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High White Overcast

Spiritual Smart Aleck

On a typical day around here, there is a cloud cover that makes the sky look white. When writing to friends in, say, Australia, I have often found myself reporting that the weather today is the usual high white overcast.

They write back that it is sunny and hot there, and they’d write more but they’re off to the beach for a swim. Oh, and they don’t get bronchitis every year any more, like they did when they lived here.

I grew up in California, close to the ocean, close to Santa Cruz, in fact. The weather there was idyllic. Temperatures hovered between 50 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit all year around, with occasional heat spikes in the summer and frosts and ice in the winter. Day after day it was another beautiful day. Ho hum.

It was surfing country. I used to enjoy watching surfers at Steamer Lane, among other beaches along that stretch of Monterey Bay.

There have been a lot of movies of surfers, but movies are made up of the good stuff. The reality of watching regular people surfing is that a gaggle of people in wet suits sit on their boards out beyond the breakers, waiting for a wave they like. When they decide a wave looks like a good ride, they paddle like mad to catch it, while the rest of the crowd watches them. If they catch it, and they don’t always, they stand up on the board and feel what must be the glory of flying over the water.

The ride does not last long. Sometimes they lose their balance and fall off their boards, or otherwise wipe out.* Then they get back on their boards and paddle out beyond the breakers to do it again. It’s kind of like going on a roller coaster at Disneyland. You wait a long time for a brief ride, and if you want to do it again you have to wait again.

If you believe that it is always sunny at the beach in California, you haven’t been there. In the summer the warm air from the land moves over the cold Pacific Ocean offshore, and voila, fog.

Where I lived, in the foothills of the mountains, in the late afternoon the fog came in. You could watch the fog bank approaching, damping the sun and lowering the temperature. In the morning the fog retreated to the ocean. This was called burning off.

Fog fact: If you are on the San Francisco Bay side of the San Francisco Peninsula or up in Marin north of the Golden Gate, one of the coolest sights you can see is the fog coming inland over the Coast Range mountains. It comes as a slow, towering bank of cloud, spilling and flowing down the mountainsides like the water it is. You can see this phenomenon during fog season, which is during the warmer months of the year.

There were so many mornings in California when the sun shone cool and delicious after the fog retreated. There was sunlight and bird song and the feeling that there was no more perfect place in the world than this. The heart knew a peaceful joy. When I thought about going back to California over the years, it was the feeling of those mornings I missed most and for which I longed.

We’ve been having mornings like that here this spring. I’ve known years here when the weather stayed damp and overcast far into June, but not this year. This year we have had sunny hot days in April and May.
Is this climate change?

I have a feeling that the changes overall will not be that predictable, but on a morning like this, with the spring sunshine pouring down, I’m okay with climate change, or whatever this is.

A couple of days ago we had the high white overcast sky that we know so well, and it may be back tomorrow. We don’t have the coastal California climate yet, and in Puget Sound we don’t have many surfers because you have to drive out to the ocean to find surf.

Climate change? A bunch of really nice days for no particular reason? I don’t know. We live in interesting times, my friends.

*Wipe out is one of the terms that surfing brought into the English language. A few others: bitchin’, cowabunga, dude, gnarly, hang ten, hodad, pipeline, radical/rad, and stoked. This is by no means a complete list. These terms and others have expanded in meaning and usage far beyond surfing. For example, when I had my gall bladder out, the surgeon told me that it was really gnarly.