Thursday 15 April 2010


After the weekend’s steady downpour, which forced me to stay holed up in my small studio, the weather gods loosened their leash. Monday was “blessed” with intermittent drizzle only. This enticed me to venture forth and document for you the closer neighborhood at Stuart Street in which I will be staying until end of May.

But first some remarks about the weather in the Bay Area. It is pretty predictable and generally benign. Freezing temperatures only once every fifty years or thereabouts. Winter is accompanied by frequent thunderstorms with heavy downpour, egged on by cold air currents rushing down along the coast from Alaska. Around the present time of the year, the torrents abide and the area is getting blessed with clear air and steady sunshine, but still nicely cool temperatures.

When summer approaches, a most peculiar phenomenon arises. It was aptly described by Mark Twain who declared that “the coldest winter he ever had experienced was the summer in San Francisco”. As the Great Central Valley gets heated up, the air in the valley starts to rise from early morning, which creates a sucking vacuum craving new air from afar.

Outside the coast, the air above the Pacific is cooled by remarkably cold sea currents, which sweep down from Alaska and deviate from the coast first a bit north of Los Angeles (the opposite to our Gulf Stream, so to speak). This cool air is sucked inlands, rising over the low coast hills and falling down into the valley. To us humble humans it has the appearance of low clouds or, if you wish, a wet blanket that covers San Francisco, the Golden Gate and Berkeley opposite the gate. This at the same time humid and cold blanket acts like a self-monitored air conditioner, enhancing working productivity during the morning hours, the most active hour of the day.

As the land on the San Francisco peninsula and in Berkeley gets heated up during the morning, the difference in temperature to the valley beyond abates and the sucking in of air from the Pacific comes to a gradual stop around noon. Gradually, the clouds are being dissolved, at least in Berkeley, and temperature rises from generally 10 degrees (Celsius) in the morning and until noon, to over 30 degrees in the afternoon.

This peculiarity goes on well into autumn, until the valley is getting cooler temperatures again and the sucking stops. As the end of the year approaches, there is again a blessed time of clear air and cool sunshine, which then passes into the winter storm season. By now you may have guessed why my séjour was planned for April/May. I wanted to benefit from the blessed spring period of cool sunshine. Unfortunately, the timing was not perfect. This year, the winter storms have lasted far longer than usual, which the local weathermen attribute to the “El Nino” that plays its fickle influence as far North as California.

This leads us back to the real topic of this posting. I am lodging at a nice little residential street at a certain distance from campus, which keeps us residents here abreast from the ruckus we so much enjoy when venturing to the University, but rather have at a distance when it is time for siesta or quiet evenings. Town regulations forbid the building of large residences in the area, with the result that it remains in stasis. Not a single house has been removed since I lived here 35 years ago.

Everything is exactly as it was then. All the small houses along the street have a small street garden. Some of the owners are Japanese and you can see this by the well arranged and kept, and usually short cut, plantings they exhibit in front of their houses. My personal favorites are the more unruly owners who let their plants more or less grow as they will and do only the minimum necessary for keeping up appearances.

After the rain, the vegetation is obliging the weather gods by getting off to a tremendous competition in growth. As you walk on the sidewalk, along the residences, you sometimes have the feeling of entering a green tunnel or a jungle, so overpowering the greenery has become after the recent gushing from the sky.

When, as it happened on Monday, the drizzle is stopping eventually and clouds are transforming into mist, you may have the good fortune to observe a beautiful scene above the tree tops: a sun aura, caused by the sun rays being dispersed through a myriad of small water drops suspended in the sky (a phenomenon similar to rainbows).

Let me round up this maybe too meditative essay by showing you some flowers that come to their best in drizzle and its aftermath. Although I am very fond of photographing these jewels of nature, I have to admit that I am sadly amiss as concerns their name. But here I may possibly count on a little help from my friends, especially the botanists and gardeners among you. If you know the name of any of the nine flowers on the posting, please don’t hesitate to let us all know about it. Many of us are ignorant would-be botanists who would thank you kindly for placing your comment in this posting!

Flower number 1 Lavender

Flower number 2 Kalanchoe

Flower number 3 Azalea

Flower number 4 Iris

Flower number 5 Geum

Flower number 6 Jasmine

Flower number 7 Watsonia

Flower number 8 Borage

And, finally, flower number 9 Rosemary


kari_lantto said...

Tjusiga fibblor, skulle jag säga.

Birgitta Wijkman said...

Hej Emil!
Du är inte bara en strålande fotograf utan nu visar det sig att du skriver helt enkelt underbart. Vadan kommer denna litterära talang från? Och på ett främmande språk. Jag är överväldigad.

Astrid Walej said...

Hej Emil!
Vilken häftig "regnbåge". Jag var med om ett likartat ljusfenomen för ett antal år sedan då jag såg tre solar på himlen.

Emil Ems said...

Thank you kindly, Kari, Birgitta and Astrid, for your compliments.

That notwithstanding, I am still sadly missing names on the 9 flowers. If any of my dear readers out there knows any of them, please don't hesitate to put in its name here in any language you prefer. We can always translate it later into its proper Latin.

Anonymous said...

Hi, Emil! As a Bay Area local, maybe I can help with some of the plants:
2 and 3 I don't recognize-sorry!
4-Iris (although it appears to be tucked in among some other plant--the foliage is wrong for an iris!)
7-It LOOKS like a crocosmia to me, although I think I am wrong on this, as I've never seen a white one.
Hope this helps. Enjoy your stay here! -RM

Anonymous said...

PS--I just recognised number 3--it's an azalea.
And, as a fellow member of the San Francisco Symphony Chorus (and one of the choral soloists in the Chichester Psalms, btw!), I just read your post--thank you for the kind words!--RM

Emil Ems said...

Dear Robert,
How delightful to get another Bay resident commenting on the blog (counting in also Eva) and to receive expert advice on the flowers. I have already entered the names in the blog, as you can see. At a later stage I will find out their corresponding Latin names. With your benign contribution we are now only one flower short, or possibly two. Maybe some other "Bayan", for instance, a Member of the Stuart Street Houseowners' Association, can help us out here.

By the way, I hope I got your name right. I tried to deduct it from the clues you provided me with. If you indeed were the organist playing in the Chichester part, permit me once again to compliment you on your forceful framing of the performance.

George Osner said...

2 looks like a Kalanchoe, and 7 I think is a Watsonia