by Gabi McLean
(reprinted from The Paintbrush, March-April 2007, California Native Plant Society, San Gabriel Mountains Chapter)
How eagerly had I been waiting for winter, the season of promise and awakening, when the earth soaks in the water and so do the roots and tubers and corms and bulbs and fungi; when tiny cotyledons break through the soil and announce the birth of a new plant, a dicot; when a single leaf spears the dirty crust and proclaims the arrival of a new monocot; when the temperature plunges, the mountain tops glow in their snowy caps, and the rivers run over.
Alas, no such things happened this year. January was dry and broke high and low temperature records. February continued this disappointment and only in the last few weeks did we enjoy a meager amount of rain. I want to ask the world to pray for rain, dance for rain, sing for rain! And treasure the water!
A visit to Chino Hills State Park was eerie, the hills covered with dry grasses and mustard. Only the steeper hillsides were clothed in coastal sage scrub and chaparral, and the north facing slopes showed the only hints of green. The creek beds were dry. Near the ranch, below a few gnarly-looking and leafless sycamores, a trickle of water collected but was heavily soiled with oil. We heard frogs croaking but could not imagine how they could survive in that dirty water. On the trail was a large, dead garter snake, its head smashed. I clung to the only encouraging sights – a few new, wavy leaves of soap plant and one single, parallel-veined leaf of what we assumed was a mariposa lily. After searching for signs of life, we also noticed that the vegetation on the other side of the fence, outside the park, was even more dismal than on this side of the fence. Outside the park, cows were still grazing and everything was eaten clear to the ground. Inside the park, small shrubs were clinging to life, searching for moisture and – like the grasses and trees and people and animals – waiting and hoping for water, life-giving, most precious water.
When we went into the San Gabriel foothills, which have had just a little more rain, we could clearly see the difference. Manzanita was flowering, some of mountain mahogany had fruits, and the hoaryleaf ceanothus was in bloom. A few willow catkins emerged despite the weather extreme. Some of the laurel sumac had succumbed to the bitter cold or showed visible damage. In Eaton Canyon, an Anna’s hummingbird perched on her nest in a coast live oak and tiny little red maids shone brightly at the trail’s edge. That little patch of color gave me hope. All is not lost; I know the plants will come back, as soon as we get some water. So go and pray and dance and sing for rain – and don’t waste a precious drop of water!
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