Wild December

What With Rain and Santa Ana Winds …

I like to think of the month of December as The Passing Parade. Now you have the Santa Ana Winds blowing from East to West, sending the humidity down to near zero and fomenting the horrible brush fires we have seen around Malibu and Paradise. Also I have a wicket hangnail on my right forefinger. Then you have the winds suddenly reversing direction and bringing rainstorms from the Northwest, making the humidity rise precipitately. Not to mention the massive floods and mudslides.

Imagine what all that does to the human body. Yesterday my blepharitis flared up again; my left eye dissolved in a flood of tears unrelated to emotions; and upper left eyelid look swollen and angry. As an accompaniment, I burst out in truly frightening sneezing fits that were so loud that I received long-distance calls from St. Louis, Missouri saying “Gesundheit! And please keep it down!” Sometimes these allergic bodily responses are so intense that they segue into a miserable cold. So far that has not happened to me yet this month.

As I am leaving for Guatemala next month, I’m hoping that when I board the plane, I will be well. Unfortunately, I have no control over the crazy weather systems that swing back and forth across the state during this wild month.

 

From Point Conception to the Mexican Border

The Lighthouse at Point Conception

For all the years I have lived in Southern California I have heard weather reports that included the phrase “from Point Conception to the Mexican Border.” It has finally entered my skull that, in terms of the weather, the border between Northern and Southern California is at a place in Santa Barbara County called Point Conception. North of Point Conception, the California coast is fairly vertical; south of the Point, the coastline goes from northwest to southeast. If you look at weather maps showing wind patterns, it is a fairly good bet that they split off in two directions once they reach Point Conception.

The area around the Point is sacred to the Chumash Indians as the “Western Gate” through which the souls of the dead pass between the mortal world and the heavenly paradise of Similaqsa. When a natural gas exploration firm attempted to drill there in 1978, the Chumash protested and faced them down.

Tonight, we have rain in the forecast, for only the second time since early last spring. It’s not supposed to be a big storm, only about a half inch or so; but any amount is most welcome.

 

The Turtle Brings Rain

Glimpse of a Turtle at Descanso Garden’s Mulberry Pond

To the American Indian, the turtle was a means by which rain can come in a dry season. Although Southern California had some rain this year, it wasn’t much; and it looks like it’s over until much later this year or early the next. Fortunately, the mountains to the north, from which we get most of our drinking water, had a fairly wet rainy season.

Here is one such ceremony for rainmaking using the image of a turtle that was documented by a surveyor who swears by it:

A Rain Turtle is a combined piece of American History from Indians & the Old West.

This is what I have been taught about them.

When I was a young man, & was taking an apprenticship in surveying, one of my teachers was a thin, OLD man that had been surveying since he was able to hold both ends of the rod off the ground. The old gent ALWAYS wore a white shirt, tie, kahaki pants, packer boots, and Fedora hat. He was in his 80’s when I met him….

He taught me that when the surveyors would survey boundaries & railroads across the old West, they often stayed with Indians, or had Indians accompany them on their long traverses across the American West.

The story goes on to say that when an area needed rain, the Indians would make the outline of a turtle in the sand, generally facing West, as that is the direction the Rain God came from…. Once the Turtle was drawn, the Indian would drive a stake of wood through the center of the Turtle. Often times, it rained instantly. The Indians took it for granted that the process worked & wondered why the “Dumb Ol’ White Eyes” would not use it when they needed the Rain God to appear!

Word of this phenominan [sic] quickly spread throughout the tight knit group of surveyors in the Old West. They quickly picked up on the trick & became apt at performing the simple cerimony [sic].

As they traveled through the West, they came across towns that severely needed rain for their crops & livestock. The surveyors were readily there to make a rain turtle & bring relief to the community…..

The communities, grateful to get the rainfall often offered to pay the surveyors for their precious gift….(which was promptly refused by the surveyors)

When the Survey Party proceeded to move on from the town, often, there had been a collection of baked goods, some money, chickens, things brought to the wagons the surveyors used, by the townspeople in appreciation for the rain.

Today, most surveyors know of the Rain Turtle…. Most of them use it to get a well deserved break in work, caused by the rain…

In my crowded little apartment, I have numerous turtles, most of which were fashioned by Indians. In the weeks to come, I will photograph them and present them in these pages. It will be my own ceremony for rain-making. Maybe it’ll work; maybe it won’t. Doesn’t matter.

 

So Much for This Rainy Season

I Doubt We’ll See Another Drop for Many Months

The rainy season of 2017-2018 turned out to be something of a bust. Oh, we had one good rain that killed a lot of poor people in Montecito. That whole range of hills that abuts the Coast Highway between Santa Monica and Gaviota is subject to mudslides whenever there is a short period of intense rain. It happened to the pretty little coastal town of La Conchita in 2005, and this time it was Montecito’s turn.

