Most Fragrant Season in California

A short period of about three to four weeks in early spring (the length is dependent on the weather) is my favorite season in Northern California; it is also the most fragrant season. It is orange-blossom season! Well, it is actually citrus-blossom season but that just does not have the same ring.

In late winter and early spring, all the effort and time to wrap my citrus trees on cold nights to withstand the few hours a night of temperatures close to freezing are finally paying off as the the first trees start to bloom and envelope the backyard in their potent, sweet smell.

Covered Orange Tree

The daily ritual before cooler winter nights – swaddling the citrus trees in tarps and blankets. Once they are taller than 7 feet, the endeavor becomes quite challenging.

The fragrance is hard to describe, and none of the scents captured in bottles ever come close to the real thing; the smell is sweet and potent, even stronger at night, and very different from the smell of an orange fruit or peel. In my backyard, the limes and mandarins bloom first, then come the grapefruit trees, and last but not least the orange trees that seem to do double duty by still carrying some fruit while already blooming and working on this year’s crop.


Close-up of Blossoms

The white, star-shaped flowers attract honeybees, bumblebees, butterflies, and hummingbirds to the backyard, and at times “air traffic” becomes too busy for me to sit nearby.

Sure, the golden-orange California poppies cover the hillsides in spring and acres and acres of almond trees blossom in the Central Valley, but nothing is quite as impressive as the aroma of orange blossoms. Walk through the suburbs or through downtown, and you are sure to catch a whiff of the sweet smell every couple of hundred feet or so. This is the most fragrant time of the year in California and nothing quite compares for me.

PS: Last spring came close to this experience as  I spent a weekend in Sorrento, Italy and on Capri, where I was  embraced by the fragrance of lemon blossoms every corner I turned (and that might be the reason why I enjoyed that trip so much).

Thanksgiving Alfresco and “Stray” Aliens in California

Another November in Northern California, and another reminder how amazing the weather is here. While I see postings about European Christmas markets opening up and about snow angels in the northern parts of the US, I am able to have Thanksgiving dinner outside. Sure, we are not quite as lucky as those in Southern California and still need a jacket once the shadows get longer and the sun sets, but it is still unfathomable to me that I can actually sit outside for hours and be comfortable at the end of November.


Abundance: Under an Orange Tree

Tee by the Fire

Tea by the Fire Pit


Even though I do not have a close connection to Thanksgiving since I did not grow up with this tradition, I have become rather fond of this holiday by now; what is there not to like when it is mostly about giving thanks and of course food – and more food – and then even more food.

Turkey on BBQ

Turkey on the BBQ

Pie Buffet

Pie Buffet: Banana, Pecan, Blueberry, Apple, and Pumpkin (under the Glass)

Even though some dishes are traditional and expected at Thanksgiving, most families also seem to include at least one dish connected to their ancestors; American Italians, for example, seem to serve ravioli, and our Thanksgiving dinner included sauerkraut and Polish sausages.


Sauerkraut and Polish Sausages

As a foreigner/alien without a large family nearby, I have been invited for several years now by American friends that lay out one of the largest spread for the dinner (made from scratch). All I need to do is show up, bring appetite, and take leftovers home (and I don’t even need to bring any boxes for the leftovers). I jokingly observed that I have been taken in like a stray kitten, and like with any stray cat, once fed, I am hard to get rid off and come back again and again.


Over the years as I moved from country to country and continent to continent, I have often been invited to share holiday traditions and meals with locals. Thank you to all those who take in those “stray” aliens without family nearby during holidays.


A 51st State in the U.S.?

Driving through the Sierra Foothills over the last few weeks, I have noticed several green signs and banners in fields, along fences, and on the sides of barns that mention a State of Jefferson. Usually, these types of signs along roads and in front yards spring up like mushrooms during election season, but it is still too early for that. Also, the signs were bigger than the usual political support. So I was intrigued. What is the State of Jefferson and how come I have not seen these signs in other areas?



Signs around Northern California for a New State

The idea of a State of Jefferson is not new it seems and has been proposed several times before (for the first time in 1852) but has never come to its full fruition. The goal it seems is to create the 51st State of the Union by combining the northern counties of California (and also the southern counties of Oregon) and create a new state; the main purpose is to become independent from California. The issue is the lack of representation of the North’s interests as well as the high deficit and high taxes in the current state of California. Becoming an independent state would mean what is now just a region would have its own two U.S. senators and Congressional representatives, a governor, and a state senate.


Portrait of Thomas Jefferson (1800) by Rembrandt Peale; White House Art Collection

The name for the new state is connected to President Thomas Jefferson, who sent the Lewis and Clark expedition West and envisioned an independent nation there. Thus, his name is associated with the idea of regional autonomy. The signs already show the seal of the proposed new state: the yellow circle is actually a gold mining pan, and the double cross refers to the sense of abandonment from the state government as the region feels it has been “double-crossed.” For me the signs illustrate the American pioneering spirit that I have heard so much about before I moved here; Americans, especially those in the (rural) West, are willing to explore new ideas and try out new things. I doubt that this 51st state will ever come into existence, but it would be interesting to be in the midst of a “velvet revolution” and watch a new state being born.


