Last Sunday, hoarfrost painted the tips of the sagebrush on the Fort McDermitt Paiute and Shoshone Reservation for about one hundred yards on each side of Highway 95. Mist rose off the macadam in wispy breaths that wavered like ghosts from the Greek tragedies. The hoarfrost only lasted for a short space but was a chorus in the morning that sang of the sleet, scant snow and rain that smattered our windshields. Remnants of a late winter storm, wet enough to make the golden eagles on the telephone poles hunch their shoulders. The clouds obscured the Santa Rosa Mountains, whose jagged ridges usually hack up the bright blue sky of northern Nevada. Dry creeks ran muddy and the way the ripples in the water caught the wan light made the surfaces seem like scaly patterns on the sides of sunfishes.
Later in the day, the contrast between the high desert and the low coastal plain hung between Nevada and California, in my mind, like comedy and tragedy penned by Euripides and Aristophanes. Not that I wept as if I’d just read Medea, or cackled after watching a production of Frogs. Nothing so distinct as sad versus happy, but emotions that were similarly divided and evoked by the harsh and violent beauty that surrounded us. What separates the high dry of Nevada from the low and verdant damp of California are the Sierra, which this year flaunted a mantle of deep snow, and though at this late date looked like soiled white togas, still spoke of the weather that crashed face-first into the coastal headlands and barreled across the Sacramento and San Joaquin river valleys and into the mountains. Outside Reno the snow strangling the sagebrush on the cold slopes owned mule deer and coyote trails stitched into the icy white. The long cold Washoe valley wore a hopeful look that someday spring would march into view and sing its verdant tunes of crocus buds and passerine birds that love to sit in the tops of conifers and warble their mating messages.
Monday, a stiff breeze changed the weather in northern California, from wet to sunny and dry, back to wet. The yellow blossoms of acacia trees lit up the freeways and the colors of plum and cherry and peach tree blossoms stood out like lost Greek gods calling from a bleak wilderness. The long winter rains made the country green green green and the air clean.
And for some reason it made me laugh and yet it made me sad and I don’t know why but I swelled up inside. Maybe it was nostalgia for something lost, or an appreciation of all that verve, the yellow of mustard blossoms like a billion candles burning in the green after my cold winter of dry bitterbrush and winter fat. Maybe.