A Contemplation on Heat

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.


High Heat on Las Trampas trail, before the grass turned gold

High Heat on Las Trampas trail, before the grass turned gold

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?

East Bay Hikers

The girls are becoming quite the eager hikers. Elise now initiates hikes periodically. She and Olivia get themselves ready. They find their hiking shoes, thick socks, snacks, water bottles and backpacks on their own. Cressida still argues with me about footwear. She insists that she is supposed to be “fancy” at all times, even though she has had serious footwear issues the couple of times I have let her wear her mary janes on hikes. After much cajoling I can usually get her to wear her Keens, but it usually involves tears and 15 minutes devoted to the this argument alone. I’ve even tried some peaceful parenting and clever tools like letting her color all over her Keens with sparkly pens, but that did’t help. So I have just resorted to heavy-handed force in the form of, “If you don’t put on your hiking shoes you will be on fancy shoes restrictions tomorrow.”

Once we get out on the trails though, no one complains about footwear, not even Miss Sparkle-toes. We’ve been systematically hiking the East Bay region, one park at a time. So far we’ve done Pleasanton Ridge, Sunol, Redwood Regional Park and Mount Diablo’s Summit Trail (starting at Juniper Camp Ground). 

Here are the girls exploring a burned area on the top of a ridge on Mount Diablo. A couple of weeks after we moved here we were at a homeschooling park day and the moms were talking about how they could watch the wild fire burning on the mountain from the park. The fire was just a couple years ago. It’s interesting to have moved from such a lush green diciduous region like the Cuyahoga Valley where there are muddy spots year round, to a place like California where the waterfalls are seasonal and wild fire alerts are posted year round.

 I’d like to do a hike at least every other week with the girls. And I’d also like to get some chances to solo hike. I’d like to do   Mitchell Canyon to Eagle Peak as a solo hike, or with Rob if we can find an all day babysitter. Back in Ohio we were able to drop the girls off with family and go out all day, or hit the trails when the kids were in school. But those days are long gone. I need some Aunts or Uncles to move out here… Any takers?