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What winter looks like in Southern California

January 1, 2011

The last couple of nights, the birdbath froze. Inside, the kitchen thermometer read 59 at 6 am. (The outdoor sensor has quit working, but the icy birdbath indicates overnight temps in the 30s).

Every winter day I check out the crowds of soon-to-be wildflowers in my back yard, and weed sneaky nonnatives. Today I tried to identify some of them via the University of California’s Integrated Pest Management website, but I was so insulted to see the inclusion of miner’s lettuce in the broadleaf weed category, I clicked away from the site with a native-plant-loving “hmmph!”

I do love the miner’s lettuce coming up all over my yard–I transplanted a few from my daughter’s sand dune-ish front slope in Los Osos a couple of years ago, and now they are sprouting everywhere in my garden. As the name implies, miners found them delicious. So do I…they taste like … the color green.

The siren call of the quality and quantity of info on the UC-IPM site called me to come back and explore weeds some more; now I have names for the worthy adversaries I’ve been battling for years: spurge (spotted, petty, common, we’ve got ’em all), common purslane, scarlet pimpernel (reminds me of my favorite Danny Kaye movie), sow thistle, London rocket, (both of which I previously figured were some kind of a dandelion, but I guess they really aren’t), bermuda buttercup, creeping wood sorrel . . . yikes. That’s a lot of weeds (here’s the definition of a weed, from the Penn State Agronomy Guide).

Although my native plant landscape does not require the endless fertilizing/watering/mowing cycle of a lawn, it does present challenges at this wet time of year.

If I’m not on weed-removal-duty at least 15 minutes a day, things get messy. And, this year, I’ve decided that most of the tall (3-4 feet, eventually) native clarkia wildflower sprouts have to go. Now. They appear is such dense thickets that they lose their effect–and shade/crowd out the less prolific wildflowers, like the poppies and tidy tips in this photo from a previous spring.

But the point of this post was supposed to be not “what spring will look like” but “what winter looks like,” so here’s a shot of what all our recent rain did to usually dry Santiago Creek in Irvine Park:

The first day of winter I spent at Ocotillo Wells SVRA–winter there looks like this:

And this:

Barefoot dune-running at Blow Sand Hill–not recommended on weekends!

It was warm and still and tropical there on Dec. 20-21–the calm before the (yet another) storm. All this rain = a desert wildflower explosion in a couple of months!

The desert lilies are getting ready:

Why were we on foot at Ocotillo Wells a couple of days before Christmas?

The total lunar eclipse of Dec. 20-21 was partially eclipsed by clouds throughout the night, but there were enough clear times to be properly awed by the cosmos.

My feet were awed by the tiny campfire we assembled by scavenging left-over wood from the many fire rings scattered about the base of Blow Sand Hill.

Happy New Year 2011!

Take a hike–and write about it!

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