Archive for October, 2007
A glimmering on the hilltop beyond the freeway is all that the morning can muster in the way of sunshine, and a ruby glow has begun to seep from the tangle of tree canopies, wisteria and grape vines. The neighbor’s fig tree is shedding great flaps of yellow leaves upon the exhausted annuals below, and drips of rain cling to the ragged edges of the oak leaves outside my window. A bruised blue sky is puffed with storm clouds. A melancholy West Coast autumn.
The congested streets steam and stink as droves of pedicured toes in fashionable flip-flops maneuver up and down the sidewalks of Manhattan. The human parade of baby doll dresses, tank tops and shorts up and down Madison Ave. mocks the shop window mannequins swaddled in dark wools and leather. “30% Off Fall Fashions!” scream the signs in Bloomingdale’s. The East Coast sweats into October.
Maybe it’s just a statistical freak that the first week of October in New York City felt like July in New Orleans. I walked around for five days in the same pair of jeans and close-toed shoes feeling like a polar bear in the Bahamas. At least I could remove my extra layers at the end of the day. Back home in Oakland, however, it was the end of tomato season in one cool wet swoop. Even as the garden droops from the waterless marathon of the dry season.
As the polar ice shelf melts and floats south, and the mythical Northwest Passage suddenly becomes real, a gardener has to wonder not what the season will bring but what it will be. Do the young oak trees in my garden, bristling with a bumper crop of acorns, know something I don’t? In spite of the early rains are the trees gearing up for a long, fruitless drought? Or are they just as confused as I am by the erratic weather.
Here in California we live by snow as much as by rain. If the winter does not blanket the Sierra Nevada in reserves of frozen water to be delivered in spring through the pipeline of the Sacramento-San Joaquin rivers to San Francisco Bay – there will be no fish spawn, no ocean food chain, no drinking water in the reservoirs, no water for crops in the irrigation canals. Rain will water the garden but snowmelt fills the bathtub and the washing machine.
For years now we Western gardeners have been educated in the ways of “water-wise” landscaping and drought-tolerant plant species. We’ve learned to let our lawns die and our native “weeds” flourish. My experiment with “dry farmed” tomatoes in the front yard this summer proved to me that there’s a lot I don’t yet know about sustainable gardening. As the hydrangeas and azaleas wither in the cracked adobe, the California currant seedlings pop up in the driest corners of the backyard. As long as there is kitchen waste there will be compost for the small raised bed where only a little water from the Sierra Nevada, via hose, will keep the dahlias (native to Mexico) blooming. Roses (from Damascus) may rely on their ancestry to survive.
But for the humans, it’s going to be a long weird season.