It’s the “false spring” one day, and the next, not. When I was at church to bake communion bread, it was spring for sure. Of course the dough knew it, and behaved accordingly.
Yesterday, the wind and various other factors contributed to further thaw the bones of my soul. While I was in my own garden trimming the lemon tree, pomegranate bushes, lavender and a few other plants, a series of great gusts came up suddenly, and made a clattering of doors and toys and other blowing-around stuff in the neighborhood.
The poem below doesn’t originate in my area of the country, so it will never perfectly fit the weather here, but I love the spirit of it, and I’m sure it will please a few of you in more northerly parts of the world. If you tend to be impatient with poems, try reading this one out loud.
TO THE THAWING WIND
Come with rain, O loud Southwester! Bring the singer, bring the nester; Give the buried flower a dream; Make the settled snowbank steam; Find the brown beneath the white; But whate’er you do tonight, Bathe my window, make it flow, Melt it as the ice will go; Melt the glass and leave the sticks Like a hermit’s crucifix; Burst into my narrow stall; Swing the picture on the wall; Run the rattling pages o’er; Scatter poems on the floor; Turn the poet out of door.
Because we haven’t had any rain in several weeks — or has it turned into months? — I had to put the hose on potted plants that aren’t on the automatic drip system. Hidden behind one big pot, this little great-grandbaby of a cactus I started was in full baby bloom. I brought her indoors to brighten up my kitchen, still lit also by the fairy lights, which are there for the days when spring is clearly not. yet.
Succulents and mustard are related by their mutual membership in the plant kingdom, but also by being bright particulars of my weekend that also included lots of ocean watching.
“Why pay a premium for organic brassicas like kale and broccoli at the farmer’s market when all the free wild mustard you could ever ask for is likely waiting right around the corner?”
This question was posed in an article about food foraging that I read last weekend. Pippin’s family was here and we had opportunity to explore the topic. On Saturday we took a long drive to Salt Point State Park, farther north on the coast than I have been in many years, and passed by many vineyards looking like this:
We tried to remember whether the mustard we are used to seeing in springtime in California is at least a near relation to what one buys prepared in a jar, and that night we researched further, finding once again how many good edibles are in the Brassica family. We had no idea we’d get the chance to taste some very soon.
Yes, that mustard above ismustard, and in this context it isn’t considered a weed that needs eradicating. It actually helps suppress the nematode population among the grapevines, because mustard contains high levels of biofumigants in the form of glucosinolates. Evidently the sharp flavor isn’t appreciated by the nematodes. However the mustard got there, it’s ubiquitous now, and beneficial.
At Salt Point the sun shone on us brilliantly, and made us squint. The wind pushed us this way and that, and the sound of crashing surf thundered up the cliffs to where we walked along the headlands. Some of us had gaiters around our necks, which we pulled up to keep our hair out of our eyes and our cheeks warm.
We wanted to climb that “castle rock,” but Pippin thought she better go scout ahead for poison oak. She found a lot of it, so we gave up on that idea.
Most of the plants out there hug the ground or the rocks where they are growing. Even the milkmaids stay under cover. When Ivy took off her gaiter scarf, her hair needed re-gathering into its scrunchie; once we accomplished that, she bounced off musing, “Some people say, ‘Another day, another dollar;’ but we always say, ‘Another day, another hair out of place!'”
Where the trail dropped down close to the shore, we explored the sandstone that has been carved into strange shapes by the wind. The surface of the rocks with the smoothest appearance, where I grabbed when I felt buffeted off balance, was like the coarsest sandpaper.
The children all napped on the way home that evening, but slept long in their bags after they went to bed again later that night. Before we knew it we were all up and going again, but southwest this time, aiming for a hike along the Marin Headlands. Marin County is the one just north of San Francisco County/City, and it soon became evident that this destination, so much closer to a large population, was going to be too crowded. There was nowhere to park at the trailhead.
So we went into the town of Sausalito and looked at boats in the harbor, and ate our lunch at a little park with a view of Angel Island, and the Bay Bridge to the southeast.