Sutter Mill in Northern California (1850) – photo from the U.S. Library of Congress

PS: The topic is now also showing up in the local media more; see this editorial for example: Editorial in the Amador Ledger Dispatch



Rescue School

On a lazy Sunday drive through the Sierra Foothills, the sign of the Rescue School with the pouty but determined Viking warrior made me smile and stop. I was wondering whether this was a school where rescuing is taught in the same way as music is taught in music school, art in art school, and dance in dance school. But the school property looked a lot like any regular American school. Without noticing, I had left the larger area of Shingle Springs behind and had entered the small, unincorporated community of Rescue, CA. The school is not teaching rescue after all.

4,461 people live in Rescue according to the Rescue Historical Society, and it was officially recognized when the Rescue post office was established in 1895. Rescue’s location on the road between Coloma and Sacramento meant that it was on an important pathway during the Gold Rush.

Rescue Store and Post Office, 1916 (found on the site of the Rescue Historical Society)

As is easily the case in Northern California, I also came across a winery, which I thought was in Rescue. I immediately liked Rescue even more – rolling hills, entertaining name, little traffic, and a winery! What else could one ask for in a town? But Cielo Estate Winery seems to be just beyond the borders of Rescue as its official address lists Shingle Springs. But looking at the map of the surrounding area revealed an even more entertaining name – Cool, CA. How cool would it be to use the address of Cool, CA (ok, I guess I am easily entertained)! At least, I have a new destination for a Sunday drive to explore, and I am sure there will be wine tastings on the way. One can always count on that in Northern California.


View Near Rescue, CA (from the Cielo Winery)

$20-Million Price Tag

Fake Fire Place Outdoors

Fake Fire Place Outdoors

Sometimes I wonder how some stores manage to stay in business since they do not seem to sell anything that many customers would want or need. Plenty of these stores sell knickknacks/tchotchkes that are not old enough or rare enough to be considered collectibles and definitely not practical or needed. I came across one of these stores in Elk Grove, California. The store was called Byblos Art & Garden and most of its ware was outside to browse: large fireplace surrounds that seem to be scaled for large ballrooms in old castles (which are rare here), plenty of the same copies of Venus statues and lion heads but in a variety of colors from bright blue to shocking pink, and large copies of classic paintings.

Large Outdoor Painting

Large Outdoor Painting

The store also included a large coop of doves and a rusted sports car although it was not clear whether either or both were for sale.

The lion head was for sale, but it was not clear why the doves were there.

The lion head was for sale, but it was not clear why the doves were there.

Old Car and Statues of Saints

Old Car and Statues of Saints

In the back corner of the yard was what seemed to be the run-down buildings of a train set with an astounding price tag, and maybe that was the answer to the question of how stores like this one stay alive – just one sale of an item like this one would keep the store afloat for years.

With prices like this one, I guess one sale is enough o make a huge profit.

With prices like this one, I guess one sale is enough o make a huge profit.

Or maybe there is a bigger demand for oversized fireplace surrounds that seem to come from the set of a play than I have ever realized.

Look Out for Rattlesnakes and Bigfoot

More warnings about rattlesnakes - this one in a park.

More warnings about rattlesnakes – this one in a park.

The fauna in Northern California has plenty of members that I am not used to from Austria and they still seem exotic to me; skunks, raccoons, and possums might be a normal sight in most American backyards, but I still get excited when I see a skunk with its tail held high cross the street in front of me or see a raccoon slip into the opening of a storm drain or watch a possum pause on its path atop the garden fence when I am out walking the dog. Coyotes, mountain lions, and rattlesnakes are a little less frequently out in the open but definitely part of the neighborhood.

Rattlesnake Warning Sign on the College Campus

Rattlesnake Warning Sign on the College Campus

Signs warning of rattlesnakes or mountain lions do exist but I came across a sign that warned not only of the expected animals but also of Bigfoot (see bottom of the sign).

The Sierra Foothills are home to all kinds of creatures - including Bigfoot it seems (see bottom of the sign).

The Sierra Foothills are home to all kinds of creatures – including Bigfoot it seems (see bottom of the sign).

I saw this sign on a college campus on the path from the parking lot to the lecture halls. I am not sure if the people who approved the sign had a great sense of humor or whether the sign slipped through without catching someone’s attention before it was approved and installed. It definitely made me chuckle and curious to come back to see more of the local wildlife.

Brown over Green

Azure Skies and Golden Hills

Azure skies over golden hills in late summer in Northern California

Even though we received a little bit of rain in California this week, the rainy season – if it even comes this year – is still several weeks away. In the meantime, I have gotten used to the golden hills as well as the brown front lawns. When I see pictures of people outside in the Midwest or in Europe, I am always surprised by the green grass in the photos; it seems fake, unrealistic, and just flat out odd. The color just does not feel right; grass is not meant to be green after May.

Signs explain why front yards are no longer artificially green.

Signs explain why front yards are no longer artificially green.

I have not only become used to the grass turning golden but actually have started to appreciate the view. Azure, royal-blue skies are stretching over golden hills dotted with the dark green boughs of California oaks – this is the view that for me beats all the green rolling hills that I have been accustomed to in the past in Europe. And even if we do receive enough rain this winter to end the California drought, I know that I can look forward to golden hills glistening in the sun in this Mediterranean climate come May.

The grass starts to turn brown in late spring in California.

The grass starts to turn brown in late spring in California.