You are a true Californian when you go to the movie at noon, and the weather is gorgeous. That’s what I was told in the early 90s when I had just moved to the Bay Area.
After many more years in the golden state, I can say that you are a true Californian when mid January, the peek of rain season, you are still watering your trees, and you envision with panic the devastating effects of a drought.
We’ve received less than an inch of rain in the Sierra foothills since early October. Back then it signaled an early rainy season, and we all thought we would have a wet winter for the second time in a row.
Last year, feet of snow and inches of rain fell above California. The waterfalls thorough Yosemite ran so full that the Mist Trail was considered too treacherous, and remained closed well into the summer. Hundreds of mountain people lost power for days or even weeks because of the weigh of snow.
Ski season was outstanding. The air was pristine and the wild flowers were in bloom until late May.
The October drops of rain are now only a memory.
Tioga Pass, often closed before Thanksgiving, is still open and Badger Pass, the quaint ski resort nestled in the heart of Yosemite National Park, still closed.
My two younger kids went skiing with their school over the last two weeks. Artificial snow is used to maintain a few open chair lifts at China Peak, a larger ski destination, higher in the mountains. Short hikes have replaced part of the ski program. Kids wear long sleeves shirts and even shorts instead of snow jackets and pants. Temperatures mid day reach the 70s.
Deer graze closer to houses, hungry and thirsty. Rabbits and squirrels leave their burrows. Grass has not turned to its usual deep green and is as dry as it is in the summer. The air is unhealthy in the valley. In the distance, a thick layer of smog masks the coastal range that separates the mountains from the ocean.
Environmentalists talk of global warming, elderly say that California has always known cycles of dry and wet seasons, and optimistic believe that rain in the end always arrive, as late as April or May.
As for me, I miss winter, the hot cups of tea that I drink as I write to the sound of the rain beating against the windows. I miss the fog that wraps my house in quietness.
Skiing in short sleeves in January seems like wonderful if you aren’t Californian.
But I became one, and I worry for the land, parched and thirsty, and keep checking the weather channel that forecasts half and inch of rain for late next week.