Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Winter wonder(iing)land

   It got cold here last week, and it did rain a bit, but it is warming up again. This winter is even weirder than usual in sunny, funny So Cal, to say the least, and all the more so with the rest of the country gripped in a deep freeze. Here is a column I wrote for the Claremont Courier last month which appeared on its website (


   My friend sighed. He really didn’t want to go home.
   It was a few days into the new year, and my friend came by for a visit. He had been in Claremont, also going to other places like Palm Springs and Laguna Beach, for two or three weeks over the holidays. As we talked in the warm afternoon sun and went into my house, he was dreading flying home the following day.
   I don’t think my friend was particularly upset that the holidays were over. He may or may not have been unhappy about having to go back to his work. What he really didn’t want, what he was absolutely dreading, was just to go home to Vermont, where, at the time, it was even colder than it usually is in Vermont in January.
   My friend never likes going back to Vermont after spending the holidays here, but it was all the harder with the unusually cold spell. Spending the holidays in Claremont and environs is always a bit magical, a bit of heaven, when his driveway at home is blocked with snow. Later, after his return home, he remarked that, during his trip, he had eaten many of his meals outside, surrounded by blooming flowers.
   I haven’t been eating my meals outside, and I can’t say that I’m surprised by flowers blooming in January, but I have been reading a lot in my yard, and I was doing so in short-sleeves when my friend came by before returning to Vermont. I’ve been going out in tee-shirts during the day in recent weeks, and, except when I was up north in the Bay Area for several days after Christmas (when I really didn’t need them), I haven’t worn long underwear since mid-December. And I definitely haven’t wanted thermal sheets on my bed since early December when we had that cold snap here (remember that?).
    I couldn’t even laugh at the college students walking around in shorts and flip-flops when they returned to classes last week.     Sure, January often has warm and dry days here (see: the Rose Parade), but this was getting weird, with day after day warm and dry. Yes, it was a special, luxurious, decadent treat to read in the bright sun, lounging on the dark green lawn by a row of brilliant red and white camellias in a festive red tee, on Christmas Day, but it was downright strange when I was still doing it a month later. At least it hasn’t been so warm that  I have wanted to go without a shirt.
   There was sure something unusual going on here. Just as the frigid, brutal weather in most of the rest of the United States was unusual.
   I knew, however, that this was no idyll, no pleasant dream, no paradise on earth (at least for those who like it warm or hot all the time), when it hit the news. The two headlines at the top of the front page of the Los Angeles Times on January 16, told it all - or a lot of it.
   “Cutting back as levels fall” was the headline on one article, with the sub-headline reading “Concern is that state is headed for major drought.” The article said that many lakes and reservoirs in California are at historically low levels and that
residents in some towns up north are being asked not to water their lawns. It was one of several that week noting the lack of rain, saying that last year was the driest in decades and that this January appeared headed to be the driest ever. It was also reported that this year’s snowpack, vital to the state’s water supply, is 20% of the average. Although it also had been mentioned in these articles that Southern California has enough water stored to last a year or two, it was no surprise when, on the following day, Governor Jerry Brown declared that California is in a drought.
   (What I’m left wondering, though, is if Southern California having water stored up makes it okay for us to keep watering our lawns and to use thousands of gallons to make a hockey rink in Dodger Stadium.)
   The other story topping that front page was about how cell phones and other nifty technological devices that we now rely on may well be rendered useless by an earthquake. This article didn’t come out of the blue. There had been not only a number of articles commemorating the twentieth anniversary of the Northridge quake and about concerns over old buildings and new earthquake faults in Los Angeles. There had also been a number of small quakes in the area in the previous week or two. Many of these stories included the reminders that we are well overdue for “the Big One.”
   There were also the fires, including the dramatic one in the hills above Glendora. Several articles in the Times noted that, while it is highly unusual to be concerned about wildfires and to need fire-fighters and equipment available in January with the “fire season” usually ending in late November or December, foliage is tinder dry and combustible due to, yes, lack of rain.   Furthermore, there was a report several days later about how the high pressure weather system that is keeping rain away is also trapping air particles and making it smoggy, not only unusually so during our winters here but also sometimes unhealthily so to an significant extent.
   What do we do with all this ominous news? Continue to bask and play in the sun, glad we’re not in all that snow and ice, perhaps while buying more bottles of water and hoping for the best when the large earthquake or no rain comes? As a friend from L.A said when he was here on the same day that the two articles appeared, “It’s so beautiful that it’s getting dangerous.”
   I think he was only half-joking, if that.

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