A week ago this past Monday, the mother of a friend of mine slipped on the ice and broke her wrist. While traumatic, this wouldn’t have seemed remarkable to me if it hadn’t happened in Los Angeles. Our house was 43 degrees that morning—inside. And if you’ve read my blog long enough, you know we have neither furnace nor wood-burning stove to keep us warm, only a little hot-oil coil heater. Which, to it’s credit, managed to get our main room up to a relatively toasty 54 degrees.
Flash forward to this morning. I took Tufa for her morning walk. I had on jeans and a tee-shirt. No hat, no gloves. Shoot, I could have gotten away with wearing shorts, if I had any. The past four days have been gloriously warm, with temperatures in the valleys in the low 80s, and here on the hill, maybe mid-70s. The song sparrows are singing their beautiful melody, and even the mockingbirds seem to be warming up their pipes, preparing for the Season of Twitterpation, as I call it, which soon will arrive here in Southern California.
On our walk we encountered two mule deer does, grazing in an open, grassy field below our house. These girls weren’t familiar to me; they were too small, too young, to be the does we usually see. These looked like two-year-olds. Then it dawned on me: these were probably the yearling fawns of last year, now mostly grown up. Their mother had probably kicked them out of the proverbial nest, preparing to give birth to this year’s fawns. The timing would be right. We stood and watched them, Tufa and I, as they watched us back and, eventually, turned back to their grazing.
With these lovely early signs of spring comes a favorite plant of mine: wild cucumber. They are a vining plant, twisting and turning along the ground, up the side of the house, and around tree branches. You’d thing they’d strangle the other plants to death, but they don’t, somehow. Probably because almost as fast as they arrive and grow, they die back. In another couple of months, there will be no sign they were ever even here.
The flowers are a beautiful creamy white:
But it’s the fruit of the wild cucumber that enchants me most. The first time I saw one, my first thought was, “What the heck was that?” My second thought was to laugh out loud, because they’re so funny looking, sort of like a green, spiny football. The photo below is of a baby fruit; they get to be about the size of the palm of my hand:
You don’t eat wild cucumber. That is, unless you, um—how do I put this delicately?—unless you’re trying to clear your system for a colonoscopy? Does that give you an idea?
But we’ve noticed that some of the local wildlife eat them, particularly the coyotes. We see coyote scat all the time, seeing as we have a healthy coyote population in our canyon and on our hill. Frequently, there are wild cucumber seeds in the scat. Someone once told me the theory is that coyotes eat them to get rid of tummy aches, if they’ve eaten something bad (although, being voracious omnivores, I’m not sure what a coyote would eat that they would consider “bad”). But I’ve found nothing in my research to back up that theory.
I just know I’m happy to see the wild cucumber growing and blossoming again. Oh, we’ll probably get cooler weather again, but if the wild cucumber is in flower, I don’t foresee bone-breaking cold like we had last week. I don’t think our Earth Mother would change her mind about a California spring. Perhaps that’s just the optimist in me, seeing their return as a sign, but then, I am an optimist, as you all probably have gathered after reading me all this time.
To those of you who live in the Midwest, who are experiencing a ferocious cold snap right now, I say to you: it will come. I lived in the Midwest for 50 years; I know how depressing and cold and raw late January can be. I do understand.
But one of these days when you least expect it, you’re going to step outside and see a crocus popping up through the snow. The crocus were my wild cucumber when I lived in Illinois, although of course I couldn’t know that at the time. They were, for me, the promise of warmer days.
And they never ceased to make me smile.