Albert Bierstadt’s painting is a romanticized view of spring in California, and yet I think we know that sometimes, if you go to the right spot at the right time, and close one eye, so that the electrical wires and the paved roads and the vehicles disappear, California in spring looks just like this. Blue sky, heaps of white clouds, cattle grazing on green hills spread with wildflowers, and a river winding through the landscape — that’s the beauty of California in the spring.
Bret Harte saw the other side of spring in California — the spring that brings rain, overflowing rivers, and mud, until it all turns to dry grass, dust, and searing heat — and then he wrote this ode to Spring.
(On the Approach of Spring)
Oh, come, my beloved, from thy winter abode,
From thy home on the Yuba, thy ranch overflowed;
For the waters have fallen, the winter has fled,
And the river once more has returned to its bed.
Oh, mark how the spring in its beauty is near!
How the fences and tules once more reappear!
How soft lies the mud on the banks of yon slough
By the hole in the levee the waters broke through!
All nature, dear Chloris, is blooming to greet
The glance of your eye and the tread of your feet;
For the trails are all open, the roads are all free,
And the highwayman’s whistle is heard on the lea.
Again swings the lash on the high mountain trail,
And the pipe of the packer is scenting the gale;
The oath and the jest ringing high o’er the plain,
Where the smut is not always confined to the grain.
Once more glares the sunlight on awning and roof,
Once more the red clay’s pulverized by the hoof,
Once more the dust powders the ‘outsides’ with red,
Once more at the station the whiskey is spread.
Then fly with me, love, ere the summer’s begun,
And the mercury mounts to one hundred and one;
Ere the grass now so green shall be withered and sear,
In the spring that obtains but one month in the year.
The month of March brings the beginning of spring in California. Trees are in bloom and soon the rains will cease. Enjoy it while it lasts, “ere the summer’s begun,” because as Harte says, in California, spring “obtains but one month in the year,” and before you know it, it will be 101º in the shade.