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The Six and a Half Seasons of Southern California

By Frank J. Gruber

It amuses me when visitors and newcomers to Southern California complain that they "miss the seasons." On the coast here in Santa Monica I can count at least half a dozen seasons -- or even six and a half, depending on how I count autumn.

As I see it, chronologically, there are at least two springs, a brief summer, a confusing autumn, and two winters.

For springs, there is the beautiful crisp one of March and April, marked by the pale but bright green of new leaves on the street trees, and then the socked-in spring of grey May and June gloom.

For a month or so it's clear and hot enough to call it summer, from around July 4 until some time towards the end of August.

It used to be, within my own memory of 32 years here, that August and September were their own season of hot smog. But now there is so much less smog and, paradoxically, autumn is so unpredictable that its inconstancy is its defining characteristic.

On one hand, fall weather can get hot -- the hottest of the year -- when a Santa Ana blows in from the desert and for three or four days turns the planes around at Santa Monica Airport. On the other hand, or for the rest of the time, high temperatures head down toward the sixties and I wear a sweater to work.

We call those cool days fall, as the leaves are falling, but unless you want to call a Santa Ana an Indian Summer -- which would play both weather conditions false -- our autumns are not like anyone else's. That's why I count fall in Southern California as a season and a half.

As there are two springs, there are two winters, although you can't pin them down to specific months. A seasons-purist might call the dry winter and the wet winter all one season that starts around Halloween when, if you didn't already have an early rain, you starting aching for one.

That's when I say winter begins here -- not when it first rains, but when you first miss the rain.

But once you have lived here awhile you know that the rains don't visit us on an even, random pattern. They bunch up. It has to do with the jet stream from Alaska, or El Niño, but in any case we have dry months and wet months.

The dry winter days are clear, and nights are -- as we all know -- frigid, when the damp cold air from the ocean seeps into under-insulated, under-heated houses and apartments, inhabited by optimists who refuse to give in to the cold reality and give up their flip-flops and shorts and don a cozy sweater, its being California where there are no seasons.

In the wet winter the rains roll in from the ocean; it pours, then it's sunny for a few hours, the streets dry off, then it pours again. That goes on for three or four days. Everything is clean (except the ocean), warmer than when it's dry, but your shoes are wet and the cheap umbrella you bought isn't really big enough to keep the cuffs of your pants dry and then it falls apart in the wind anyway.

There are other seasons that have nothing to do officially with the weather. September is always, or usually, an anxious month for me. There's always a lot going on besides the usual.

School starts again for my son, which makes me think a lot about his future, it's the end of the baseball season, which means I spend a lot of time listening to games and reading about the pennant race, and it's the beginning of the election season, which makes me nervous all over. Then there is the fact that I am Jewish, and our big introspective holidays are in September -- Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

Of course these features of the calendar also reflect the seasons -- the seasons of our agricultural past, when summer was too busy for voting or school, but not for the summer game, and autumn was when farmers would harvest their crops, count their yields, and figure out how they did for the year.

Even for non-Jews, it seems like an introspective time of year. For city people, as most of us are, it's when we return from our summer vacations. The new cultural "season" starts, the Hollywood studios release more serious movies, and there's typically an election coming up to make politics more serious, too.

So going about the day's business I find myself distracted, wondering if my beloved Philadelphia Phillies will make it to the playoffs by way of the wild card (I hope they displace the Padres, not the Dodgers), wondering if my beloved Democrats can take Congress, and wondering if my beloved self achieved much in the way of good this year.

Meeting update: The Santa Monica City Council resumes its deliberations over proposed down-zonings to preempt the possible passage of Prop. 90, tomorrow evening at City Hall. Supplemental staff report.

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