Every year I come up with a new scheme to decamp from Southern California during the season we affectionately call June Gloom. The bowl of the sky turns over and spills over us with layers and layers of pearlish, milky fog from which the sun only emerges in time to pull down the shade for the evening sunset. Same thing the next day and the next and the next after that. June Gloom reliably lasts all month and checks out, oh, maybe in early July if we’re lucky. Sometimes it stubbornly hangs on into August, although you’ll never hear about that from the Chamber of Commerce.
Nor will they tell you about May Gray, which has become our rather redundant lead-in act to June Gloom. And is nearly indistinguishable from it but for one saving grace: in May, the jacarandas bloom.
Ah, the jacarandas! Why would it surprise anyone that SoCal, so reliably bent on splendor and indulgence, boasts trees that bloom unabashedly bright purplish-blue. Thousands of tiny trumpet blooms that cascade from the trees at the first breath of wind, sticking sappily on sidewalks and consternating homeowners while delighting passersby. Here, it is sometimes referred to as “Santa Barbara snow”. (Others, I am told, have less romantic references for it.) As it turns out, the “sap” that makes the flowers so hard to sweep up is actually a byproduct of aphids that favor the jacaranda flowers and secrete a sugary substance after feeding.
Jacaranda trees originated in South America; the name is reportedly derived from the Guarani language, spoken in Paraguay, Brazil and Argentina. It means “fragrant”, although I scooped up a handful of blossoms to sniff them and smelled – nothing. Maybe the word, or the trees, lost something in translation. It is also said that the Argentinian trees’ bloom is more true blue, while ours skews to purple. Botanist Kate Sessions, known as the “Mother of Balboa Park” in San Diego, is credited with introducing the jacaranda to southern California from Mexico at the turn of the 20th century.
I’m sure the sun is shining somewhere. Maybe in Bakersfield or Lancaster. Certainly in Palm Springs. Sometimes I think May Gray and June Gloom are our penance for the gift of living by the sea. If it was too perfect, we would never want to leave.
In a few weeks, the flowers will be gone and graceful, ferny leaves will take their place on the jacaranda branches. And maybe, just maybe, the sun will come out. In the meantime, we’ve got the blues, the jacaranda blues. Another 4 a.m. wake-up begins with the long, low moan of the fog horn coming from somewhere in the distance, announcing another morning of gray skies filled with cobwebbed tendrils of fog. Perfect backdrop for the lovely jacarandas, I suppose.
My bags are packed for a weekend away in sunny Texas. So I’m heading out and I’ll leave you with these lovely lyrics from the dreamy tune “Jacaranda” by songstress Catherine Feeny, who seems to have experienced a little May Gray herself:
Most days I don’t feel nothing…it’s a gentle haze, this life. We struggle to make it all right. How we struggle to make it all right.
The sky is swallowed up in a mountain, leaving nothing in its place. It’s a gentle haze, this life. We struggle to make it all right.
Jacaranda, good to see you…you’re looking’ very well, my friend. You’re looking’ very well my friend.
Life seemed almost colorless until you came around, around again. Most days I don’t see no one, nobody but you and this window that I’m looking through.
Jacaranda, good to see you, you’re looking very well my friend. Life seemed almost colorless, until you came around, around again. Until you came around, around again.