Tuesday, December 25, 2007
All That the Rains Bring
It is finally starting to be mushroom season here. The rains come through, though still not often enough, and the air is chill. The grass is starting to sprout, and the acorns have ceased hammering down on everything. The need to water the garden has finally worn off, and the fear of fire. Socks have once again come on the scene, to my children's dismay. There is frost in the valley three mornings a week. We go musseling, and come back with reddened fingers and hot bodies from the walk along the beach.
I know this does not sound like winter to most people. To the majority of Americans and Europeans, winter means ice and the death of greenery. Green is for springtime, when the ground thaws, or summer, when thunderstorms roll through after a hot spell.
But here in Northern California, winters are chilly, not cold, and so this is the season when things come alive: the moss on the trunks of the oak trees goes emerald from the rain, the grass begins to grow like a mist over the hills, and the naked ladies poke their green up along the banks of roads. We walk in rubber boots through the lengthening grass, heavy with drops; we wear sweaters and rain ponchos. It may not be frozen, but it can be tiresome, being wet for a whole season; sometimes I envy people in the deep cold, who stay dry in their low temperatures. There is something about cold water trickling into your inner clothing, and the constant presence of mud, which can get to you after awhile.
We have a Mediterranean climate, which means really only two seasons, wet and cold, and warm/hot and dry (and by dry, I mean the grass goes blonde, then grey; your nose gets dried out inside; your plants all die if you don't water deeply twice a week - and there is no rain for between five and nine months: everything dies back, goes into stasis). Spring is simply the moment when the air gets warm but the ground has not yet dried out, and autumn is when the air begins to get cold but the rains haven't come yet. Those areas where there are actually four distinct seasons always find this odd, this "lack" of seasons.
It's true that it's weird, living in a place where the leaves don't turn in the fall and there is no snow in the winter - but it's not because we miss them. Not at all. It's weird because we are constantly barraged with images and words about what it's supposed to be like. Snowmen, vast swaths of turning leaves, crocuses; these have no meaning here. All the conventions of our culture are caught up in a Northeastern perspective, a prejudice toward the "norm", which seems to be somewhere in Massachussetts. Children's books represent an entirely inaccurate world to the Western children who are reading them; seasonal cards, gardening books, and magazines misrepresent was is likely or even possible in our climate. It is as if we are colonists on another planet, yet living according to the rhythms of the home planet, the home propaganda.
Still, though we don't fit the Home-world's view of normalcy, or even the Pagan idea of summer equaling life and winter equaling death, we do have our own rhythms, our own discreet seasonal characteristics. For example, this year, in our area, the chanterelle mushrooms are late (last year, they were nonexistent, but that's another story). The candy caps, another kind of mushroom, are sprinkled everywhere, and king boletes will follow soon after; toward the spring (or our version thereof), the horn-of-plentys will be hiding themselves among the detritus of the madrone trees. Mussels abound in the winter tides, and evil non-native crayfish continue to climb inside our traps. Miner's lettuce springs up everywhere; ferns uncurl their buds for us to pick. There are still baskets full of California hazelnuts, and if we wanted to eat the native acorn meal there would be a whole winters' worth of it available. Winter is a time of unfurling, of strange abundance, of cold and happy movement.
Summer, on the other hand, is nature's empty time here, a time of drought and fire peril and little native harvest. No flowers bloom, nothing lives without tending. Our small vegetable plots need constant attendance to keep them alive through the heat and the dryness. There are no walks in the woods looking for bounty, only looking for shade, watching for smoke. The red tides come and shellfish are forbidden. The ground is hard and unforgiving, so even looking for roots would be difficult. By October we are watching the endless parade of hot days anxiously, cocking a weather eye to the flame-fanning wind, crossing our fingers against arson.
I often wonder what it must be like for the other colonists, the ones on the planet Louisiana, for example, living with their swamps and their gardenias. Do they read the Home-world's books, listen to the Home-world's broadcasts? Give each other cards with snowmen on them at this time of year? How do they feel about their lack of seasons?
Or that far-orbiting Australia, world of Christmas barbecues? Do they tire of the messages coming in on the ansible, telling them they are backwards, wrong, out-of-step with the real seasons? Or do they simply ignore the Americans and Europeans telling them these things, and make their own cards, their own books?
To all my fellow-colonists, and to those of you on the Home-world who would like to become colonists: beware. For out here, the Home-world plants sicken and die; the children don't learn the arts of Home-world clothing; the old arts are lost. But there are wonders beyond imagining: the lightning-fire orange of the endless poppies at the break between Wet and Dry, the yellow-bellied newts migrating to some unknown place, the electric buzz of the hard summer sky around the edges of the trees. The first chanterelle, which I found today. If the Home-world abandoned us now, I think we could find our way, if we only looked around us at what is here.
How is it with you others, in your far-flung worlds?
As for us, we are on the verge of bounty.