Winter Wonderland

This is not the post I intended to write.  A couple of days ago, when the blogging urge hit me, I intended to de-wire my overloaded brain by splashing serious thoughts on a serious topic all over this page.

Then my sis dropped off Sadie.

In her time on this planet, my sister Liane has had various canine companions:  a cocker spaniel, a golden retriever, an Irish setter, an English sheepdog, a couple of yellow labs, and Mario — a true mutt and the best-est, smartest dog ever.  I may have missed a few beasts in that line-up, but you get the point.  Up till now, her dogs-of-choice have all been medium-to-medium larges.

As you can see, Sadie (“Princess” Sadie before her rescue; Li soon put a stop to that nonsense) is a genuine, bona fide lapdog.  She’s literally been bred to do nothing but curl up in your lap all day.  Not my sister’s usual.  Or mine, for that matter.  She’s adorbs and all.  But, I mean.  Takes some getting used to.

Anyway, we’re part of Li’s doggie-daycare network.  When Sadie’s here, I get a morning walk.  On the morning in question, the rain we’d had the night before was just enough to fill autumn’s cup and over-runneth it into winter.  Caught me by surprise. We haven’t had a real winter, or even a decent semblance of one, in a helluva long time.

Where I grew up, winter was cold.  Bitterly, bone-crackingly so, thanks to the wind off Lake Michigan.  Winter trees were bare, winter nights were long, winter skies were gray.  Winter’s snow-blanketed woods were silent and her parks scentless.  Winter’s streets were rutted with exhaust-blackened slush, her treacherous sidewalks were mined with hidden patches of ice.  Winter’s moons made the world glisten.  Winter’s sun took the low road, shining wan and weak and dim.

As with a certain dog I know, Northern California winters take some getting used to.  To be fair, they’re not entirely unlike their classic counterparts.  Temperature-wise, they’re cold.  Kinda.  Not the sub-zeros of my childhood, but once you’ve acclimated to the mild, Mediterranean-esque climate, 500F/100C feels super chilly, and a short-lived frost feels downright arctic.  We used to get maybe a week or two of frosty mornings and even an occasional snowfall on the highest hilltops.  Those days, alas, are gone.

But where a classic winter is barren, a Nor-Cal winter is lush.  Wasn’t just the nip in the air that clinched it for the season. It was the misty, moisty morning and the blossoms everywhere.

Ok, so true confessions, I’m a bit embarrassed, because from here on out, this post is pretty much a photo essay.  As I’ve said before — and I’m not being modest — I’m no photographer.  I don’t have the eye, the patience, or the reflexes.  I don’t know how to get the most out of a smart-phone camera.  I can’t see anything up close without readers, so I have no choice but to click on blurry images and hope they’re not actually blurry.  To make matters worse, I had to snap all these pics while Sadie was tugging on the dog-lead I had looped over my wrist.

All except this one.

I delayed publishing this post just so’s I could go back and get a close-up of the manzanita-in-bloom that had wakened me to winter’s arrival.  Of all our native flora, the manzanita, with her garnet wood, sap-green leaves, cardinal-bright berries, and ice-pink umbels, is my absolute fave.  Being indigenous, naturally she flowers soon after the rains begin.

“The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco,” a witticism famously (and erroneously) attributed to Samuel Langhorne Clemens, is funny because it’s true. Forget degrees F or C . Rain is the defining feature of the Nor-Cal winter.  Or was, before climate change swapped out our traditional summer/winter for fire season/not-fire season.  Back in the day, it never rained May to November; the creeks went dry, the hills turned brown, and only evergreens and artificially-watered gardens were verdant.  Back in the day, it rained incessantly November to May; the creeks roared, the hills shone like emeralds, and everything blossomed.  Water is life. Once upon a time, winter was our season of abundance.

Non-native transplants do their best to adhere to a more typical schedule, dying and dead in autumn-winter, alive and kicking in spring-summer.  They can’t make it on their own, though. If they don’t have someone to water them in the dry months, they’re done for.

There are a few deciduous natives that lose their leaves in winter, like the California black oak, this one right outside our door.

Or maybe they’re not deciduous. Maybe they’re marcescent, a new word for me, means they hold onto their dead leaves in winter. I’ve noticed all their leaves don’t necessarily fall. Some hang in there till spring buds force them off the branch.

deciduous plum, marcescent black oak, and a stand of evergreen redwoods

But on my stroll around the “block” with Sadie (that loop in the middle of the map below),

all I could see was Winter’s green, flower-studded cloak gracing our neighborhood.

Home again, I looked with winter-charmed eyes on harbingers of fragrant flowers to come,

pyracantha bushes thick with berries,

the tenacious non-native oleander I’ve deliberately ignored for 25 years still trying to win my heart,

and the sweet live oak that has my heart coiling green and glorious against the sky.

