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.