The fourth season

There’s a common myth that Los Angeles doesn’t have any seasons. It’s not true, of course.

In fact, we have four distinct seasons here.

There’s summer, which anyone would recognize. Then there’s winter, which most people from more northerly climes might recognize as…well, summer. Highs in the 60s and 70s — even the 90s, at times — broken by periods of intense rain. Well, usually, anyway.

The third season is relatively brief. Instead of spring, we get June Gloom, in which the marine layer spreads over much, if not most, of the city. For somewhere around three to five weeks, we may not see the sun until late afternoon, if at all — those who live near the coast sometimes don’t see it for weeks at a time.

Then there’s fourth season, which falls between summer and winter. Or in other words, right about now.

Fire season, we call it.

It’s the period that follows L.A.’s typically long, dry summer, between the time the rains usually stop in March or April, and before rains start again (hopefully) in November. Which means that all the plants that grew during the previous winter’s rains are now dry as the proverbial bone. Then the Santa Ana winds start, resulting in single-digit humidity and near-hurricane force winds.

So all it takes is a spark. Or a group of careless students. And Southern California goes up in flames once again.

This past week, we had three major fires simultaneously, in Montecito (near Santa Barbara), Sylmar (north of L.A.), and in Northern Orange County.

Normally, unless the fires are somewhere close — like Malibu, for instance — the sea breezes protect the Westside from the smoke, making it seem like any fires are distant events, unrelated to our daily lives.

Not so this time.

Despite major fires on three sides, Saturday morning started out a beautiful day, but by early afternoon, the smoke was drifting up from the Triangle Complex Fire in Orange County. And by evening, the entire city was covered in dense smoke.

By Sunday morning, our entire apartment smelled of smoke, and the normally clear view outside our window looked like a heavy fog, the spire of the Mormon Temple that dominates our western view barely visible just a few blocks away. I was surprised to see a few cyclists out on the road, despite the smoke; I was having enough trouble breathing just walking across the street.

Monday afternoon, the winds shifted, and the air was starting to clear, though you could still smell of smoke everywhere. By this morning, the fires were largely under control, and most of the homeowners were allowed to return home — those who still had homes to return to, that is.

And by late morning, the sea breezes started up again, and the air was fresh and clean once again, so it was possible to get back to normal activities, without fear of what it might be doing to my lungs. Which for me, meant getting on my bike and taking a fast ride down the coast.

The weather was ideal, and the bike path along the beach was nearly deserted, as it often is this time of year. Which is a pity, because fire season can be the perfect time to ride.

Once the smoke clears, anyway.


Courtesy of C.I.C.L.E., the Sacramento Bee reminds us we all need to do better out there, drivers and cyclists alike — a thought the local Las Cruces, NM paper echoes. Maybe someone’s trying to tell us something. Gary and Timur remind us about the City Council’s Transportation Committee meeting this Friday to discuss bike-related issues; Streetsblog explores the issues to be discussed, starting here and here. A writer in the Burbank Ledger responds to a recent letter writer who complained about all those damn bikes on the local bikeway. Our local Bike Snob (not the N.Y. version with the readership the rest of us would kill for), discusses the merits of lying non-car bike stickers. And finally, a blogger in Richmond, VA says forget the bike lanes, give us the entire streets.

One comment

  1. timur says:

    Have you ever read this Lawrence Weschler piece from the New Yorker a couple of years back?

    Not exactly like you wrote, but I was reminded of it in that discussion of how the light changes in small ways here.

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