Contrary to popular thought that California has perfect winters, we have wind. Not gentle ocean breezes. Rip your table umbrellas out and deposit them in your neighbor’s yard wind. Destructive and bone chilling, these winds blow into town and linger for days. In the summer, they can be furnace blasts, but the worst come whipping through the winter.
California elementary schools assume we will always have mild weather. There is no shelter between buildings and portables. Students have to brave mighty gusts to have lunch and use the restrooms. “Inclement weather” is declared, and all recesses cancelled for the day. Teachers and their classes remain huddled inside their rooms.
Attention spans diminish, and voices grow louder. Pollen kicks up to spark headaches and runny noses. Already sick children gather at the school nurse’s office while she calls their parents.
Meanwhile, palm fronds land like missiles on cars passing on the streets. Ancient branches raise their arms in surrender and fall on parked cars. Dust and leaves swirl in doorways, waiting to blow in.
Wind makes people angry. A local proverb advises not to make any major decisions on a windy day.
Perhaps we shared a haughty chuckle when it was sunny and 80 degrees last weekend and other regions of the country lie buried in snow. We thought ourselves worthy of that song, “California Dreaming.”
Maybe the wind is our punishment for being proud.
September in Southern California is the space in-between. It’s past summer, not yet fall. We still endure triple digit heat while the rest of the country cools down. No special holidays except Labor Day, and that’s just another excuse to have a BBQ by the pool. Teachers and students sweat through the inclement weather schedule, patiently waiting for relief. Even though I have a pool, this month I rarely dip in, cooler nights dropping pool temperature into the cold range.
In-between. Not yet Halloween or Thanksgiving. Already yearning for Christmas break.
When I lay down at night, I dream of sweaters and boots, grey stormy skies, and hot cocoa. I usually love summer, but when September comes, I am eager to pack away my swimsuit and sunscreen. My jeans whisper “Pick me,” in my closet, my umbrella calls my name. But not yet. Not when I have recess duty under a blazing sun.
Patiently we wait. Sweating through September days. Going to school and work, teased into wearing a jacket early in the morning, only to tear it off before 10:00 a.m.
Other places, the leaves turn colors and fall. But not here in the desert. We outlast the scorching heat while waiting for cooler days.
Sunny, pleasant days that make us forget that many other places will suffer the pangs of winter that will pass us by. Rainy days that wash away dust and smog.
But for now, we are in-between. Waiting.
I know that someone who lives in a state that continually suffers drought should not complain about rain. But there’s something you should know about the effect of precipitation on southern California.
First of all, our cities have not been planned for actual water to flow through our streets. Any drainage system that exists is mainly ornamental, and when the gutter rivers begin to rise, the sewers are quickly clogged. This results in instant lakes blocking the intersections of major roads.
Added to that, and perhaps because of that, drivers in southern California don’t know how to operate their vehicles in the rain. Possibly it hasn’t rained since they passed their drivers test. But I believe that these drivers are so accustomed to bright sunny days and clear nights that they tend to throw tantrums if the weather doesn’t cooperate. So they speed through flooded streets, creating tall rooster tails of water on both sides of their cars. Or they panic and stop in the middle of the street, unable to proceed due to the drops of water on their windshields. And their windshield wipers have rotted away in the sun long ago, and the screeching sound of the wiper arms adds to their menace.
Another effect of long-awaited rain is mudslides and falling trees. We never do anything half way in California, so when it rains, it rains solid for three days straight. Those ash-strewn hills trying to recover from wildfires become chocolate pudding that rushes to join the rest of the water blocking the drains at the bottom of the hills. Huge trees come tumbling down on houses and cars. Even houses groan and shift down the hill. The effects of rain can be more devastating than the drought.
Children stay home from school as parents don’t want to battle the rain to drive them, or don’t want their kids to stand soaked at the bus stop. One rural school district even called a “Rain Day” and closed their schools, as buses got stuck in the mud on back roads. Teachers wish they would have stayed home when they are stuck with kids in the classroom all day, California kids that are used to playing outside.
But I hope you understand. I’m not complaining. There’s snow on the ski slopes and water in our lakes. The hills surrounding me are bright green, bringing back memories of Ireland. But our gift of water always comes with a cost. So I guess we just have to be ready to pay it.