Debbie Croft: Seasonal magic in the foothills

01/31/2014 7:00 PM

01/31/2014 7:14 PM

I love all four seasons – the colors, the scents, the sounds, the variations in land and sky.

The caress of springtime after shedding winter’s attire, summer sun bathing the earth in warmth, autumn’s chill nudging creatures to find shelter, and the pristine beauty of a fresh snowfall.

It’s like getting a new personality every few months.

After living in the foothills now for almost 12 years, I’ve become intimately acquainted with the continual rhythm of nature’s varied identities. Because she, too, exchanges her persona on a regular basis.

And over the years I’ve learned to recognize the seasons by the way the coloring of the landscape changes in the hills surrounding our country home.

Unfortunately, our foothills are not very photogenic this time of year. Lack of rain leaves the landscape looking dull.

By November, the color of the hills normally mellows to a pale beige. But in a drought, the golden hues of summer and autumn fade into a sad shade of grayish-brown.

During wet winters, though, the hills are transformed into an emerald isle, where a sheathe of green stretches from the base of the Sierra across the valley to the coastal range.

On days when fog creeps over the contours of the land, hilltops appear as islands in a sea of mist. Our home sits below Mariposa. When we drive “to town,” we ascend out of the fog and into the sunshine. We aren’t the only travelers who slow down or pull over to take in the view.

Days are shorter. In mountain towns the sidewalks tend to roll up just after sundown, or whenever snow blows in. Residents hurry home to spend frosty evenings by the fire.

In springtime the hills are alive – with “No Trespassing” signs.

For the record, it takes great restraint not to ignore those annoying signs, and slip under the barbed wire fences anyway so you can climb lush hills, wandering aimlessly for a few hours following bubbling streams in verdant pasture.

Of all the seasons, spring is my favorite. Typically, young grass blankets hills long before the native oaks awake from their sleep. Then suddenly one day the oak leaves burst open, adding vivid contrast to a sky of clear blue.

Wildflowers dot the landscape ... a frog chorus from a nearby creek serenades us during the evenings.

It seems we’re never able to squeeze enough time between our daily responsibilities for spending outside. Moist earth provides the best conditions for weeding and preparing vegetable and flower beds. (Did you know an entire subculture of bugs and worms and other crawling things resides below the lawn?)

As seasonal rains decrease the hills gradually lose their green overcoat, turning into a golden beige. I call it spun gold. Tall grasses wave gently. Dried seed pods atop gangly stalks, now translucent, reflect the sunlight.

Another summer is ushered in.

Three short months bring a reprieve from our normally hectic schedule shaped by the school year. Our blender works overtime in making fruit smoothies. Casual dinners often consist of grilled burgers or chicken, and salad tossed fresh from our garden.

Windows are opened as soon as the sun slips below the horizon, to bring in the evening’s cooler breezes.

In late summer tarweed appears, adding splotches of color to the scenery. Oak leaves turn a darker shade of green. Dust and haze settle across the land, shading the sky a softer blue.

Relaxing on the swing, I watch dragonflies and hummingbirds while listening to the hum of bumblebees seeking nectar.

October’s cooler temperatures bring welcome relief. Nature’s fiery display explodes in oranges, golds and reds. Gilded hills shine against a brilliant autumn sky.

As early morning sunshine peeks over the eastern mountain range, I’ve seen firsthand why California’s Central Valley is often referred to as the Golden Valley.

This season always seems too short to enjoy the myriad of activities presented during harvest. We try to make time for taking a few more walks before the cold settles in.

And before long we’re back to winter once again.

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