Pacific High

A day not much different from many others, but I did awake to the sound of my neighbors bringing in a construction crew that is doing something requiring lots of noise. I drove by them in the late morning and could see trucks and tools scattered all through the grove of redwood trees that skirt the front of their secluded home.  After two years of remodeling work on my old circa 1942 home built by Hawaiian flower farmers, I have become accustomed to the close-up sounds of construction. One would think there are hammer birds, skillsaw birds, or nail-gun birds, who fly through these redwood trees and drop off sheets of plywood and boxes of nails, screws, and buckets of glue.

The winter heat spell that we have been experiencing the last few days will continue. Whatever winter activity I might enjoy, I might as well cancel. The snow skiers are coming to the beaches this winter to go kayaking and surfing, as no serious snow has fallen in the Sierras. Close by me, this second year of drought doesn’t look too much different than a normal year. The massive redwood grove into which I peer each day, a finger of the Forest of Nisene Marks, looks about as green as normal. The redwoods get water from fog, not just from rain, and hold thousands of gallons of the water in their trunks. So when I look at them, I don’t get the image of this serious dryness that is now causing such concern.

Water departments, both local and state, are now making plans for what they must do to compensate for these couple of dry years. This is not the first time we have seen drought in California. I can recall several years when the Pacific high pressure ridge settles to the north and blocks anything cold or arctic from coming our way. I look at the weather map on TV and see these soft, white, floral-like images of the leading edge of the ridge holding back from us the thing we need most right now, while all the space directly overhead that should be cloud-filled and causing us to keep our umbrellas close at hand is just a deep blue empty sky.

The road below me should be wet all winter, as the sun is too low this time of year to pierce very effectively through the long redwood branches with enough heat and light to give the ground a good baking, but there is nothing in the way of wetness to be baked. We see, instead, brown fallen leaves from last fall still clinging to the roadway, and the small ditches on the side of the road that usually trickle all winter are soft and dry, with mounds of dirt pushed up by gophers feverishly digging for wild bulbs that have not matured.

I can’t see much more close by me that is a result of the drought. The county has placed a ban on all outdoor fires, including the small and personal ones that people enjoy sitting beside in the evenings–warming fires–but I have my propane fireplace, which is acceptable, so I can still sit out in the evenings and huddle close to this tinier flame. In fact, today I should make a run for more propane, as my two or three tanks have fizzled out on me.

It’s the high temperatures in the middle of the day that allow the local citizens some insight into the severity of this weather pattern. Yesterday climbed to 85 in Soquel and today is supposed to be at least 78, but I think higher. When I went to the pool to swim, the folding lounge chairs were all occupied with reddened sunbathers, their bare skin all creamed up with last summer’s tanning oil, dark sunglasses bridging their noses, and the white zinc oxide pasted on their lips. We normally might see a day or two like this in mid-winter and be thankful for the break from cold, but this year we are trying to understand how it is that we have somehow been forgotten by old man winter.

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