I wonder. Does this week’s heat seem to match our public soul? Mean. Unfair. Angry for no good reason. Punishing. Wicked. Bristling.
Hot weather is nothing new. But the dog days of summer aren’t supposed to hold us ransom this early in June. June is for Gloom. There’s no better way to clear a cocktail party than to harrumph, grab your suspenders, stick out your tummy and pontificate about The Way Weather Used To Be, so apologies up front.
I was visited by an epiphany some 30 years back.
We have 100 days of summer.
The data varies, but it’s uncanny. Heat kicks down the door of Santa Clarita’s classic Mediterranean climate right around the Fourth of July. It doesn’t release its chokehold until mid-October. Again, there’s wiggle room. I’ve both cursed the heat and freezing winds of many Halloween.
I remember one July 3. I lived in Placerita Canyon. It got so darn cold that night we relit the furnace pilot, turned the heat back on in our cabin and snuggled around a roaring fire. It drizzled gloriously the next morning. I can’t shake the smile, remembering how wonderful that was, riding a tall, fine horse, leading our Newhall Independence Day parade — wearing a wool barn coat. In July.
I remember tilling the fields in June when days didn’t touch 60. The skies were glorious grey, and, appropriately, gloomy. It’s great to be on a tractor surrounded by a Hound of the Baskervilles pea soup overcast. It’s not exactly cheating Death, it’s a close second — Cheating Heat. A part of you hopes. Maybe, just maybe, Summer overslept. Maybe, just maybe, July, August, September and October will just forget to show up.
Especially if you worked outside in June Gloom, it’s like a small paid vacation. You know, in a matter of days, the mercury in thermometers will scream and bubble. Mirages of pitchfork-holding devils will shimmer. You’ll wipe a brow and blink. Newhall was a small town then. These red-bottomed apparitions with goat hooves can’t all be Democrats. My favorite all-time observation on heat waves came from A.B. “Dad” Thatcher. Ol’ Almon was the editor of The Signal during the 1930s Great Depression. Outside temps hit something like 13,004 and the journalist wrote of an old cowboy who said he spotted a coyote chasing a rabbit.
“… and they were both walking,” the cowpuncher added.
Sad thing? That long-forgotten cowboy’s weather report came in August.
June is a beautiful woman, sometimes downright refreshing. Often unpredictable.
Trips to the beach? Out of the question. Too cold.
I often fall hopelessly in love with June in Santa Clarita. Without moving a step, you’re transported to some idyllic refuge in the mountains, crisp, cool, full of delightful little negative ions. Morning fog could stay for a week or three and it was like a trillion Santa Clarita plants and blades of grass were all holding tiny hands, singing and dancing merrily. At the western summit of the Newhall Pass on Interstate 5, where millions of steely-eyed commuters speed past, today rests a small remnant of an ancient conifer forest. There quietly reside the last descendants of ancient evergreen trees. Santa Clarita looked like this some 8,000 years ago. We had four times the rain and the topography was more jungle-ish than parking lot. No Woke/human causes to blame. In a blink, it got hotter. And dryer. Oaks replaced pines. The last of our conifers today are doing the best they can. They’ve managed to survive lightning strikes, drought and fire. But, if you could talk to these trees, you might delicately ask:
“Are you guys feeling OK?”
Again, I wonder. In my lifetime, will these last, remaining trees from another epoch just give up the ghost and disappear?
I daydream, sometimes in June.
Wouldn’t it be lovely if I were made a forest deity, in charge of local weather?
I’d make it rain, about four times a week. Nothing psychotic. Just a good, healthy sprinkling, every other day. Not enough to fill the air with Northern California rainforest mildew, but enough to keep the dust down, enough to make the flowers giggle, enough to make a puddle. It’d never get too hot. I can’t promise the same thing about the cold. I have great winter coats I never wear. I would make it snow October to July 1.
There’s nothing quite so soothing and civilizing as a crisp night, with a great fire in a proper hearth. Those cracker-box-sized condo fireplaces encased by a tiny Plexiglas screens don’t count.
Next? We import giant Sequoias. I know. I know. Some of you might have to move, to like Barstow, to make room for the giant redwoods. No need to worry. I’ve already compiled a list of who needs to leave. I’d meet with the forest imp in charge of giant trees, maybe borrow some magic seeds that can grow mature Sequoias in a few spare weekends.
Santa Clarita roads, lined with silent, giant trees, bathed in fog and sheepish sunlight? Is that asking too much? Could I throw in year-round waterfalls? Hiking trails meandering by babbling brooks? Cool breezes? All-time record high temperature — 83 degrees?
And it rains, lightly, on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, Sundays, etc., etc., etc.
I know. As a boy, I should have moved to Eureka. Not Santa Clarita.
In the early 1900s, someone painted “New Hell” instead of “Newhall” on the roof of the local lumber yard.
Why? Because it’s hot.
Usually? For around 100 days.
Another summer came early this week, unannounced. Nothing new. But something’s changed. It’s not COVID. It’s not politics. It’s not even a heat wave. Summer feels different. Vengeful. As if all the unchecked, awful thoughts and words, the unkindness, lies and hatred we’ve been spewing are balled up in a punishing fist, aimed at our own faces.
Where is the kind, calm, soothing June Gloom, my soul’s foggy recharger, my quiet companion?
John Boston is a local writer.