Sunday, March 2, 2014

Stormy Weather

The sun breaks through the clouds at Zuma Beach, signaling the end of three days of rain. Malibu received much-needed rain and sustained comparatively little damage during the extended deluge. © 2014 S. Guldimann

Rain at last. My mother and I went down to Westward Beach on Thursday at sunset to watch the rain arrive. The sky was pearl gray and tranquil, the ocean calm. Everything was strangely quiet, as if holding its breath.

There's a feeling of community at the beach most evenings. Locals and visitors gather to watch the sunset. People walk dogs, runners run, children try to wheedle another 10 minutes on the beach from parents, surfers gather for a last wave if the surf is good, or to commiserate when it isn't. Sometimes you see old friends. Sometimes the Rock Man is there, burning white sage in an old abalone shell, "calling" the whales and the dolphins. If he's in the mood, he might tell you stories. 

There were no whales, no surfers, no storytellers on Thursday, but we met a friend, braving the weather to walk her dogs. We stood together for a while watching the light fade and the fog roll in.

Rain rolls across the horizon at Westward Beach on Thursday evening. © 2014 S. Guldimann
Far out over the ocean wild geese fly low, reflecting a second, illusionary flock in the still water. Their voices carried to shore, faint but clear. © 2014 S. Guldimann

On Wednesday, two gray whales, a dozen dolphins and the entire Point Dume sea lion colony were out at sunset. Only a lone dolphin was visible on Thursday, ahead of the storm. © 2014 S. Guldimann
 According to the garden rain gauge, we had a total of 4.5 inches of rain on Point Dume. A friend up in the Santa Monica Mountains reported 6 inches. © 2014 S. Guldimann

The rain arrived slow and sleepy and first, then fierce and strong, driven by wicked winds. It ended as meekly as it arrived. The deluge turned to drizzle on Sunday afternoon and almost imperceptibly faded away.

The oak titmouse, silent for three days, materialized at the top of the willow tree and sang a triumphant trill. As if that was the signal, birds appeared all over the garden. The crows went back to the difficult task of selecting the right twigs for their nests, and the dog, who is convinced he will melt if he goes out in the rain, was encouraged to venture into the garden.

The tree frogs are singing. Even the secretive California toad is whistling a few tentative notes, like a singer warming up for a solo. It's been a tough year for Malibu's amphibian population, but three days of almost non-stop rain appears to have done wonders. 
This tiny Baja California tree frog—formerly known as a the Pacific tree frog, but now dignified with the name Pseudacris hypochondriaca hypochondriaca—has a mighty song. This one has taken up residence in a backyard rain barrel, and fills the garden with his distinctive voice. Greatly emboldened by the wet weather, he's been out during the day, singing in the rain with all the enthusiasm of Gene Kelly. You don't need to live in tree frog country to be familiar with the sound. It's a ubiquitous part of old movie soundtracks, used by foley artists to evoke the ambience of summer nights, steamy swamps, tropical jungles,and  picturesque bayous, even when Pacific tree frogs have no business in any of those settings. © 2014 S. Guldimann

It's easy to mistake the California toad's melodic peeping for the call of a small bird. This is Bufo boreas halophilus. The California Herps website (one of the best places on the Internet for all kinds of information on local reptiles and amphibians) says that this species is diurnal and nocturnal, but while I've heard toads calling during the day, I've only ever seen them at night, even during wet weather when they are more active. You can hear their song here. © 2014 S. Guldimann

Not everything that emerges in the garden after the rain is welcome. Here's a newly-hatched specimen of that monstrous, unstoppable alien invader known as the common garden snail, looking remarkably dainty and delicate as it wreaks havoc on the flowers. I don't mind. Not today. © 2014 S. Guldimann

Let the rain kiss you.
Let the rain beat upon your head
With silver liquid drops.
Let the rain sing you a lullaby.
The rain makes still pools in the sidewalk.
The rain makes running pools in the gutter.
The rain plays a little sleep-song 
on our roof at night—
And I love the rain. 

 Langston Hughes


  1. Beautiful pictures! Always enjoy these articles. : )

  2. Thank you, Eric! It means a lot to me to read that! I'm enjoying putting the blog together and I have all kinds of things in the works for future posts.