I am most comfortable in the cold driving rains of the California winter. Those rains poetically provoke an unbelievable bloom of color and life on the hillsides. Those hillsides run to the ocean in the west, bow to the great valley as they melt east, and then rise to the snow-covered granite peaks that punctuate the landscape and elevate the entire state to the sky. When the winter rains come they make the sky dark, the winds howl, and the bones chill. This reality betrays the perception of a perennial sunny California, but only for a few months — more if we’re lucky. California dreamers, uninitiated to the colder, moodier months, may find it surprising, but every Californian, who lives with the constant hum of anxiety about the next big drought, the next big fire, the next big something, welcome those dark atmospheric rivers that bring much-needed sustenance to a landscape that would otherwise parch in the persistence of sun and heat that bless the land much of the year. As the clouds build and the raindrops fall, the land respires, settles, and quickly the valleys can flood as the streams and rivers bloat and run beyond their typical course. Hillsides slide bringing trees and massive boulders down with them, and highways are shut down in the mountain passes as blankets of snow compound the already difficult terrain.
A convincing demonstration of this seasonal flourish can be found in the views I consume right out my backdoor. The prominence of Mission Peak in the winter is transformed from the brown and gold of the summer heat to a deep and luscious emerald. Evocative of Ireland or Hawaii, if you aren’t looking too closely, the ridge line completely changes the mood.
One of my favorite scenes of the season though is on the way to my former work home, Salinas. I have driven the 101 freeway from the Santa Clara Valley to the Salinas Valley perhaps sixty times, maybe more. There is a point when you start climbing into the southwest reaches of the Santa Cruz mountains as they drift off to sleep at the bottom of the Santa Clara Valley, right before you cross the San Benito County line, and right after you cross its namesake river (if you are traveling south), when during the height of the winter bloom if you look back, the verdant emerald hills and their undulating cracks and folds overwhelm you with the majesty of God’s creation. This is a scene I have been blessed to see so many times, but it has never lost its effect, driving in me a sense of awe and gratitude. That green can bury and muffle life’s trials and difficulties, and allow you to just live for a while as you stare. It at once paints a picture I wish I owned, a photograph I wish I took, the great American novel I wish I could write, the inspiration for the song I have not yet composed, and the poem that just is and is understood by every passerby with the care to observe and appreciate. It holds in its depth of color, and strength of existence, a redemptive power, an eternal bloom of forgiving energy.
I love this state. I love what it makes me feel. I love its diversity — of place, of season, of people, of smell and feel. I love the churning gray and deep blue waves that crash, the coastal trees that reach with the wind or tower with majesty. I love the chaparral leading down to the sea, the great valley that feeds the nation, the divine granite cathedrals that at once beckon and warn, and the deserts that can burn and heal.