Turning Green Again

Here in the Central Valley of California, we kind of have two seasons, rather than four. Wet and dry, summer and winter. That’s a bit of an exaggeration, but our autumn only lasts about a month (if we’re lucky), and spring lasts about two weeks. In between are a short, mild winter, in good years full of gentle rain and fog; and the long, hot (but dry) summer. Where I live, outside of Sacramento, the nights are cool, and that’s what makes our summers tolerable.

First Green of Fall ©2012 Stephanie Benedict.
The grasses beneath the oak trees are greening up after recent rains. In the distance: the fiery red of the alders across the street. The native oaks are less showy.

In summer, all the plants dry out and hunker down. That’s because we only get about 18 inches of rain each year here in the Valley, most of it between November and March. “California’s Gold,” the color of the dried grasses in non-irrigated areas, is the result of annual grasses brought by European settles in the 1700s and 1800s, which out-competed the native perennials that stayed greener longer.

But then each fall*, we get this phenomenon of the hillsides and dales—all the non-irrigated areas—turning green again with the first rains. Acid green, brilliant green, green that hurts your eyes. Green you want to soak up and keep all year.

I went walking to my favorite local park/nature preserve the Saturday after Thanksgiving, and found the grasses are coming up green again. We’ve had two to three inches of rain so far this season, and all those annual grasses are coming to life again. They start under the oak trees and in the swales, then spread across the fields. The photo above shows what it looked like. In the middle of the picture, you can see in the background the brilliant red of alder trees in the landscaped development across the street.

I did a little painting of the same effect last year, called “Fall’s First Green.” Sometimes I feel like a documentary painter! But this is why I paint: to reveal the land around us, specific times and places, to help us remember there’s more to life than the latest tablet computer or Black Friday sale. Today’s walk made me want to do another one. But I’d better hurry: the effect won’t last.

Fall's First Green, by Stephanie Benedict
Fall’s First Green ©2011 Stephanie Benedict. Oil on panel. 4 inches by 6 inches

Is it fall where you are—or is it spring? What’s your favorite season?

*Assuming it rains. Last year we got very little rain or snow in the mountains. Keep your fingers crossed.