Our Local Foehn

The first branches began to bend last night. Dust loosened by the hooves of deer, the stomp of hikers, and the scratchings of trail-bikers lifted off the sides of the hills and took flight. Here in Portola Hills, just above Cook’s Corner, the canyon belched and heaved. The season of fear, crankiness, and itching had commenced. The National Weather Service confirmed what is for Southern Californians the equivalent of the “Color Line” marching down through the maples of the Eastern seaboard: the Santa Ana Winds had begun their howl.

I don’t know who sanctified these gusts and gales. There is little saintly about them. They kick sand in your eyes, sandblast windshields, knock down trees, suffocate asthmatics, and blow windows right out of their frames. Santana — devil — suits them better and, perhaps, that is what some soldier in the Portola Expedition first called them until corrected by Padre Serra as they hoofed their way north towards the San Francisco Bay, losing a blunderbuss in these parts.

I have known them to blow with the force of hurricane in the places where the canyons narrow. When they sweep across the alluvial fans, they die down a bit. But those of us who live closest to what is left of Orange County nature, they throw themselves about brashly, overturning the occasional trailer or car.

There’s nothing much we can do about them except right what they have blown down or replace what they have broken. The winds are as old as the hills. Until we level this place into one gigantic Kansas we’re stuck with them. Though there may be some willing to pay that price as they have blissfully done away with the open grasslands, the live oak forests, and the coastal chapparal in this county that chews up the land, the mountains shall stand. And, from time to time on the backs of these gales, they shall breath fire.

Be safe when you travel in the backcountry. The season of the burning is here and our drought-starved land gladly gives itself to be food for the red mouth of Satan, the renewer of greasewood.

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