It will be hard to beat. For one brief shining moment in late February the precipitation froze into sleet in Sausalito and three people were killed slip sliding away in a 28-car pileup. A levee or two up in the delta was recently washed away, houses condemned. Yesterday’s bold face headline trumpeted news that a septuagenarian landscape architect had been buried alive by a midnight avalanche of mud in his Marin County backyard. The day before the Devil’s Slide to the south got to be news by once more doing its own thing to confound transport and engineering “experts”; Highway One will be closed again for months causing mammoth commuter traffic jams and gargantuan tourist disappointment. Downtown San Anselmo already sank under water on New Year’s weekend.
California has big faults, the San Andreas being the most famous. And the planet has bone crushing droughts, notably in political hotspots like Somalia and Nepal where it hasn’t rained since August monsoon. So this intense focus on California could be a meteorological display of extreme disgust with the pileup of too many other faults like the Terminator, the terminal corruption in the University system, the interminably toxic political pocket lining in San Francisco, the termination of thousand-year-old redwood trees for vacation house deck boards. It certainly looks like the cosmos means to wash the state clean away or just clean. Seven counties have been declared “emergency areas” and it’s still raining.
The paper is packed with “human” interest stories. Contractors are twiddling thumbs, museums are mobbed. Gardens are gone, tanning salons enjoying a real hay day. For the first time since 1961 two major league baseball games in a row were rained out: the Giants are shriveling. Columnists are decrying postponements and cancellations making people testy, depressed, fatter. Road rage rises like the reservoirs. Mothers are worn out worrying how to occupy children who can’t go out and play. The monotony is maddening. Seattle sends no sympathy. It’s the economy, stupid.
This all feels a lot like winter in Maine . Sounds like it too except that Maine doesn’t cry over spilt February or March because postponements are to be expected. In winter, life is not dependable but weather dependent; you can’t even bury the dead. I’ve been through relentless chains of storms that dumped snow higher than the backyard fence or rain hardened nightly into killer ice and an entire week one February when the temperature never ventured beyond minus something. That’s why Mainers don’t plan much at this time of year, except perhaps a trip to Florida—and not even that is a given because the airport could be shut or the turnpike temporarily closed for plowing. Cabin fever isn’t headlines. News in Maine is that Mother Nature has cut us a break letting winter pass by without much damming the human current of events.
When you’ve had inelastic stretches of patience practice from Thanksgiving to Memorial Day, you see that people unfettered by the survival challenges of powerful weather get to feeling mightily independent. They get a lot of extra time to entertain themselves any way they want—which is why Mainers think Californians cook up so many cuckoo ideas. They take choice for granted, certain they lead their own lives. So today’s major San Francisco headline: “Mother Nature in Charge!” has to be a miserable blow especially to the control freaks around here and all who think all the high tech in their high rainmaker world makes them masters of the universe. Now like the first black ice or snow flurries that thicken into a blizzard in Maine comes the sorry reminder that life is not a Burger King: you can’t have it your way. No matter how adorable your parents think you are or how many gazillions you’ve stashed in hedge funds, out there in the real world you and your plans don’t matter doodles. You are, as the Buddha said, just another grain of sand on a shifting beach. This winter there's been no getting around what we call in dharma the absolute truth.
I want to feel sorry for all those Marin county mothers the columnist wrote about who are frustrated by kids who can’t go out and play. No doubt their families settled in that paradise for its good life, which if you read glossy magazines you know includes basking in the endless outdoors. (It gets chilly in January? Heat lamps by the barbeque, wetsuits for the kayak. Money is never the problem.) Suddenly the indoors—on which they’ve lavished so much remodeling--is not so great. I bet all they are thinking: It’s not supposed to be like this, and I bet even more they haven’t dared to stare at that supposition or question their expectation. They've seen too many movies and like most Americans can no longer separate the Hollywood version from the real thing. Haven't Californians twice mistaken an actor for a governor? These moms remind me that years back a similar type upper middle class mother confronted by the reality of her daughter’s bulima actually shook her head, shrugged and helplessly declared: “How was I to know about something like this? It’s never been mentioned in TIME.”
California is where an extravagant chain of mountains sink into a desert that cannot be differentiated from the sand it meets on the beaches by a freezing sea. And/or it is a gigantic redwood rain forest of temperature extremes, and/or the fog bank of the entire continent. Since the first Spanish missionaries ventured north from Mexico human beings have been in a tug of war with its harsh reality, shifting perceptions to match desire. Blinded by rugged beauty, which could in places rival Maine, and emptiness, they saw tract houses, theme parks, plantations, boulevards and believed in the mirage. Now all the planned communities are dealing with the unplanned. Five months of rain have washed clear what the Buddha meant by how we all live in a world of our own creation instead of the one that actually is.
Weapons of mass desperation are being released on both sides of a tug of war over California's truth. Right now reality is reigning, beating virtual reality by a landslide or three. Attacking day by day the century-old, carefully crafted and tended hype--giddy sun, sand and Disneyland under the Golden Gate--Nature is putting truth to power with brilliant timing. This watery plague on all our houses comes exactly at the major centennial anniversary of the great earthquake, the 1906 explosion of truth that blew the gold rush image to smithereens. That is what ushered in the you are my sunshine marketing hype of the last hundred years. Now it is all wet.
Marketing maniacs are fighting back, brazenly raining all over the cable TV channels, although I don’t for beans know why they air it here, a lucky California commercial of quick cuts: surfer kings and bikini queens, whiter than snow teeth and long hair blowing in the wind, a vineyard baron, a barrio fiesta, Tomorrowland, Tahoe skiing, Valley Girls, Chinatown and finally Clint Eastwood on a Big Sur putting green driving home the idea that the magic of California makes every day here your lucky day. Every time I listen to yet another storm pounding against my windows and see its closing cut of the iconic twin towered Golden Gate under immaculately clear sky, I expect to hear a soothing voice purr: “You want to buy a bridge?” I can't help thinking we’re going to need one here in nevereverland to get over the tragic of all this rain on our charade.
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