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|The Climate of California.
Had Shakespeare lived in California, he would not have written of the "winter of our discontent," but would most probably have found in the summer of that then undiscovered country a more fitting symbol of the troublous times referred to; for, with the fogs, winds, and dust, that accompany the summer, or the "dry season," as it is more appropriately called in California, it is emphatically a season of discontent. In the mountains of the State only are these conditions not found. True, you will find dust even there as the natural consequence of the lack of rain; but that is not, of course, so bad in the mountains; and with no persistent, nagging wind to pick it up and fling it spitefully at you, you soon get not to mind it at all. But of summer in the coast country it is hard to speak tolerantly. The perfect flower of its unloveliness flourishes in San Francisco, and, more or less hardily, all along the coast. From the time the rains cease - generally some time in May - through the six-months' period of their cessation, the programme for the day is, with but few exceptions, unvaried. Fog in the morning - chilling, penetrating fog, which obscures the rays of the morning sun completely, and, dank and "clinging like cerements," swathes every thing with its soft, gray folds. On the bay it hangs, heavy and chill, blotting out everything but the nearest objects, and at a little distance hardly distinguishable from the water itself. At such times is heard the warning-cry of the foghorns at Fort Point, Goat Island, and elsewhere - a sound which probably is more like that popularly supposed to be produced by an expiring cow in her last agony than any thing else, but which is not like that or any thing in the world but a foghorn. The fog of the morning, however, gives way to the wind of the afternoon, which, complete master of the situation by three o'clock P.M., holds stormy sway till sunset. No gentle zephyr this, to softly sway the delicate flower or just lift the fringe on the maiden's brow, but what seamen call a "spanking breeze," that does not hesitate to knock off the hat that is not fastened tightly both fore and aft to the underlying head, or to fling sand and dust into any exposed eye, and which dances around generally among skirts and coat-tails with untiring energy and persistency. To venture out on the streets of San Francisco at such times is really no trifling matter; and to one not accustomed to it, or to one of a non-combative disposition, the performance is not a pleasant one. Still the streets are always full of hurrying passengers; for, whether attributable to the extra amount of vitality and vim that this bracing climate imparts to its children, or to a more direct and obvious cause, the desire to get indoors again as soon as possible, the fact remains the same - that the people of California walk faster than do those of almost any other country. Not only men either, who with their coats buttoned up to their chins, and hats jammed tightly over their half-shut eyes, present a tolerably secure surface to the attacks of the wind, but their fairer sisters too can be seen, with their fresh cheeks and bright eyes protected by jaunty veils, scudding along in the face or the track of the wind, as the case may he, with wonderful skill and grace, looking as trim and secure as to rigging as the lightest schooner in full sail on their own bay.
But it is after the sun has gone down from the cloudless sky, and the sea has recalled its breezes to slumber for the night, that the fulfillment of the law of compensation is made evident in this matter. The nights are of silver, if the days be not of gold. And all over the State this blessing of cool, comfortable nights is spread. At any season, one can draw a pair of blankets over him upon retiring, sure of sound, refreshing slumber, unless assailed by mental or physical troubles to which even this glorious climate of California cannot minister.
The country here during this rainless season does not seem to the Eastern visitor enough like what he has known as country in the summer to warrant any outlay in getting there. He must, however, understand that here people go to the country for precisely opposite reasons to those which influence Eastern tourists to leave the city and betake themselves to rural districts. In the East, one leaves the crowded streets and heated atmosphere of the great city to seek coolness in some sylvan retreat. Here, we leave the chilling winds and fogs of the city to try to get warm where they cannot penetrate. Warm it may be; but the country at this season is not at its best as to looks. The flowers and the grass have disappeared with the rains, the latter, however, keeping in its dry, brown roots, that the sun scorches daily, the germ of all next winter's green. Of the trees, the live-oak alone keeps to the summer livery of Eastern forests. Farther up in the mountain counties it is very different. No fairer summer could be wished for than that which reigns cloudless here; and with the sparkling champagne of that clear, dry air in his nostrils, our Eastern visitor forgets even to sigh for a summer shower to lay the dreadful dust. And even in the valleys and around the bay, we must confess that some advantages arise from the no-rain-for-six-months policy. Picnickers can set forth any day, with no fear of the fun of the occasion being wet-blanketed by an unlooked-for shower; and farmers can dispose of their crops according to convenience, often leaving their wheat piled up in the field, with no fear of danger from the elements.
