Amblin' Alameda: Vernal equinox

Amblin' Alameda: Vernal equinox

Morton Chalfy

We've been altering our east-west route across the city to drive on Central Avenue as often as possible this past week. This winter has been unusually mild, even for the Bay Area, and the trees that line Central have been emerging from their winter hibernation somewhat earlier than usual this year.

At first only a hint of light green was discernible on the trees, but then, day by day, the foliage began appearing in its inimitable magical way. By this time next week we fully expect to once more drive down the road beneath a green and shady bower.

The transformation from bare branch to leafy arbor recurs every year and is our personal harbinger of springtime in our fair town. Just the softening of the scenery from the starkness of leafless trees - which, regardless of the temperature, present a harsh and wintry face - changes the atmosphere to one of coming delight. Spring, the time of renewal, is upon us.

Another of its harbingers is the now archaic ritual of "springing forward": changing our clocks to more closely comport with our ideas of what morning should look like. A relic of our once overwhelmingly agricultural past meeting our emerging industrial future, it is now an almost meaningless method of upsetting the internal time clock twice a year. It is no longer clear who, if anyone, this serves, though I concede that in the winter it allows schoolchildren to wait for the school bus in daylight and gets them home while there is still time to play outdoors in the sunlight.

This fiddling with our clocks and the greening of the trees is all part of the annual celestial event of the Vernal Equinox, when the solar energy received is equal in both the northern and southern hemispheres. At the solstices the solar energy is greater in one or the other hemispheres, which means that our coming summer coincides with winter in South America. Somewhere on the internet there must be a working model of our solar system which demonstrates our movement around the sun and makes all the seasons understandable, but I have yet to find it. (Suggestions would be appreciated.)

The concept of "seasons" is harder to grasp here in Alameda than in, say, the Northeast. There, seasons proceed in orderly fashion, clearly dividing the year into four parts. Here the divisions are less palpable: Our wintriest weather comes in July, and some of our warmest, in the winter. The geography of this area places Alameda in its most protected pocket and the mild climate does the rest.

As a boy, "season" always had a modifying noun: marbles season, kite season, swimming season, sledding season and several more. Now it's baseball season, basketball season and football season, with other sports vying for attention. Such is citified life - mostly divorced from the seasons of the Earth and the sun, mostly concerned with the seasons constructed by our cultures.

Driving along Central Avenue, under the growing greenery, keeps us in touch with the reality of the natural world. Hi ho, hi ho for springtime.

My new novel, "Gaia," has just been published and is available in print and on the Kindle. You can check it out here.