The first wild thing we found to eat that morning was oxalis, or sourgrass, also called wood sorrel. Once I told the children about it, they continued to break off stems and chew on it for the rest of the day, it being everywhere we went. Ivy liked the flowers best, but most of us preferred the stems.
Plantain was growing everywhere beneath our feet, mixed in with the oxalis. Scout told me that if you get a rash from stinging nettle you can chew some plantain and put it on the rash to soothe it. But there were no nettles in this neighborhood, and we left the plantain alone.
The water was glittering, and the children discovered countless crabs as they peered into their dark caves among the rocks. While the more agile folk spied on crabs, I admired the colorful minerals in the giant specimens bordering the sidewalk.
Big pine trees with gorgeous trunks shaded us at the park. Ivy and Jamie took on the challenge of climbing one of them. Their mother gave them tips from time to time; eventually Ivy gave Jamie her knee for a footstool, and he was up! Pippin then helped Ivy, and they finished their lunch in an elevated position.
We drove to a different access point for the Marin Headlands and ended up at Point Bonita. Here is a map on which you can see the point, right where a lighthouse needed to be, outside San Francisco Bay at its north entrance. The lighthouse itself is closed currently, but we walked down the little peninsula as far as possible.
We stared and stared at the Golden Gate Bridge, from that perspective that we rarely get, looking in toward the bay. That narrow entrance to a huge bay was named the Golden Gate Strait by John C. Fremont:
“In 1846, when soldier, explorer and future presidential candidate John C. Fremont saw the watery trench that breached the range of coastal hills on the western edge of otherwise landlocked San Francisco Bay, it reminded him of another beautiful landlocked harbor: the Golden Horn of the Bosporus in Constantinople, now Istanbul. Fremont used a Greek term to name it: Chrysopylae – in English, Golden Gate. In his 1848 ‘Geographical Memoir,’ Fremont added another layer of meaning: The rugged opening to the Pacific, he wrote, is ‘a golden gate to trade with the Orient.'”
Here is another map of the bay from 1909, before the Golden Gate Bridge was built.
A couple dozen harbor seals were sunning themselves on rocks in Bonita Cove. We could see Ocean Beach in San Francisco to the south, and the skyline of the city with its new, tallest building, the Salesforce Tower, and indeed it towers over the others. I don’t think it’s as ugly as its name, which speaks volumes about our society. But let’s get back to more interesting things…
… And what do you think we saw at our feet? Mustard! I wouldn’t be surprised if these plants or their grandparents have been hanging around these bluffs for a hundred years or more; they are obviously robust and venerable.
Quite recently they’ve had baths and blow-drys, and the leaves looked so juicy…
… it’s no wonder Pippin wanted to taste a leaf. I of course had to follow suit… Yikes! That is the strongest tasting Brassica I ever hope to sample.
Ivy tried a periwinkle flower and spat it out. Then, the kids interacted with their environment with hands and feet, making their way up the rocky wall to our west.
We walked back up the path and drove around the corner to the former Fort Cronkhite, now part of the Golden Gate Recreational Area. From the batteries we could see north up the coast and south to the lighthouse.
Another Brassica lives on that side, the very common wild radish, raphanus raphanistrum; shown here with violet blooms, though white and yellow are common, too. I used to notice these flowers as I walked home from the bus stop as a child. We didn’t taste this one.
The last Brassica experience of the weekend was the next morning when Pippin took a little tour of my garden before they started home. She told me she’d eaten some of the flower buds of my collards. How did they taste? “Like broccoli.” I don’t normally eat my collards raw, but I decided to snap off all the developing flower stems, and I ate them right then. Mm-mm — they were so sweet and tender. And just around the corner of my own house.
In this era, I keep an eye on the coastal weather forecast more than the local, trying to plan well ahead so as to increase my chances of getting out there to the edge of the Pacific — aiming for several times a month.