14 thoughts on “Winter Wonderland”

  1. Mea Culpa!
    In my last response I said I don’t read words any more, I just listen to them.
    By The All Mother! How could I have claimed to have amputated so many of my senses? What a breath of Ancient but Fresh Air this Blog is. Your post made me smell the scents from Piney forrests to Deserts.
    Aside from the time I spent in Thule Greenland and North Africa (where I was not able to appreciate the demarcation) I love Winter everywhere because it is the most Natural way to contrast Summer. Natural is a word that is mostly over used for commercial purposes and rarely appreciated for it’s relationship to Mother Nature, Gaia, Yggdrasil and all other concepts of SuperNatural Truths.
    As much as I have spent of my limited life experience around the World I have to put a plug in for my appreciation of Winter in the Sonoran Desert. From the Pacific Oceans to the Sky Islands at it’s Northern boundaries where the Saguaro and the Sonoran Palo Verde beyond where refuse to tresspass, the desert scents are as distinctly different as garlic and azalea.
    Without this blog I would not of created all those scents in my mind.
    Thank You Again Risa
    How ever often or how ever rarely you choose to blog I hope to be here to Listen, Smell and Feel the words.
    Aprecio enormemente sus pensamientos

    • You never, ever need to put in your two cents, but omigosh, when you do, it’s absolute magic! Between your keyboard and my page, your two cents transforms into a wealth of marvelous tales, evocative vistas, profound reflections, and witty prose.
      You’ve been way ahead of me in living the take-it-in-stride philosophy; I’m following YOUR lead. I happily bequeath you the “Mentally Meandering” phrase to employ as you see fit. “Better two-thirds” is not only acceptable, it’s mathematically delightful. That my briefest of sojourns in familiar environs triggered scent-memories of such fascinating and exotic locales surely says more about your ability to conjure than mine to evoke. Reciprocally, your homage to winter in the desert triggered a sensory reprise of our midwinter in New Mexico, many years ago now — and for that, I thank you.
      Aprecio enormemente tus pensamientos también. (Seguramente tú y yo nos tuteamos amigo mío, ¿a que sí?)

  2. makes me homesick! As I child growing up in Marin, I loved the rain and chill and deep green. I was out in it alot because my mother made the habit of booting us out of the house no matter what the weather. I can stlll smell sweetness in the air. Here in my new habitat of Denver CO, the weather is profoundly unpredictable and full of surprises. The other day, I arrived at my daughter’s home around 3:30pm and it was just under 70degreesF which felt lusciously soothing and pleasant. When I left at 7 pm it had plummeted to 20degreesF with a cutting savage wind. How is that even possible for the temp to drop 50degrees in less than 4 hours? Baffles me and often catches me dressed inappropriately. This past Friday we had snow in part of the metro area for the first time this winter (crazy late by average standards). It didn’t last too long, but long enough to thoroughly clean the air giving everything a sharpness that was really beautiful. The colors this summer (we had a good amount of rain) and fall were a delightful rainbow palette from the copious varieties of grasses and wildflowers. The colors shifted about every two weeks, keeping the visual interest very high. I miss my native California, and the ocean and salt air and the fog and smells, I am developing a taste for the subtleties and surprises of our mile high desert.

    • Speaking on behalf of your native California and your Nor-Cal friends & relations — we miss you too! Ah, but as an ex-resident of Conifer (33mi/53km west of Denver), I miss the Colorado colors, summer thunderstorms, and gorgeous winters! I know exactly whereof you speak. My time there was pre-climate disaster, of course, and Conifer has 3,000ft/915m on the Mile High City, so it got more snow. But omg, yes, it was cray-cray. In the Chicago area (lowlands next to a giant body of water), snow mostly falls in flurries and blizzards. It’s thick, and wet, and heavy, it packs in tight, and it sticks around till spring, thawing and re-freezing into invisible, leg-breaking ice slicks and car-skidding mounds of dirty slush. Up in the Rockies, the snow sweeps in, a desperate-cold wall of white reaching from earth to sky, and just hangs out for a while, falling thick, but light and powdery. Then the sun reappears, the snow melts clean away, and (as you say) you’re out in your shirtsleeves, basking in 70/21 deg weather! Such a marvel…

    • Ooh! I will!! Thanks for the heads up!
      On the picture-taking walk, a crow/raven busted us for intruding on its territory, cawing LOUDLY and herding us across the invisible border of its kingdom. (I think it was a raven … seemed to have that heavy bill, but it kept high above us in the trees or on telephone poles, so I never saw the whole bird.) And the Mexican sages on our deck have been in full flower for a while now, so we get hummingbirds visiting almost daily — even with the cold and rain <3

  3. I am delighted to read your graceful prose and see the mudlucious blooms of this crazy, confused winter. I have datura and fuchsia and daphne blooming.

    Warm greetings to you and your family!

    • I am equally delighted that you stopped by and left a comment! “Crazy, confused” barely begins to cover it, eh?
      The bunch of green shoots that starts off the photos from our own patch of turf might be a datura … I’m actually quite a dunce in the floral department ;)
      Big thanks for the read and big love always. Enjoy your blossoms!!


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