Thursday, September 6, 2007

Hot Spells

The California coast at San Onofreo beach near Gaviota, spring, 2007. It doesn't look like this anymore. (But it will again).
Photo/COPYRIGHT by Ross Care
Though the recent hot spell now seems to be cooling off temperatures in southern California hit the ceiling over the holiday weekend. Death Valley recorded 122, which is three degrees hotter than Kuwait City. Palm Springs was cooler at 110, and Anaheim hit 104 on Sunday which no doubt made the weekend crowds at Disneyland even more intolerable.
The LA Times reported 16 deaths reportedly due to the heat. The LA area suffered power outages that left thousands without power for several days. Downtown Los Angeles reported a high of 101

In California global warming and greed are even influencing art. The Santa Barbara Independent, one of the better regional papers in my area, reports: “Eco-arts agitator Bruce Caron withdrew his application to paint a 1,000-foot light blue line on downtown city streets to show where the sea level may rise as a result of global warming.” The Independent reports Caron decided to cancel his project when it reportedly drew too much controversy and opposition, especially from real estate interests who were worried the project would lower property values.

Yesterday I drove through Santa Barbara on the way to my favorite out-of-the-way beach up north. San Onofreo is about 125 miles north of LA. I had heard that there had been another wildfire near Gaviota and when we arrived firemen were still attending the site.
The fire had started on the inland side of the 101 freeway and jumped the four-lane highway – two lanes north, two lanes south with a divider – and railroad tracks to burn its way to the sea cliffs. What was once a small pleasant valley with a (seasonal) creek flowing through oak woods and across the beach into the Pacific (see photo which was taken looking south from the general area) is now an ashen, blackened no man’s land.

However, fire is a natural process in the west (or used to be).
After living through the seasonal changes of the east coast for most of my life, and being extremely attuned to them as well, I came to observe that in southern California having no real winter simply means that vegetation runs its life/death cycle without really being swept away by a harsh winter.
Come spring new growth simply pops up, or tries to, among last summer’s dead growth that, without trimming or fire, simply becomes a tangled, often-impenetrable (and tinder-like) mass. Thus fire is the kind broom that sweeps things clean just as a harsh winter with its rain, snow, and cold does in the east.

However, regeneration here is quick and efficient, even with little rain. Just this year a few months after a minor wildfire on the top of the 101 grade south of Oxnard vegetation quickly returned, even during one of the driest years on record. Though it was disturbing to see one of my favorite areas along the coast turned into a ghostly ashen landscape out of Corman’s THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER, I do look forward to following the transformation that will inevitably follow.

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