Tuesday, March 22, 2011


I love how unpredictable spring is. No matter where you live, it tickles you, slaps you with surprises. Like the rain on the roof last night that turned to the tap-tap-tap of sleet and then the silence of snow. This morning, Santa Fe is backed by huge dark clouds that rear up over the Sangre de Cristos like the backdrop for a melodrama. Despite the cold, my sturdy daffodils march along the walkway to our front door and the tulip leaves unfurl thick ruflled leaves. Somewhere, down in the dark center, a red rush of petals waits. They always remind me of cardinals, which, incidentally, don't fly west beyond the rockies.

I'm trying to make this place work for me and my husband. Our dog is from here--Taos Pueblo, in fact--so he doesn't count. The rain that fell here this morning left the central coast of California night before last. I miss it so, especially in spring. The verdant wonder of vast fields spilling down from the pass on Highway 46 to the edge of the sea, rippling in the wind like fur. The hills crouch the way cougars do, their arroyos the spaces between the toes of great green paws, gripping the earth. The faint salt smell on the cold wind, the white noise of the sea. And the flowers. Oh my Lord, the flowers!

Sheets of brilliant orange, solid color that only becomes the individual faces of a million poppies when you get a few hundred feet away from them. And the blue slashes of lupines spilling over banks, the magenta wine cups along backroads, clumps of dodecatheons in the wet marshes. Ceanothus, the bush we Californians call western lilac for its honey-like sweet scent and colors that range from buff to sky blue to deepest lavender. The hum of bees that blow down the inland valleys as the days warm. A scent of salty clay.

These are the things you know about a season in your homeplace. Scent, color, shifts in the light as it reflects off land, sea, clouds, rocks, grasslands, even off city walls. In some places, seasonal shifts are remarkably subtle. Recent arrivals, for instance, claim that southern California has no seasons. Quietly, those of us born there comment, "How gauche." Spring on the coast is marked by the high flat fog that makes everything reflect a bright gray, may cause headaches and lets the sun through for exactly two hours in the early afternoon. Spring inland is a rush of warm air up the canyons, the wildflowers mentioned above, plus dozens of others, and the nesting of towhees, house finches, orioles. Hawks climb the upward spiraling drafts, looking for the rodents who venture out of their winter nests. Dew comes edged with frost in the early morning. You begin thinking about stripping down to tee shirts, cut-offs and flip-flops until next October.

That's what I know about the place where I was born. What I know about this place where I live now is that spring comes and goes. Warm days seduce into trips to the greenhouse where bedding plants are already springing up and promising early summer crops. We think about planting lettuce and chard, lopping off the tangled privet branches, hiking up Big Tesuque trail in search of something that blooms early. Ah, fool! The next hour it's blowing like crazy and the temperature's dropping ten degrees an hour. And then, like today you wake up to snow. There's still ice along the Rio Grande deep in the Gorge where the sun doesn't make a dent until April. The Rocky Mountain hares are still white down to their shoulders. Birds are singing and mating one day and hiding in the cedars and pinons the next. One morning smells of wet grass and the next of snow. Spring zigzags in here.

Me, I want the steady rush of wind and grass and sea scent. I am homesick.