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Dana Parsons

A Time for Californians to Appreciate the Silver Lining

March 15, 1995|Dana Parsons

Growing up in the Midwest, I took for granted that weather was capricious. Love it or hate it, it had a mind of its own and was never dull. Before learning that there was an academic subject known as meteorology, which could explain that behavior, I interpreted the sudden weather shifts as someone's means of tormenting me. "Weather" was the downpour that wiped out a round of golf in the summer; "weather" was the freak snow-and-ice storm that made driving miserable in the winter; "weather" was the blizzard and tornado that hit town four months apart in 1975.

The newspaper I worked for put a weather story on the front page every day. The most worn-out phrase ever uttered in the Midwest is, "If you don't like the weather, stick around 10 minutes and it'll change." If there was nothing else to talk about, strangers thrown together could always discuss the weather.

After moving to California in the mid-'80s, I assumed I'd never hear the subject brought up again. What was there to talk about? On all my summertime visits to California before then, the temperature probably never varied more than 20 degrees.

For the same reason that you don't discuss dull people, there seemed no reason to discuss California weather. When the only adjective you can use to describe something is "nice," it doesn't prompt much conversation.

In his book "California, A History," author Andrew F. Rolle described the "California climate" as that associated with the area south of San Francisco to the Mexican border and between the coastal mountains and the Pacific Ocean. "In this region," he wrote, "the seasons seem to drift mildly from one to another, almost unperceived. . . . Less than 1% of the Earth's surface enjoys such ideal weather."

With a personality like that, who could blame Californians for being smug?

Now, lo and behold, everybody's talking about the weather. And make no mistake, with a renewed reverence.

Humans have always been in awe of the power of nature. The ancients thought the gods controlled wind and rain. Imagine the conversations the Egyptians would have had if they had gotten the Weather Channel.

The storms blasting California this winter have been historic. That they have caused death and lesserdisasters is also part of the permanent record. Images of towns under water, mountainsides on the run and people fleeing for higher ground are indelibly fixed in our minds. Orange County has escaped the chaos caused in other parts of the state but still had the fifth-wettest January-February in its history.

This unleashing of nature's pent-up power has been sobering. While summer in California makes us feel as if everything is possible, the darkness and sometime-savagery of this long winter in progress has humbled us.

That's how it was in the Midwest that I knew. Throughout the dark winters, nature held the cards and we humans conceded the point and reacted as best we could, mindful of our subservience to the forces beyond us.

We did it because we knew of the promise.

In the Midwest, we whispered during the Decembers and Januarys about the "promise of spring." It wasn't an empty hope. As dismal and endless as the winters could be, everyone knew there would be that day--maybe March but surely April--when the brightness of spring would pop like a flashbulb across the landscape and all would be light again.

When it happens, it is one of the great days of the year in any Midwestern town. It's as though everyone emerges from hiding at once, physically and psychologically, looks up into the sun and begins thinking of life in terms of possibilities again.

That's the promise that awaits now in California. For what seems like the longest time (has it only been a few months?), the state has been racked and communities forced to suffer and hunker down.

It's now time to focus on the promise. It's time to assure ourselves that the travail has been worth it, because experiencing it will only enhance the beauty of the coming spring.

And spring will get here, eventually. Perhaps any day now.

When it does, Californians both North and South will emerge from the last few months somewhat humbler about the power of winter, but surely more appreciative than ever of what we have come to take for granted.

Mark it down: As dark and destructive as the winter has been, it just might guarantee that this will be one of the brightest springs ever.

Dana Parsons' column appears Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. Readers may reach Parsons by writing to him at The Times Orange County Edition, 1375 Sunflower Ave., Costa Mesa, CA 92626, or by calling (714) 966-7821.

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