Well my favorite season — spring — officially began on March 19, but with the coronavirus pandemic hanging over our heads and disrupting our lives, the first week of spring just hasn't felt celebratory as usual.
Nonetheless, the natural world is awakening to spring as it always does. Here in the Tehachapi Mountains, March has brought welcome moisture after an unusually dry and water-stingy January and February.
March has produced a little over two inches of moisture over the course of a series of small storms, and it is raining as I write this on March 22. Our yearly total is now up to about seven and one-half inches of precipitation, so we still have a little more than four inches to go reach the yearly average of about 12 inches.
Yearly precipitation averages are obtained by adding the total moisture of all the years — dry, normal and wet — together and dividing by the number of years in the data set, so they don't necessarily arrive at a "typical" figure of what to expect each year.
In our case, the statistics merely yield the average figure of what the Tehachapi Mountains have gotten over the past 110 years or so.
In any case, Southern California can almost always use more rain and snow, so bring it on — whether it's a March Miracle or just modest March Moisture, we'll take it.
January and February were so dry that the Mojave Desert has had a very subdued wildflower bloom this year, but spring doesn't arrive in the mountains until weeks later, so it's possible for us to still have some colorful blooming despite it being a pretty dry winter.
Today I saw the first small flowers of Koovoos — a plant known in English as Spring Gold (Lomatium utriculatum). Koovoos is the Nuwä (Kawaiisu or Paiute) word for this native wildflower, which was an important spring green for local Native people.
It was originally cooked or steamed using hot rocks, and in later years brought to a boil in a pot and then mixed in with bacon and bacon grease.
Nuwä oldtimers also told Dr. Maurice Zigmond in the 1930s that Koovoos had been a favorite food of the long-vanished California grizzly bears, which were once abundant in the Tehachapi Mountains.
I always wondered if Dr. Zigmond had gotten that correctly, since there were occasionally translation issues with his work, because he didn't speak Nuwä and his best informants didn't speak English.
However, I learned last year that one of the most important foods consumed by hungry grizzly bears in the Yellowstone ecosystem as they emerge from hibernation in spring is a yellow-flowered plant commonly called Biscuit Root — which is Lomatium cous, and looks very similar to its close relative Koovoos. So no doubt the California grizzlies in the Tehachapi area did in fact consume lots of Koovoos, and that tribal lore was true and Zigmond got it right.
Today, during one of the periods of sunshine on a mostly cloudy day, I spotted a tiny Western Fence Lizard sunning itself on a fallen branch. It was a hatchling from last year, and was missing most of its tail from some close call it had last autumn. The whole lizard was less than three inches long. Small bluebellies like that one are the first to emerge from their winter slumber, on days that are just barely warm. The older, bigger lizards wait for a more substantially warm day before they rouse themselves.
I'm hoping that the pandemic currently casting a shadow on our lives passes with a minimum of death and suffering. Spring has arrived, and we'd rather be out enjoying one of the loveliest times of the year. . .
Have a good week, and stay safe.
Jon Hammond has written for Tehachapi News for more than 30 years. Send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.