It’s crazy to me that 45 days have passed since the original Bay Area shelter in place went out on March 17. In the beginning, days seemed like months. I blinked and then realized today is May 1. I’ve been hiking a lot in the local parks around my house. Whereas before a week or two would go by between visits, now it’s only a day or two that passes before I’m back hiking again. I see more resolution in the world around me, and thus the subtle changes in nature around me appear in a way I haven’t before.
For the past few weeks, my neighbor has been reminding me that he believes Mount Diablo will be fully gold by May 1. I’ve been hoping for a bit more rain to keep the hills a bit greener for a few more weeks, but it looks like he’s right. Winter’s green has yielded to summer’s gold.
It’s easy to discount seasons here in the Bay Area. From a distance, we really appear to have two seasons: the wet season and the dry season or the green season and the gold season. With a closer eye, I’ve been able to appreciate our ecology as it relates to seasons highlighted by this transition from winter to summer through spring.
There are clear calendar dates demarcating the formal transitions between seasons. In the context of this post, I’m looking more at the ecological signals rather than the calendar signals highlighting our seasons. These important nuances helped me appreciate what makes each season unique rather than using a calendar date to tell Mother Nature’s time.
The transition from fall into winter is an easy one: it starts raining. The rain has a profound effect on our landscape rapidly changing the hills around us from a tired brown to a renewed green. The grasses pop up from the water. The air cleans out from the wind. Occasionally our peaks will get some snow and cold air fills the various valleys across the Bay Area.
The dawning of spring is more nuanced. In this part of the world spring generally means high temperatures in the 70s consistently but in actuality we can vary from low 60s to high 80s. Winter however doesn’t have wildflowers. I’m guessing the longer days signal for the flowers to come out – particularly the California Poppy, our state flower. The green hillsides now have splashes of yellow, orange, purple, and white as the wildflowers show their color.
My first year out here I couldn’t believe that it wouldn’t rain roughly from May 1 to Thanksgiving. The lack of water strips the hills of their green and the flowers of their color to a golden landscape of brown. There’s no way one can talk about California ecology and not talk about fire.
Fire shapes many of the natural processes around this area. The giant Sequoia’s to the east of me need fire to germinate new trees. Fire clears overgrown brush for new growth to appear. Left unchecked, fire also destroys homes and cities. Local governments here invest in fire suppression techniques to make sure that residents don’t get caught in fire’s activity. During this period of extended downtime, I’ve seen the grass scalped by mowers in wide swaths creating fire breaks between open space and subdivisions. The transition from spring into summer is a soft one from Mother Nature’s perspective. We however declared a formal transition as we know that fire season is just around the corner.
In the early autumn fire starts popping up throughout the state. After months of warm temperatures and no rain fire becomes an ever present possibility. Later on in the fall the trees do show their autumn color all across Northern California. Her color usually pops up in the far north of the state and its high-altitude working its way south and down the mountain at the same time. It’s a beautiful sight to see.
As I look back over the last 45 days I didn’t see much change from day to day. The season however has changed. With all things going on coronavirus, Mother Nature changed her backdrop. Life continues to roll forward whether there is a global pandemic or not. The passing of time for me notes that this too will pass as it’s season will end too.