll have gotten it all in a couple of weekends somewhere along the way, amid floods and landslides. There’s no use in complaining about it, because as daft as the pattern is – it’s normal for us.
We ought to be building catch basins and small reservoirs.