Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Spring on the rails

I know it's not spring any more but this got caught in the queue.
I've often thought that the reason California is called the Golden State has nothing to do with 1849. Rather, I suggest it's because most of the year, the hillsides in this state are golden brown, reflecting our long dry summers. But for 6 weeks or so in the spring, the hills turn green and lush from the winter rains. March is the greenest month.

On the train from San Diego to Los Angeles, signs of spring are all around. But you can see spring most strikingly on the long stretch of track through the Marine Corps' Camp Pendleton, the great expanse of open space that prevents San Diego from merging with Orange County. The hills somehow look softer in their green mantle.

The flowers are out, too. In the warm glow of early morning, the colors are partiicularly vivid. The brilliant orange dots of the clusters of California poppies, opening up as the sunlight hits them (they furl up at night). The lavender-blue of the stalks of lupine. The leggy mustard, with the balls of bright yellow flowers.

The story goes that the Spanish Franciscans marked their path from mission to mission by throwing mustard seed from the pockets of their habits. Now, it's everywhere, and it looks like someone scumbled patches of cadmium yellow paint across the hillsides with a brush.

Along the beach side, there are glimpses of muted yellow daisies, and purple sea lavender with its flat leaves like lapping tongues. New growth on the coastal sage has a grey-green color, giving it a silvery glow. There's a carpet of green grass underneath.

The visiting birds are still feeding in the lagoons in their dull winter plumage. The beaches are still victims of winter waves that hide the sand offshore, exposing patches of smooth beach stones like scars . But soon enough the birds will migrate north wearing brighter colors, and the summer rhythm of the waves will return the beach sand to cover the stony areas. And we will move through the dry season into fire season and into winter again, all framed by the windows of the train.

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