Friday, January 17, 2003

California Winters: A Dissenting Opinion

My friend Doug, who lives on the Central Coast, writes:

Just saw your Sunday comments in UnNatural History — just so you know, this has been an unusually warm winter even by California standards so far. I don't even think we've had a good heavy freeze here yet, and I'm at about 1000 feet, separated from the ocean's influence by a high ridge of hills. So, I think the plants are even more confused than they usually are this year. I note that my irises are sending up leaves already, which they didn't do until spring last year. Of course, they could all have the snot froze out of them at any point, should we get the burst of colder air I'm half expecting momentarily. Or perhaps not — this is supposed to be an El Nino year, so my main expectation is a mighty slug of rainstorms in a March-ish timeframe.

Of course, from your point of view, you might not even notice a heavy burst of winter cold here, since on temperature scales you're more used to, either mode probably qualifies as positively springlike. That's the whole point to becoming a Californian — learning to be a connoisseur of the understated, and to discern the finer points of climate, rather than the rest of the nation, who merely get used to being bludgeoned over the head with it.

I thought the whole point of being a Californian was to walk around in a T-shirt on a January day, saying, "My God, it's summer!" Which is what I've been doing all day today. (Well, not literally. I spent most of the day chained to my work computer, swilling Diet Dr. Pepper and sweating out last-minute rewrites.)

It's true that the Northern California climate offers subtle pleasures. For one thing, the grassy hills of the East Bay, even in the wettest seasons, are always more of an avocado green than the grassy hills of the Peninsula, which have a deeper, more tender hue. You have to watch for these differences and enjoy them.

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