A trip south to the Los Angeles area to visit family and friends took us through familiar terrain along Interstate 5. For some years, we have seen signs proclaiming that the drought was the fault of Congress (the specific object of wrath being environmental regulations protecting downstream waters). On the whole, however, we have not seen many signs of major damage until this trip. Yes, there were a few groves of dead trees. But orchards have their own life cycles, and we saw more orchards in infancy or youth than we saw dead ones. This time, however, we saw some mature orchards actually in the process of dying and more fallowed fields than we have been used to. The drought is tightening its grip, with or without the help of Congress. New signs are appearing that now lay the blame on the water consumption of California cities.
There are still green lawns in the LA area, but fewer than there used to be. Even the Getty Center, being the good citizen, had turned off most of its beautiful water features, leaving only the rivulet that runs down the to the pond by the great bougainvilleas. The gardens there were designed from the start to use relatively little water otherwise. Despite tales of people who continue to use water lavishly, there are many signs of civic responsiveness.
Just to keep us off guard, nature reminded us that this is a time not just of global warming, but of global weirding, giving us a first-class, midwestern style thunder storm in the middle of our ever-dry summer. It hung for an hour or so over Silver Lake where we were staying. Flashes of lightning followed immediately by deafening claps of thunder. Jon watched a tree on the other side of the street fall to the storm. The Fire Department arrived about fifteen minutes later, inspected, and apparently found no danger.
But the more interesting part of the trip from a gardener’s point of view was the return. On the advice of our friend Scott, we went north through Ojai, a beautiful little town with a very interesting artists’ collective called Ojai Valley Arts, then on north on state highway 33. The scenery is beautiful even when dry, but we found ourselves ascending into clouds and drizzle and an unfolding carpet of yellow flowers along the roadside—a lupine-like flower, about two feet tall, and a lower-growing thistle-like one. I’ve been unable to identify either more precisely from the two books I have.
From highway 33, we turned west down the Cuyama Valley, which looked much more desolate than the country along I-5. Much of the land seemed to have been fallowed; but, not having been there in a normal year, we found it hard to guess what it might look like in more favorable times..
We spent the night in Pismo Beach, with the bonus of a good view of the Pacific, complete with whale splashing about in the middle distance. Then north again on 101 till we turned off toward Carmel on Arroyo Seco Road and then Carmel Valley Road. There were places along Arroyo Seco Road that looked truly desolate. Even the oaks appeared to have died. Only when we crossed over toward the ocean side of the hills did matters improve. There we found great swaths of classic California: golden grasses under the broad, dark green branches of live oaks.
The impression, over all, was that the drought is certainly working major damage, not only to agriculture but to some of the native plant life. The dead oaks were particularly troubling. Had the water table been lowered by indiscriminate pumping? Possibly. Other terrains, however, seemed to be weathering the drought, albeit in a subdued state. And it didn’t seem to take much rain to bring the flowers on highway 33 out of hiding.
Next winter? Anyone’s guess, though the current prognostication is for a major El Niño event, which usually means rain for California. My own garden would be glad of that.
And a side-note, not climate related: we went to the Getty Center to see the Andrea del Sarto show—mostly drawings and a few oils. The drawings are mind-boggling in their elegance and detail and liveliness. Our friend Joseph told us to be sure to see the small exhibit on Degas and pastels, which proved to be a great treat, too. The little computer show on the making of pastels provided a fascinating enrichment to a choice set of works by Degas and contemporaries. We had a pleasant lunch on the terrace and returned to the galleries only to find them overrun by children with smart phones, taking pictures of everything as fast as possible and, as near as I could tell, actually looking at nothing. Their parents pretended not to know them. We decided to call it a day for the museum.