Monday, August 04, 2003

Unnatural Weather

Shocking news from Silicon Valley: It rained here Saturday morning. We’ve had partly cloudy skies for the past four or five days.

Have I puzzled my readers from damper areas of the world? In Northeast Pennsylvania, clouds and rain are the normal state of affairs six days out of seven. I live in a near-desert now, though, and we go six months at a time with literally cloudless skies. Our annual rainfall is about 14 inches; my hometown of Jackson, PA, gets 48 inches or so of precipitation, much of it in solid form. Some years you can’t see bare ground between November and April. Out here, between April and November we may never see a cloud or a raindrop.

I miss drifting clouds sailing before the wind, casting grand shadows on the hills. I miss soft overcast skies, too, and sweeping thunderstorms. The rain Saturday made me suddenly, passionately homesick.

Still, there are subtle meteorological joys in this part of the country. The microclimates of San Francisco are famous, but it's easier to see the effects of a little more shade in the afternoons, a little more fog in the mornings, on the wild hills. In a few miles you may see half a dozen ecologies: grasslands, grass dotted with oaks, scrub, Douglas fir, redwoods hung with moss, redwoods without moss. (The moss offers condensation points; it collects the fog and brings just enough added moisture to keep the redwoods alive.) Even the bare brown hills are vigorously, fragrantly alive. The grass isn’t dead. The hills are like palomino horses, muscular and strong, their blonde flanks gleaming.

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