Last week about this time I noticed that there was going to be rain nearly every day upcoming, except for one, so I penciled in my outing for Monday. I did notice that it was forecast to be windy, and I researched a little bit about just how 20-24 mph winds feel. I couldn’t remember the stats on what I’d experienced in the past. It didn’t sound too foreboding, so I dressed in layers with a windbreaker, and off I went.
Did I tell you I have been reading The Aviator by Eugene Vodolazkin? I have the audio as well as the print format. The possibility of sinking into that book makes me look forward to any longer drive to anywhere. I can’t concentrate on a book, lecture, etc. while doing anything else at home; even while driving, I can only attend well while following a familiar route. I make frequent use of the rewind button (Is there another word for that now that there is no actual winding involved?), including at times when I have to concentrate more, as at an intersection, and briefly lose the thread of the story.
The weather at the beach was a blast. The clumps of grass on the dunes were beautiful, the way they waved in the wind. But, “This is not fun,” was the phrase that popped into my mind about three minutes after I reached the water’s edge, where the sand at least was not flying; my head had began to pound, and my eyes were burning, but I pushed against that blast toward the tidepools that I knew would have been exposed.
The wind was helping the waves up the beach, where they were allowed to break, but not to recede. The wind whipped them to make them lie on the sand a few more seconds than was their natural will; I could tell they were not happy about it, because they weren’t lying there quietly. Gusts attacked them over and over, yanking pieces of foam off their edges and blowing them off. The puffs scattered wildly, like sudden orphans. Their wails couldn’t be heard above those of their abuser. The sun shone brightly.
I had purposely chosen mid-afternoon for my visit, because there was going to be a minus tide, and I’ve noticed those seem to occur mostly in the middle of the night. This week there were three of them that would happen before dark.
But I was beginning to foresee that stumbling around the rocks looking for anemones, in my quickly cooling bare feet, would also not be that much fun. I turned around, and my time on the beach was shorter than usual, but I was glad I had tried the experiment.
I have been reading so many books lately that include elements of great hardship and suffering, it would not feel right if I did not push myself at least a little, and endure some amount of discomfort. Not only do I have my literary characters as examples in this, but I have fellow blogger Mags who is snow-swimming this month, in the seas of Northern Ireland! This kind of effort, when you do it voluntarily, with the knowledge that you can be home and cozy soon afterward, can be exhilarating. The experience of a Soviet labor camp, on the other hand, one doesn’t volunteer for. Just today I read more of The Aviator‘s protagonist Innokenty’s musings on it, years later:
“Well, what kind of description can convey round-the-clock coldness? Or hunger? Any story implies a completed event but there is a dreadful eternity here. You cannot warm up for an hour, or two or three or ten. It is impossible, after all, to accustom oneself to either hunger or cold.”
My garden suffered what may be the worst cold it will have to endure this winter, just two days ago. I know it was several degrees of frost — and this area has had a winter or two in the last decades without even one freeze; it rarely gets down to 20 degrees. By the time that morning’s weather test occurred, I had been doing my own trials of the new greenhouse equipment, necessitating a few emergency visits in my nightgown at 2:00 or 3:00 a.m., to adjust the thermostat. So everything was okay in there. And you know, collards get sweeter by suffering frost.
But the next day, it was the wind that hit here, and this morning I found that it had grabbed the 4-foot snow pea vines off their trellises and thrown them to the ground, to be pelted by rain. I won’t expose their humiliation in pictures. The collapsed garden umbrella was torn off its vanes, too, the wind getting hold at the top where the sun had weakened the canvas in the last five years, to make a big hole there for starters.
It looks like we will have a few more days of rain, but no high winds are in the forecast. I am almost always comfortable, having warm clothes and fire and a gas furnace. My life is easy, for sure. If peas could talk, their story would doubtless be different.
The earth is motionless
And poised in space …
A great bird resting in its flight
Between the alleys of the stars.
It is the wind’s hour off ….
The wind has nestled down among the corn ….
The two speak privately together,
Awaiting the whirr of wings.