It feels like summer has finally hit the Bay area. There’s apparently a high-pressure system sitting over the desert southwest pumping hot air up into our area. Temperatures got up into the mid-nineties today, with little or no wind.
Summer heat in the Bay area means smog and ground-level ozone. Driving down Route 101 to work today, the mountains on the other side of San Francisco Bay, usually clearly visible, were hard to see through the light blue haze. Smog and ground-level ozone mean that I feel lousy.
The short-term bad news is that tomorrow it’s supposed to hit one hundred degrees in Palo Alto. The short-term good news is that the forecast says cool air from Alaska will move into our area by the weekend. The long-term bad news is that University of California scientists are now predicting that climate change in our area is going to cause more hot days, which means more days of high ground-level ozone levels. The long-term good news is… um, what is the long-term good news?
We’ve been having a cold summer here in the Bay area, with night time temperatures frequently in the low fifties. Tomato plants do not like it to be that cool, and while our tomato plants set a lot of fruit, the little green tomatoes just hang on the vine and stay both little and green.
We had one tomato plant covered with little green tomatoes, growing in a big pot that sat in a sunny place in the yard. A few days ago I carried it up to our second-floor deck, huddled up against the house where I thought it might be a little bit warmer. Sure enough, after just a few days the plant looks happier, and most of the tomatoes are turning red; while the tomato plants down in the yard are still covered in green tomatoes.
September tends to be the warmest month in the Bay area. Perhaps this cool weather will finally end, and suddenly we’ll find ourselves inundated with more tomatoes than we can eat.
This afternoon, while I was waiting to meet someone in Berkeley, I walked up the hills behind the Graduate Theological Union, up past the Lawrence Berkeley Lab, up further to where I got a view of the bay. Fog covered most of San Francisco, except for the tall buildings downtown, and a little bit of the waterfront; fog poured around the south side of San Bruno Mountain; fog filled the Golden Gate, so all you could see of the bridge was the very top of the north tower; fog rolled around the Marin headlands and streamed up inland towards the Delta. South of San Bruno down the Peninsula, the higher mountains held the fog back; I could see that San Mateo had no fog. And there was no fog in Berkeley; the city stretched out below me, and I could see little specks that were cars moving along University Ave., west towards the freeway. It was about three hours from sunset, and the way the sun lit of the fog from behind, and the way it shone on the silvery waters of the bay, was enough to make my heart ache from the beauty of it all.
There are places in Silicon Valley where you can stand along the edge of San Francisco Bay and look back at the Coastal Range, and during the summer you can watch as the fog from the Pacific Ocean spills over the low points in the ridge line. On the other side of the Coastal Range, an ocean current hits the shore line, and deep cold water comes to the surface where it meets warmer air, and condenses into fog. The fog will build up until it’s five hundred or a thousand feet high, high enough to spill over the low points in the ridge. You can watch the fog working its way down through the distant woodlands some miles away and hundreds of feet higher than where you stand, down at sea level, in the warm bright sunshine of Silicon Valley.
This afternoon, I took a break from not writing the things I’m supposed to be writing, and went out to the Baylands nature preserve for a walk.
We’re now fully into the summer-dry season. The plants all look drab: The grasses are crispy and dry; they have faded beyond golden-brown to pale golden-brown. The leaves of the trees have become dull green. Even the cattails, with their feet sunk into damp soil in the marshes, are not as green as they are in the spring.
Away from the bay, I didn’t see many animals: I saw one gopher, heard and insect or two, saw one small brown bird flitting from one bit of cover to another bit of cover. But there was plenty of activity out on the waters and mudflats of the bay. Forster’s Terns were everywhere, diving into the water and sometimes coming up with fish in their bills. Barn Swallows swooped along the edges of the salt marshes, while egrets hunted in the shallow waters near by. Hundreds of shore birds plunged their bills into the mud left behind by low tide.
Three of us were driving across the Dumbarton Bridge from the Peninsula to the East Bay. As we came up over the height of the bridge, my eyes were drawn to the golden-brown Hayward Hills.
“The hills are brown,” I said, and sighed. “Summer’s really here.” I don’t like
“They were still green just a few weeks ago,” said Marsha.
“Well, our last rain was in, what, late May?” I said.
“The rains ended unusually late this year,” said Marsha, who grew up in California.
Julian sat and listened to us. He has just moved here from western Massachusetts, where it remains green all summer long.
The dry season has set in, the creeks have dried up, and the soil is getting powder dry. Our tomato plants looked like they needed water, so one evening we turned on the soaker hose that we buried in the garden, and let it run all night. The next morning, some animal — a roof rat, a large bird, a cat? — had uncovered portions of the hose, presumably to suck water off of it. And this morning when I watered the kale and tomatoes we have growing in containers on our second-story porch, and Oregon junco (Junco hyemalis [thurberi?]) came to sip at the overflow. Although the last rainstorm was only a few weeks ago, water is already precious to small animals.
The rains continued right up to the last week of April, which everyone keeps saying is unusual. Everything is still green: the hills in the distance, the unmowed verges along the roads. But now it seems that the rains have ended at last, and the summer-dry season is setting in. As I drove across the Dumbarton Bridge to the East Bay, I noticed that the green hills on the other side of the Bay are already fading to gold in places. And the long grass along part of the road near the church is fading from a brilliant green to a light golden-green, its heavy seedheads nodding in the sun. Soon the hills will fade a golden-brown, and the ground will be parched dry; in the mean time, though, flowers bloom everywhere, the air is thick with pollen, and trees are beginning to set fruit. Another writer living in a Mediterranean climate said this about this time of the year:
My beloved spake, and said unto me, Rise up, my love, my fair one, and come away.
For, lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone;
The flowers appear on the earth; the time of the singing of birds is come, and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land;
The fig tree putteth forth her green figs, and the vines with the tender grape give a good smell. Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away.
Song of Solomon, 2.10-13, KJV
The clouds have been thick and dark today; and while we have seen a little bit of sun now and then, the clouds have persisted all day. In the summer, we may get morning fog that blots out the sun, but it generally clears away in the afternoon; but winter clouds don’t disappear by midday. It was supposed to rain today; it hasn’t yet, at least not where I am; but it does feel like the summer dry season is slowly winding down.