Still we do get very tired of this long, strange summer, and the first rains are eagerly looked for and joyously welcomed. The fall of the first showers after such a long season of bareness and brownness is almost as immediate in its effects as the waving of a fairy's magic wand over Cinderella, sitting ragged in the ashes and cinders. The change thus wrought is well described by a poet of the soil in a few picturesque lines:
Week by week the near hills whitened,
In their dusty leather cloaks;
Week by week the far hills darkened,
From the fringing plain of oaks;
Till the rains came, and far breaking,
On the fierce south-wester tost,
Dashed the whole long coast with color,
And then vanished and were lost.
With these rains the grass springs up, the trees put out, and the winds disappear, leaving in the air a wonderful softness. In a month or two the flowers appear, and the hills are covered with a mantle of glory. Bluebells, lupins, buttercups, and hosts of other blossoms, spring up in profusion; and, illuminating every thing, the wild California poppy lifts its flaming torch, typifying well, in its dazzling and glowing color, the brilliant minds and passionate hearts of the people of this land. All these bloom on through the winter, for this is a winter but in name. With no frost, ice, or snow, it is more like an Eastern spring, but for the absence of that feeling of languor and debility which is so often felt in that season. True it rains a good deal, but by no means constantly, more often in the night; and it is this season of smiles and tears, this winter of flowers and budding trees, in which the glory of the California climate lies. Certainly nothing could be more perfect than a bright winter day in that State. Still, after all I could say in its praise, you would not know its full charm till you had felt its delicious breath on your own brow; for the peculiar freshness and exhilaration of the air are indescribable.
Sometimes in March, the dwellers on the bay are treated to a blow or two from the north, which is about as serious weather as the inhabitant of that favored clime ever experiences. After a night whose sleep has been broken by shrieks of the wind and the rattling of doors and windows, I wake with a dullness of head and sensitiveness of nerve that alone would be sufficient to tell me that the north wind had risen like a thief in the night, and had not, according to the manner of that class, stolen away before morning. On the contrary, he seems to be rushing around with an energy that betokens a day of it. I dress, and look out of my window. The bay is a mass of foaming, tossing waves, which, as they break on the beach just below, cast their spray twenty feet in air. All the little vessels have come into port, and only a few of the largest ships still ride heavily at their anchors. The hue separating the shallow water near the shore from the deeper waters beyond is much farther out than usual, and is more distinct. Within its boundary, the predominant white is mixed with a dark, reddish brown; without, the spots of color are darkest green. The shy has been swept of every particle of cloud and moisture, and is almost painfully blue. Against it, Mounts Tamalpais and Diablo stand outlined with startling clearness. The hills and islands round the bay look as cold and uncomfortable in their robes of bright green as a young lady who has put on her spring-dress too soon. The streets and walks are swept bare, but still the air is filled with flying sand that cuts my face like needles, when, later, overcoated and gloved to the utmost, I proceed downtown. Such days are Nature's cleaning days, very necessary to future health and comfort, but, like all cleaning-days, very unpleasant to go through with. With her mightiest besom does the old lady sweep all the cobwebs from the sky, all the dirt and germs of disease from the ground, and remove all specks and impurities from her air-windows. One or two such "northers" finish up the season, effectually scaring away all the clouds, thus clearing the stage for the next act in this annual drama of two acts.
This climate of California is perfectly epitomized in a stanza of the same poem before quoted:
So each year the season shifted,
Wet and warm, and drear and dry,
Half a year-of cloud and flowers,
Half a year of dust and sky.