The morning is a schizophrenic mix of dull gray clouds and filtered sun, making me uncertain as to how I should dress for the outdoor chores I want to do. Should I cover up, protecting myself from the unseasonably cool breeze, or toss my caution to the wind and pull on cropped pants and a shirt that leaves my arms exposed? The latter requires rubbing in sunscreen. I’m reluctant. The lotion is cold; my house is cold, not yet warmed up after yet another night in the low 40s. In June. But once outside, won’t I enjoy the sun’s feeble warmth? I’ll forget about goose-bumpy arms as I move around, raking and sweeping and trimming, dead-heading and neatening up.
It seems I’m never satisfied. During several recent winters I complained because winter never really arrived. There were months of days in the 60s after only brief forays into the sort of frigid temperatures that winter is supposed to bring. Spring merely continued the trend, and when summer came, it came early and with such heat and blinding sun that I swore every time I had to go out into it. Fire on the brain. Immolated skin. This, I thought darkly, is global warming. You don’t believe in it? Then live where I do, through long, moisture-less winters and flaming summers so hot and dry they crackle and crumble into dust.
Then Last Summer arrived – and settled in – with a low cloud cover and the kind of humidity I’d only before experienced in the American South and in Northern Germany, close to the sea. But here there was no rain. That wasn’t a surprise; it never rains (in any measurable way) in any part of California from April until November. But the persistent gray skies, coolish temperatures and high humidity were odd. My vegetable garden tried its best, but just couldn’t take off. The sullen summer turned into a clear and sunny fall, and then, suddenly, into a Winter that finally deserved that capital W.
Snow, a melting rain, more snow, more rain. Cold winds and iced-over mornings. Snow again, as high as my knees. It was the winter I’d been dreaming of, the possible end to a three-year drought and weather boring enough to cause madness.
Then it stayed. And stayed. And stayed, only breaking briefly now and then as it rolled right over Spring and permitted only enough sun through to convince the trees to leaf out, the flowers to open and the birds to mate and sing and nest. Capital W Winter teased me. “Prepare your garden! Dream of sun-warmed tomatoes and aubergines! Dare to consider shorts and flip-flops, and iced tea out on the patio!”
So I dreamed.
As the Northern California mountain June begins, gray, rainy May hangs on doggedly, the see-sawing barometric pressure making my hands and knees swell and ache and pulse. My mood is turning cold and gray to match what I see out my windows.
The cropped pants and short-sleeved shirt win out. I’ll bring my fleece jacket out with me, handy for cold moments, just in case. And when the chilly rain comes again this afternoon, I’ll hide indoors with a fire kindled in the woodstove, wondering what sort of meal to cook for supper. A hearty soup to warm the bones, complete with crusty bread for sopping up savory broth, or a crisp, cheerful and cooling green salad loaded with colorful vegetables imported from far away?
Maybe both. My hands will tell me.