Our yard in Berkeley–it’s a work in its twenty-fifth year of progress. Or at least it’s been 25 years since we moved in here and the yard became our charge and responsibility. It has changed dramatically. The giant old Monterey pine that dominated the space (and often stirred anxiety during windy winter storms) is gone. The old clapboarded garage that the tree’s root was slowly lifting up and displacing: gone. In their place: a small addition, a patio, a small shed, a lawn that we put in several years ago. Plus an apple tree, a few bushes, several Norfolk pines in pots, and a lush expanse of oxalis that during the last couple of months of wet weather have taken over every last unclaimed square inch of ground (“unclaimed” meaning the large areas given over to a variety of dry-season grasses and weeds the rest of the year).
The apple tree back there is largely untended. The fruit seems to get shot through with worms before it’s ready for us to eat (or maybe I’m too picky about eating apples with a little wildlife in them). Looking this morning, when I went out in the back yard to experiment with a new macro lens (a Christmas present from the boys), I noticed there are still a couple of apples in a picturesque state of decay still hanging on the branches. Nearby, more picturesque decay: thriving in the rain and cold, mold and moss and lichen spread along the redwood fence between us and the neighbors to the south. Some years from now–maybe 25 years from now or maybe a little sooner or later–that fence will go back to earth, with the old apples and the piles of weeds and oxalis that get taken away for compost. Today, though, I can’t help but notice the buds getting ready to burst forth on the apple branches.
The Bay Area winter is notable for its lack of snow drifts and subzero (Fahrenheit) temperatures; though, from what I hear, that’s true of virtually the entire country this this winter. But here’s something that doesn’t happen everywhere: in late January and early February, buds begin to flower. I’ve taken a picture of this particular bush before; it’s a flowering quince just up the street from us. Elsewhere in the neighborhood, plums trees are big, showy piles of pink. It’s almost enough to make you forget this year’s non-winter.
In the big book of seasons, the last three months is supposed to be one season. It feels like three.
Late November and all of December, it was winter here in our coastal lowlands. Meaning: wet. Consistently, almost insistently rainy.
Climate folks warned it might not last: This is a La Niña winter, and the tap could be turned off just like that. And come the first of the year, it was. It stayed dry, bone-dry almost, for virtually all of January and the first half of February. I’ve infuriated Easterners and Midwesterners by mentioning how warm it got during part of that inter-rain-num, so I won’t talk about that again.
Last weekend: Clear and cool, with rain forecast to return Monday. The weather changed on scheduled, and we got a good six-day dousing. In the Sierra, huge snow, just like December. Along our street, with its 22-year-old pavement slowly going to gravel, we have our ephemeral stream running down the gutter again.
I haven’t had to live through a Chicago-type winter in ages. So sights like the alley behind my sister Ann’s house on the North Side of Chicago have a certain appeal: The light on the snow, the tire tracks. Very atmospheric. Of course, I’ll be back in the warm zone in a few days. The atmosphere might be lost on those stay behind, judging by this comment from Ann: “By this point, every time I see it snow, I go, ‘Oh, Jesus.’ “
Of course, there’s snow, and then there’s snow. Below is a shot from my brother John, in Brooklyn, where they had their second foot-plus snowfall in a month yesterday. Atmospheric in a whole different way.
Oh, sure: You, wherever you are to the north or east of the San Francisco Bay shoreline, you have your cold snaps, your big old snowstorms, and your drifts. All that’s enough to make you forget how the cold season started some frosty morning a few months ago. Here on the Bay, frost happens every so often in the dead of winter, on some clear morning after a storm has passed. This morning was one of those frosty mornings for us to come out of our uninsulated bungalows and think that we’re in some kind of wintry solidarity with folks on the Columbia, near the East River, or on the shores of Lake Michigan and Lake Erie.