Groundhog's Day and the changing (or not) of Winter to Spring across the United States makes me think of our seasons in Southern California. As a kid growing up in Northeast Los Angeles, I had a seasons complex--this nagging feeling that our mild seasonal changes in L.A. just didn't measure up to the seasons in other parts of the country. The source of this complex was a phrase that as a child (and now, as an adult) I would hear people utter; "I love LA but sometimes I want to live in a place with 'real seasons.'"
This phrase was spoken more times than I can remember and by various people: strangers on the street, my friends' parents, my parents' friends--some of them newcomers and others LA natives.
As a kid I often wondered about where they had these real seasons and what we were doing wrong here. Why was a L.A. season deficient? Growing up, I came to accept this as truth. I began resenting our climate, especially while doing "seasonal" things like cutting out a decorative snowflake in school during a 75-degree December day or helping my mom lug a Christmas tree up to our house with no snow in sight.
Ok, so my resentment never lasted very long. After all I'm a Northeast L.A. native through and through and I've never thought of moving anywhere else, even to a place with real seasons. Yet this knock on my hometown's climate still bothered me.
As I became a young man I was fiercely loyal to Los Angeles. I began to see this seasons critique as another way to put the city down, to paint it as a place with no history, no real culture, a place that was somehow so artificial, so contrived that even its seasons were fake. I knew that none of this was true. I could convince others about L.A.'s culture and history being real, but somehow I couldn't even convince myself, let alone a college roommate, that our seasons were legit.
Yet, I had all the ammunition I needed to dispel this myth. I grew up running around on the hills of Northeast Los Angeles. From a young age I was aware of the way the hills, the plants, the air changed from season to season. I had also learned in school about biomes. I knew that living on the southwest corner of a continental land mass made us one of only 5 places on earth to have a "Mediterranean" climate. I wondered if people went to Provence, Tuscany or Andalusia to complain that they had no seasons there. I figured that didn't happen too much. Despite all of this, somehow I still believed this slanderous contention about L.A.'s seasons.
It was not until I was an adult that I was able to put my seasons complex to rest. While researching the Tongva people for a we were painting at , I began to believe for the first time, that our seasons are real. The Tongva led their lives, for millennia, by the changing of those seasons and to them they were very real indeed. During our dry, hot months, many of the Tongva headed for the cooler areas in the mountains or toward the coasts, while during the colder, wetter months, the first Angelenos migrated to the plains of the Los Angeles and San Gabriel Rivers, and the Arroyo Seco. Their movements were based mostly on temperatures and on what foods were available; their diets changed due to the seasons as well. This information was a revelation to me. If the Tongva people's way of life was so intimately intertwined with our seasons, how could they be any less "real" than those of anyone else? This realization brought a certain peace to me, and thanks to the Tongva, I was finally able to exorcise this seasonal demon of mine.
So here's what I've learned, or rather what I've known all along; we do not have the temperate seasons of northern Europe or most of the United States, yet this does not make our seasons less real. We have two very distinct seasons, a cool, wet one from roughly November to February and a warm, dry one from April through September. March and October seem to have trouble deciding which camp they're in as any given year we can have a wet March and a scorching October or vice versa or both.
And here is what the Tongva have taught me: Seasons are not real or fake, they just are.
To judge one place's seasons by the standards of another is not only unfair, but unrealistic. Seasonal difference is one of the more beautiful aspects of our world. New England would not be the same in a different biome, and neither would Alaska or Hawaii, and pushing outward, India, Thailand, Nepal, Sweden or Egypt. To a large extent, the seasons are the engines of the diverse cultural development of all of these places.
Back in the "Mediterranean" biome of Northeast Los Angeles, we still have subtle markers of traditional, temperate seasons. Autumn announces itself with the colored leaves of our deciduous trees, maybe not as dramatically as in Vermont, but still with a slight crispness in the air. Winter brings us our coldest temperatures of the year. Those same deciduous trees drop their leaves in our winter, even without the aid of freezing temperatures, while shorter hours of daylight cause many changes both subtle and overt. Spring still arrives with wild flowers and tall grasses going to seed and blooms of all sorts. Summer brings months of sunny days, a strong desire for ice cream and a punishing heat, forcing us to retreat indoors or to head for the mountains or the coast, just like the Tongva.