I just looked ahead to the forecast for the next 10 days. On Thursday, April 19, there is a 20% chance of rain—which probably just means a few droplets in the mountains and foothills. Most of Southern California will continue to be bone dry until the end of the year, if not longer.

The term “April Showers” doesn’t have much meaning in a Mediterranean climate zone such as the one I live in. If you were to drive for an hour and a half east of here, you would wind up in the Mohave Desert. Drive eight hours north of here, and you would be in the wetter Northern California zone. There are some 20 climate zones of 24 possible classifications to be found in California. I just happen to occupy one of the drier zones.

 

 

The Great God Chac

Chac Masks at Uxmal

From my trips to Yucatán, I became impressed with the one dominant image of Yucatec Mayan art: The face of Chac (pronounced CHOCK), the rain god. You see, Yucatán is a land without surface rivers. Oh, there is plenty of flowing water underground, but none of it breaks the pitted limestone surface of the peninsula. In areas several hundred feet above sea level, such as in the Puuc Hills, the water that sustained the ancient Mayans came from chultunes, underground cisterns. In some years, the cisterns were full; in others, there was pitifully little to sustain the cornstalks that fed the people.

When one visits Yucatán, particularly in Puuc Hill sites such as Uxmal, Kabah, Labna, Sayil, and Xlapak, the dominant image is that of hundreds of Chac masks acting as façades of the Chenes-style buildings.

After the rainy winter Southern California had last year, I was hoping for a repeat, but so far this rainy season, we haven’t received anywhere near an inch, or even a centimeter, of the wet stuff. We have rain forecast for next week, but my fingers are crossed. So often the winds just blow the clouds inland where they go to water the desert.

I am thinking, perhaps, of going to Yucatán again this year. There are a number of Mayan sites I have yet to visit, such as Coba in the State of Quintana Roo and Edzna and Xpujil in the State of Campeche. Despite the heat and humidity of the great limestone block that is the peninsula, it is a fascinating tourist destination, well developed with reasonable accommodations and good food. In addition to Yucatec cuisine, which is quite distinctive with its reliance on achiote, bitter oranges, and Habanero chiles, there are Syrian restaurants (the merchant class of 150 years ago was heavily Middle Eastern), plus the standard Mexican antojitos.

If I go, it will be toward the end of the year, after the rainy season which is also super hot and sticky.

 

Serendipity: The Rain in Mexico

Thoughts in a Dry Season...

Thoughts in a Dry Season…

I am now reading Eve Babitz’s second book—Slow Days, Fast Company: The World the Flesh, and L.A.—and loving it as much as her first, Eve’s Hollywood. Having been so many moons without rain, I was entranced by the following paragraph:

The rain in Mexico, that humid rain-jungle kind of rain with flashy colors and limes and the idea that if you got jungle rot, the tentacles of the carnivorous vines would cover you up, dead—that Mexican rain, I have to think twice about. I have tried to love all rain, but I don’t know about jungle rain. The tropics are not for me. Birds with flaming plumage and fruits with neon-pink centers in the rain—I bet if I had to have even two unbroken days of that, I’d slip right out of my mind the way that missionary did over Sadie Thompson. I’d rather just be Sadie Thompson and get it over with, but I’m afraid I’d turn into a Calvinist in hot rain, with transparent underlying motives and a worm-eaten, jungle-rotted Bible as my brain’s downfall.

Last year, I saw two incredible jungle storms. The first was while I was waiting to change planes at Sao Paolo, Brazil: I saw this huge front coming fast from the northwest, dumping rain in buckets. By the time my plane arrived, it was all over. The second one was in Puerto Iguazu. I sat under a colonnade by the pool as the storm hit quite suddenly, dumping large amounts of rain and hail. I just sat there sipping a bottle of Quilmes while the hotel staff ran around frantically to bring in the chairs. That, too, lasted about an hour. While it was storming, the air was deliciously cool … but once it stopped, then ….

Thunder and Lightning and Rain

This Never Happens in L.A., Does It?

This Never Happens in L.A., Does It?

It is a well-known fact that I have become openly contemptuous of all he hoopla about this year’s El Niño predictions. Well, early this morning, we were hit by a major thunderstorm that abated just as I started dressing up to go to work. There was, in addition to the thunder, considerable lightning and rain. In Altadena, my friend Bill Korn showed pictures of his vegetable garden under a layer of fall hail.

I guess, better late than never. I wouldn’t mind seeing a few more of these storms over the next couple of months. We still need to fill those reservoirs and deepen that Sierra snow pack.