Northern California desperately needs this Spring rain. Camellias to the left. Lemons to the right. Spring rain smack dab in the middle. We’ve got us a celebration!
In this story I am the grandmother and it’s my house that’s in the woods. But that wasn’t where I headed for Thanksgiving. I drove away from my northern California redwood forest, as I often do, to spend Thanksgiving in the city with my daughter and granddaughter.
Los Angeles was warm, leaning toward hot, the whole time I was there. It’s 400 miles from here to there on Interstate 5, which runs the length of California and then some. On my drive south, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. The sun was shining and everyone I encountered along the way was feeling festive.
During my visit, my granddaughter asked why I can’t live closer to her. I said I wish that was possible, but I like cooler weather. In fact I love my Marin County fog belt.
Two days after Thanksgiving it was time to come home and since it had been around 80 degrees the day before, it didn’t occur to me to check the weather before leaving. I don’t like to drive in the dark, but once in a while in the pre-dawn, when traffic is light, it’s nice to get an early start.
About 5 A.M. I headed north, leaving the lights of Los Angeles behind as I slowly climbed the mountain toward Fort Tejon. (For non-Californians, that’s where Christo installed his giant yellow umbrellas.) Rain began to fall almost immediately. The side window felt icy-cold. I left the Valley floor wearing a tee shirt and I didn’t want to steam up the windows with the heater and besides, I thought, teeth chattering will help me stay clear-headed.
The Grapevine – the part of I-5 that goes over the summit and then drops you down close to Bakersfield – is generally picturesque. This time I couldn’t see a thing because the rain quickly turned to snow.
It came on so fast, it was a shock. Gusts of wind made driving a struggle. The lack of traffic was a liability because there were few taillights to follow. The town of Gorman at the top is about 4100 feet and I don’t remember a Thanksgiving storm before that powdered the junction white in minutes.
Snow piled up so the lane markers were no longer visible. Everything was fuzzy. I drove as slowly as possible, trying to get behind some big trucks in the right lane so they’d make a path I could follow.
Stopping wasn’t an option. Had I pulled over at the top, I’d have been snowed in and without chains, it could have taken hours to get out. I said a prayer, fought the wind for control of my car, and drove on.
I sang loud to keep from getting dizzy and counted the minutes ’til the road begins the descent into the next Valley and there, at the truck stop where I like to refill my coffee, just minutes from the blinding storm, was the bright sunshine again.
The rest of the trip was uneventful and I looked forward to doing some Christmas decorating at home – stringing tiny lights that glow like a fairy tale in the northern fog. Except when I got home there was no fog. Only sunshine. And no fog this morning either. And today is warmer than normal with a prediction of sun all week long.
I want my seasonal weather back. I need to get in touch with Al Gore and see if he can do something about this.
Ó Anita Garner 2009
Trains contributed so much to our country’s vitality, but unlike some other nations, we almost completely abandoned ours. (Sorry Amtrak.) Now everything about training seems, once again, exotic, adventurous – and best of all, practical.
In California, we’ve been promised high speed trains many times. Finally, we voted to re-build our rail system within this state, one link at a time, but now the start date of the program, like most big statewide improvements, is uncertain.
I’m counting the days/months/years until I’ll be able to hop on a high speed express from the northern part of the state where I live, to the southern part, where the rest of my family members live.
The “high-speed” part isn’t even the most important. I won’t mind spending time in a comfortable seat watching the world go by, instead of circling to find a parking spot at the airport. I don’t mind if it takes a while longer to arrive by train than it takes to fly to the same destination.
I’m ready – really really ready.
Ó Anita Garner 2009
Watching the weather is a favorite hobby of mine. I don’t generally get my weather reports from television, but I might as well be one of those people we see in comedies, who fixate on the Weather Channel and sit there for hours, soaking up data about places they’ve never been, never intend to go, and if they did go there, they wouldn’t know anyone. Those people are portrayed as coots. (One definition of a coot: simple-minded.) A weather fanatic will say to no one in particular, “I knew it. I knew that system was gonna come in early.”
Except for not watching the Weather Channel (tornadoes and hurricanes are exceptions that demand TV coverage) I may be one of those people.
I check the Weather Channel’s website several times a day for places where friends and relatives live. Every trip for me begins with www.weather.com where I can fill in the name of any city and see what’s predicted for the next ten days.
It might be an inherited trait, since my country born-and-bred father had a set of weather instruments on the back porch and glanced at them several times a day, always remarking out loud on what he saw there. He often disputed what the dials told him, and he was always right. He could feel changes in his bones.
Something about working out in the fields as a boy and his own deep respect for nature had permanently tuned him in to the time for sowing and the time for reaping. His instincts often did not agree with the calendar. He’d wake up and announce that he was going out to our vegetable garden. “I better go pull up the radishes and the collards before the sun hits ’em again.” And this while rain was still falling. He knew when a big change was coming.
I don’t have the knack he did for predicting imminent change, but I’m always hopeful about it. Our problems may stick around, but at least we can count on the weather to change. When my diagnosis is boredom, just watching the weather offers promise.
One reason I love my part of Northern California (and envy New Englanders) is that the weather plays tricks on the forecasters. Mother and Father Nature send along surprises for us several times a month. We’ll get rain when the sky was clear a minute ago. Big winds arrive high up in the treetops, when the lower limbs don’t even know it yet. Fog rolls in and out, but not always on the schedule we expect. I’m disappointed when the fog fails to appear. Like the redwood trees in the back yard, I rely on absorbing fog through my pores.
I like being surprised by the weather. Keeping the family’s weather-watching tradition alive (my brother does this too) the first thing I do when the day arrives is go see what the weather is like outside, and I do it again before sleeping. It seems I’ve been making my own notations out loud to no one in particular, without realizing it. (Another definition of “coot” might be “predictable.”)
I haven’t been a grandmother all that long and sometimes I forget a small person is nearby. They’re always listening, aren’t they? One recent morning while I was visiting at her house, I opened the drapes and stood there for a minute with my coffee cup. From the little girl who’d snuck up behind me I heard,
“Hammy, you forgot to say ‘It’s a beautiful day.'”
Generations of weather-watchers later, we’ve added one more.
Ó Anita Garner
Either “The sky is falling” or “Every cloud has a silver lining.”
Both points of view are evenly represented among my nearest and dearest. Most days I fall into the silver lining category, which means of course I’m destined to spend much of my time with people who are always dodging chunks of the sky.
I like grey skies. I live in Northern California in a fog belt and I am (perversely, some say) not a fan of summer. I count the days until the season changes to autumn, which brings the chance of showers.
My only grandchild lives in sunny Southern California, so I spend a lot of time there. A few weeks ago, the four-year-old and I stepped outside her house and walked right into an unexpected June rain shower. She stopped and turned her face up, and as her new sundress got good and soaked she said,
“I love the rain. Free water coming down.”
That’s my girl.
Ó Anita Garner 2009