Friday, January 4, 2008

Tis the Season(s)

Along the John Potrero trail PHOTO by/copyright Ross Care

They say there are no seasons in California. Well, they’re wrong. We’ve got all the seasons and then some. They often just happen mostly at the same time. To what degree depends on the area, the elevation, and whatever microclimate you happen to be passing through at the time.
This Christmas day a friend and I drove into the Sespe wilderness behind Ojai, California. Ojai was briefly used as the long shot, first glimpse of Shangri La in Frank Capra’s classic film of LOST HORIZON. But the real Shangri La is on the other side of town, stretching many miles along route 33 as it makes it tortuous way through a variety of landscapes and microclimates.

As 33 leaves Ojai there is a spectacular gorge, and this gateway area is almost like eastern deciduous woods, and is particularly ravishing and aromatic in spring when the profuse California lilac blooms on all sides. On Christmas day these lower elevations were still lit with the blazing yellow torches of the streamside cottonwoods.

33 quickly climbs to higher, more wintrier elevations. (On Christmas day a few years ago there was snow in the pine summit forests and people were shoveling it into pickup trucks to take back home for a probably sloppy white Christmas).

Along another gorge is the John Potrero trail. It follows a smaller stream to one of the most beautiful microspots along the way. By this elevation autumn and winter mingle but on close examination the alders in the sheltered grove along the stream are covered with spring-like catkins and the tiny dark arrowheads of buds. A huge pine, an incense cedar, towers over the grove from a throne of mossy rock, its lacy green tipped in what look like tiny pinecones. In the limpid morning light I was reminded of a early spring day back, when, after a long winter, everything seems breathless with anticipation.

Further along 33 is a kind of high plateau that leads to the pine forests of the summit. This time of year this is one of most subtly dazzlingly stretches of the highway. It is bordered by meadows and hillsides of varied undergrowth the colors of which range from soft pinks and purples to fiery oranges. A huge ridge forms a spectacular backdrop, a kind of running backbone that has dropped fantastic boulders of every size and shape almost down to the highway.

On the way back we stopped to picnic at another one of the small streamside spots. At this elevation the cottonwoods that once blazed yellow against the cloudless blue skies were nearly bare now, but there were touches of bright, spring like green in the beeches and other trees.

These were a kind of mistletoe that hung in green globes in the upper branches and were sprouting in small new clusters directly out of the lower trunks. Some had fallen, probably due to the welcome rains of about a week ago, and I brought some sprigs home, an appropriate seasonal souvenir of a quietly fresh Christmas day in one of Ventura county’s most varied and quietly spectacular backyards.

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PS: At the moment three major winter storms are allegedly on the way to southern California! We need the rain!

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