I was walking across the patio at the church this morning. Suddenly, smoke swept across the far side of the patio. Was someone burning brush? No, it wasn’t smoke — it didn’t smell like smoke, and it wasn’t blue — it must be dust. But the only way you’d get a dust cloud like that would be if it were very windy, and there was nothing more than a gentle breeze blowing.
Then I looked up. One of the trees in the patio, a non-native tree, some kind of European conifer, was releasing huge clouds of pollen, so much pollen that it looked like smoke.
It’s so green,
I said, as
we drove past
while you can.
The rain came
and went. Light
rain, no rain.
creeks to the
Bay. Then stops.
Months with no
rain, no rain
at all. Sun.
More sun. And
brown and dry.
It’s so green,
I said to
for an in-
stant, then fo-
cused back on
In one of the few breaks in the rain this week, I managed to take a walk along the old salt ponds at the edge of San Francisco Bay in Palo Alto, now the Baylands nature preserve. It was low tide, so there were birds everywhere: shorebirds, gulls, diving ducks and dabbling ducks, egrets, grebes, geese, a White-Tailed Kite out hunting. And sitting among some California Gulls were half a dozen Black Skimmers (Rynchops niger), standing on the mud flats, all facing in the same northwesterly direction. Black Skimmers make me smile; they are such silly-looking birds, with their ridiculously large orange-and-black bills with the lower mandible sticking way out past the upper mandible, and black-and-white plumage on their heads that makes them look as though they’re wearing a baseball cap pushed to the back of their heads, and gawky red-orange legs.
But they’re not ridiculous at all. Their bill may look silly to me, but it is a precisely engineered product of natural selection and evolution, allowing the birds to skim fish from the surface of the water as they fly along. No doubt their plumage also has an evolutionary function; their legs only look a little gawky because these are birds that are meant for precision flying, not for walking around on dry ground. Black Skimmers are not silly at all, they are amazingly successful organisms: “This skimmer has undergone a remarkable range expansion north from Mexico into California since 8 Sept. 1962, when the first bird was found at the mouth of the Santa Ana River…” Arnold Small, California Birds: Their Range and Distribution, 1994.
Driving over the high point of the Dumbarton Bridge at the end of the day yesterday, I saw the Bay area at its most beautiful. The light rain had stopped. The land was green, and looked greener still because the light was diffused through the cloud cover. The dikes around the old salt ponds were green, and the water they contained ranged from silver to black depending on the thickness of the clouds above. And the hills of the East Bay were incredibly green, their low summits invisible in the low-hanging clouds.
I took BART into the city, and happened to arrive at the Powell BART station just as the San Francisco St. Patrick’s Day parade was passing by. People in the Bay area make a big deal about how the San Francisco St. Patrick’s Day parade is one of only three in the country to allow GLBTQ people to march. But the big deal for me was that many of the spectators topped off their bright green outfits with orange-and-black Giants baseball caps. Where I come from, you do not wear orange on St. Patty’s Day.
Overheard in a restaurant: …he wasn’t the best man, but he was going to stand right next to the best man. Well, it turns out he couldn’t hold his liquor. He barfed all over himself five minutes before the wedding started. All down his front. [The best man] took him into the bathroom and cleaned him up, and he looked fine except he had little bits of toilet paper all over him. He smelled pretty funky. But he made it through the ceremony OK.
One of the houses near where we live is a modest but lovely clapboard house with gingerbread trim, over a hundred years old (that’s really old for a house on the Peninsula), and still occupied by descendants of the family who built it. In front of the house is one of my favorite spring gardens in town; it’s not a formal garden but rather almost looks like the flowers just sprung up on their own; and at the moment, this garden is at its peak.
The garden is attractive from the sidewalk, looking at it over the white picket fence, but then you don’t really see the house. I managed to find a place where I could look down and see both the garden and the house:
There was just enough rain for Carol to keep her umbrella up. It was dark and cool and quiet as we walked along, the only sound coming from the occasional car hissing by along the wet pavement. We walked through a place where some plants hung low and dark over the sidewalk, and suddenly we were enveloped in the heavy perfume of some unseen blossoms. In two steps we were past it, and in another step it was gone and I couldn’t smell it any more.
On the drive down to Palo Alto, there’s an overpass from which you can see the range of mountains south of San Jose. The highest peaks were still white today from the snow that fell early in the week. Today’s San Francisco Chronicle reported that up to eight inches fell on Mount Diablo (elev. 3,864 ft.), eastwards across the bay from us.
And the Chronicle reports that meteorologists say there’s a possibility that the Alaskan storm now heading southward could possibly deliver snow at sea level over the weekend. It probably won’t happen, but what if it does? — If it does snow, I’ll try to get a photo of snow on the orange tree in our back yard, which still has ripe oranges on it.
It seemed like there was a lull in the rain, so Carol and I walked over to the neighborhood supermarket to buy some dinner. On the way back home, the chilly damp wind blew fine raindrops at us. “It’s cold,” said Carol. “It can’t be more than forty degrees,” I said.
When we got back, I checked the weather forecast: it’s supposed to dip down into the thirties tonight in San Mateo; there’s a possibility of snow down to the two thousand foot level tonight and tomorrow, and there’s even been a report of snow on Grizzly Summit in the Berkeley Hills, which is a mere 1,750 feet high. We won’t get any snow down where we live, but if the fog lifts tomorrow we might be able to see snow on the mountains across the bay.
1 comment lost.
The car looked like it had a dusting of very fine snow on it this morning, though it was nowhere near cold enough for snow (and snow happens only once every fifteen years or so around here anyway). When I got closer to the car, I realized that the dusting had a yellowish cast to it, and it was coarse pollen that had clumped so that it looked like snow. This morning I woke up with a headache, and a general feeling of lassitude, and when I saw all that pollen I knew that it wasn’t some imaginary malady — it was hay fever.
Last year, I blamed the acacias, but a fellow hay fever sufferer told me that the brilliant yellow blossoms of the acacias are not to blame. The acacias bloom at the same time as the pines and some of the oaks, and their bright yellow blossoms are far more noticeable than the discreet green and brownish blossoms of the pines and oaks, so we blame them for our hay fever. But the acacias do not produce anything like the quantity of pollen that the pines and oaks pump out.
Some parts of the Bay Area got heavy rain today; up near Danville, I heard that the rains were so heavy they washed out part of a major freeway. But we have had no heavy rains here in Palo Alto, nothing to wash the air of all this pollen.