Wind-Driven Fires for Halloween
At one point this afternoon, there were ten active wind-driven brush fires in Southern California. Although Martine and i do not live in any of the affected canyon areas, we felt the devil winds of the Santa Anas juddering against the walls, windows, and doors of our apartment.
The winds are so powerful, in fact, that they blew away the second “e” in EXTREME. Do you suppose they could have meant EXTRUME or EXTRIME?
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.
I Am Dreading the Next Few Days
As a giant high pressure area is setting up over the Southwest, we are expecting two days of high nineties (36-37º Celsius). Although the weather forecasts show a ten degree drop for Sunday, I am predicting the heat will probably persist, as it is wont to do. Santa Ana weather conditions almost always last longer than predicted, sometimes even for weeks.
Oh, but then there’s always the ocean, no? Not in this case. The winds blow the heat and smog westward toward the ocean. Sometimes we can see the smog hovering a few miles off the shore, waiting to be blown back over Southern California. Not only is it ungodly hot at the beach, but one’s feet burn in the superheated sand. Not a pleasant experience?
What to do? I will try to find a movie I can see during the afternoon. My comfort will depend on the theater’s air-conditioning system remaining in good working order. As for our apartment, we have no air conditioning. If there is a power outage (and our little area is subject to at least one or two a year), I will just have to go to bed early.
There are two bad aspects to living in Southern California: heat waves and earthquakes.
The two most noticeable floral scents of Los Angeles both become apparent in May or June and last for several months. The more pleasant of the two is night-blooming jasmine, as most Angelenos refer to it. I love taking walks in the spring and encountering a display of jasmine blossoms. The other scent does not smell as good, but is more beautiful. I refer to the jacaranda tree, which originated in Paraguay and Argentina and eventually became a denizen of Southern California. It purple flowers are beautiful, but there is a slight acridness to the smell of the blossoms.
Jacaranda Tree in Santa Monica
Note that, in the above photo, there is a layer of fallen jacaranda blossoms under the tree. If one parks one’s car under a jacaranda, the blossoms seem to stick and, well, stink a bit.
Perhaps my least favorite smell in Los Angeles is not floral. In the fall, when the Santa Ana Winds blow, parts of the city, especially the hills, catch fire. The air is filled with tons of ash that tends to cause asthmatic attacks. Fortunately, I have not experienced that for quite a few years—and my fingers are crossed.
Wind-Blown Sand Near Keeler, CA
It’s the end of the week, and I feel like a poem. I have this slim Everyman volume entitled Poems of the American West , selected and edited by Robert Mezey. The poem entitled “Sonora Wind,” written by Arizona poet Richard Shelton, also described those horrible Santa Ana winds that sweep through Los Angeles from the vastness of the desert.
Nobody can stop this dry wind,
this disaster of a wind. Nobody
can heal it, soothe it, send it on.
It remains. Has it nowhere else
to go? Has it been forbidden
to return to where it came from?
It is driving us mad with the sound
of a wound torn open again
and again. It can bend us down
as it bends the greasewood.
It can desiccate our minds.
It screams at us with the voice
of a raging mute who has no words
to tell his pain. When we begin
to scream in return, it rips
the words from our mouths,
replacing them with sand, the taste
of all the evil ever done to us
by those who died before we could
tell them how much we hated them.
The month of January is Southern California’s rainiest month. Usually. But not this year. So far, we have been treated to an endless round of Santa Ana winds and low humidity (around 10%). Right now, it’s about 85° Fahrenheit (that’s about 30° Celsius). If the temperature didn’t drop sharply at night, we would all be sweltering.
I just got back from lunch. The heat in this arid weather isn’t quite so uncomfortable as the laserlike light of the sun. It makes me wish I wore my baseball hat or some other brimmed headgear to protect my eyes. Although I wear photo optic glasses, they don’t provide sufficient protection from the sun’s fierceness. Years ago, I used to have super-dark prescription sunglasses. I’m beginning to think I should see my optometrist for another pair of those.
The Dread Santa Ana Winds Are Blowing
Generally speaking, the western beaches of Los Angeles have the cleanest air in Southern California—except when the Santa Ana Winds are blowing. A high pressure area parked over Nevada and Utah is sending winds from east to west (the opposite of the usual direction) and blowing all the pollution of the Los Angeles area out to sea. Today, the temperature was around 90° F (33° C) with a brown horizon and smog over the sands of Santa Monica Bay.
Although we get some of our hottest weather this time of year, our only salvation is that sundown comes much earlier. Throughout the month of October, each day is approximately two minutes shorter than the one before it. That’s two minutes of intense sunshine in the bone-dry air that is not beating down on the uninsulated roof of our second-floor apartment, which was built almost seventy years ago. Another nice thing about sundown is that all the blowing dust in the air makes for occasional beautiful sunsets.
Also, around October the mercury drops down to about 60° F (16° C) at night, so the apartment cools down earlier. During the humidity of July, with its long days, it frequently doesn’t cool down until 3 am, if at all.
The Santa Ana Winds are also noted for virulent brush fires that spread uncontrollably through the hills and mountains surrounding the L.A. Basin. Right now, the wind is blowing around 20 miles per hour, which is approximately 9 meters a second. With some luck, we’ll get through this period without having the San Gabriels and Santa Monica Mountains erupt in flames.