Changing the seasons, southern California style

One misunderstanding about southern California is that we don’t have seasons because the weather stays consistently warm here. I used to think the same thing before I moved here: it’s perpetual summer, since summer equals warm weather.

In reality, we have seasons like everywhere else, but the seasons’ markers are subtle. Typically fall months like October, for instance, tend to be hotter than summer months like July in my experience, oddly enough, and by the time the change of light comes in late November, you’re ready for the shorter days of winter. Your first year here, you don’t see it, and it’s as though people simply have decided its winter, putting up weird Christmas decorations. You’re annoyed because Christmas isn’t cozy.

The next years, you begin to notice that the flowers are very different season to season. Roses like to come out for a second blooming in winter. But you have to look out for your plants when the Santa Anas come. Since there’s no point in watching the weather channel here, you also learn to divine when the Santa Anas come because of a dryness in the air and the particular brightness of the winter light.

Spring, things get a bit foggy and wet (for us), and the flowers switch again. The jasmine starts to bloom. If you have never had the experience of walking along on a spring-summer night to catch the smell of jasmine in the air, I really can not describe it to you, other than I strongly suspect that heaven smells of jasmine, and if it doesn’t, I’m going to insist we plant some. It is, simply, a glorious smell.

The seasons are not obvious here, nor do they follow the calendar the way seasons do elsewhere. You find you’re a few months off of everybody else. But the seasons are evident, for those who take the time to think about them; they are like quicksilver if you let yourself get too busy to notice them. Like a flash, the camellias will be gone, as will the cactus flowers that jump out after the spring rains.