Saturday, February 24, 2007

Stranger in a Strange Land

It's amazing how foreign a place can seem even when it's a part of the same country you've lived in for your whole life. I mean, the people are more laid back and all, but it's really the landscape that's getting me right now.

Here's the thing: it's February. And it's spring. These two things simply don't go together in my mind.

I tried to deny it at first, telling myself that it was just a few rogue flowers that were coming out early. That even happens once in a while in bitter cold Michigan. But I can't deny it anymore. The world has burst into bloom around here, and it's absolutely gorgeous.

There is, of course, the usual spring assortment of daffodils and hyacinths and such. There are also these yellow trees that have just blown me away. It's like everywhere you go, there they are, spectacular balls of the brightest, sunniest yellow you can imagine. You can't even see that they have branches, the flowers are so thick. I've never seen anything like it. Spring trees everywhere else I've lived run more toward the pink-and-white spectrum. According to a former-arborist friend, the yellow trees are called Bailey's Acacia. I want to plant a whole grove of them outside my window, because every time I see one it makes me happy.

Of course, there are also various apple and cherry-looking trees in bloom. The apple blossom is Michigan's state flower, so I know those well. And Traverse City Michigan calls itself the cherry capitol of the world. I haven't gotten close enough to confirm what the blooms here are, but I'm pretty sure they fall into that family. I suppose some are probably plums, too. I don't think any of them are oranges or lemons -- I have seen trees citrus trees just full of fruit recently, so I suspect they bloom in the fall or something.

The wildlife is also a bit foreign to me. I mean, deer and squirrels look pretty much the same anywhere, and the mountain lion warning signs I saw while hiking last week didn't particularly faze me -- we have those where I hiked in northern MI as well. But Sea Lions? Just hanging out in the middle of tourist-central.? That's weird. And I'm dying to go see the whales and Tule Elk at Point Reyes (which I might do this weekend). Plus, tidepools!

The birds, though, are what I really don't recognize. I've seen a couple really gorgeous ones here on the ranch. Bright, bright colors (or swatches of color), no idea what they are. Even using my handy Audubon field guide to California, I haven’t been able to positively identify them.

One was absolutely brilliant blue, and sleek looking (so more like a robin’s feathers than a Bluejay’s) and a slim body. I suspect it was some kind of bluebird, but I don’t remember it having an orange belly like the bluebirds in my guidebook, and it seems like it was a bit sleeker.

The other is glossy black, also fairly slim, with one narrow swatch of brilliant red on each wing. Perhaps a redwinged blackbird? My guidebook says they actually have red and yellow, but these appeared to one have red.

And then last this gorgeous blush-colored bird. It looked kind of like a finch to me, a little bit chubby, only it was this pinkish-red all over and I've not seen a finch that looks like that before.

I think perhaps I need a better guidebook – this is one I bought for hiking when I was here on temporary assignment for a few weeks last fall. And it was good for that, since I didn’t know I would be moving here for good then and didn’t want to spend a lot of money, and also since I don’t like to carry too much with me when I’m hiking. But I think it suffers from trying to do too much – it includes everything from trees to snakes to fish to birds to flowers to furry creatures and so on. So in the end, nothing is covered in much depth. I’d love to have a more in-depth book each about birds, trees, and flowers, which are the things I mostly care about, anyhow.

And speaking of trees, I don’t know how I went 31 years without encountering Eucalyptuses (Eucalypti?). I mean, I know HOW, since they don’t grow in the east and all, but wish I hadn’t. They are quite lovely to look at, but even better, they smell great. I know people describe the smell as slightly medicinal, and that’s both right and so wrong, since medicine implies to me an overpowering generally icky smell. This is much more subtly – slightly minty and fresh and it just hangs in the air around the trees, especially when it's been raining. I noticed it a lot when I was hiking here this past fall, and now there’s this one place on my way home from work where I just want to slow down and open the windows to let the smell in. Fittingly enough, it’s the same place where my cell phone stops working, as if the Eucalyptus trees are marking some kind of boundary into the simpler, more nature-aware life I seem to be living since I moved here.

(although, it should be said, I've been told that the Eucalyptuses are actually a non-native species, introduced here by farmers as wind-breaks, and that they have crowded out some native species)

Anyway, I just got a new digital camera for my birthday, so I'm really and truly going to get pictures posted soon. Really.

1 comment:

Jym said...

=v= In some parts of the world, that Acacia is called a Mimosa. A Russian friend told me that its yellow flowers are given to women on March 9th, International Women's Day. I have a Silver Acacia growing in the back yard that I'm trying to find a home for.

Many plants growing in the Bay Area are introduced species, which makes it hard for people writing guide books. Acacias are also native to Australia, and they're also fast growers. They don't suppress other wildlife in the way that blue gum Eucalyptus do.