Spring is turning to summer. Temperatures have risen to triple digits in the East Bay, depending on where exactly you are. The green grasses which have grown thick and long from an El Niño winter now have golden kernels of seed dangling down and dancing gracefully in the wind. The time has come to prune the fruit trees, and it’s probably past time to figure out what to do with the grape vines. I have never had a grape vine, so I don’t have the smallest clue of how to care for them.
In the peak of the day, the light streaks down bright and sparkling in waves of heat. Summer weather is such a visceral experience, calling your very molecules back to historic days when the heat was just as heavy. While I was out in the heat at around noon, I recalled the Florida summer I helped my grandparents move their shelves and displays from the smaller location of Palm Harbor Natural Foods to the new, larger location. The truck we rented had no air conditioning but it sat up high on the road. Higher even than the few trips I’d taken on the school bus. The novelty of this made the radiating heat in the truck cab more bearable.
But once we arrived at the storage unit to unload the dozens (or was it hundreds?) of metal shelves the novelty wore off and exhaustion rolled over us like the mushroom cloud of heat that escaped when we rolled up the storage unit door. I struggled to be helpful as a scrawny eleven-year-old with an able body, but melting will. Eventually I just sat under the elevated chassis, dripping into a puddle, while my uncle and grandfather hauled metal shelves and stacked them like dominos. I can’t remember the particulars, but I think that we went to the beach afterwards. Maybe we didn’t, but my memory will be better if we did.
Back to current-day California, the hills are beginning to smell of composting grasses. Grass has a sweet and nutty smell if you let it break down into soil. All around our Alhambra hills region of the East Bay there is a nutty warmth raising up like reflected light from the hills. The smell is almost as visible as the golden hue of the grasses.
This same warm nuttiness permeated the air at the farm the one time I bailed hay for a horse farmer. The barn was warm and dusty, the air wet with humidity. Our feet balanced on pyramids of hay, stacked so intentionally in an alternating pattern so that the farm workers would not fall to their doom in a cavernous void in the middle of the barn come January. The hay would have long since given back it’s heat, the nutty smell faded to a stale mustiness. The only other time I’ve smelled the baking of grasses was in our compost bin behind the house in Ohio. That grass pile, added to from March until September would give back it’s heat and smell of nutty decay well into the autumn, melting the snow from the top of the heap on November afternoons.
There’s one key difference between all of my previous high-heat experiences and this crackling dry California heat. Florida and Ohio have a humidity so high you need a snorkel to breathe. The water molecules in the air transfer the heat energy even into the darkest shade of the forest. There is as much similarity between California’s heat and Ohio’s heat as there is between a raspberry soda and a raspberry cobbler. Same scent, completely different mouth-feel.
What will our kids think when we bring them to Ohio again? Will they even be able to lift their bodies against the weight of the air?