Above: Photo of hills in coastal California taken by the author about a half mile from her home.

Welcome to regular guest blogger and Connection Messenger, Esther Miller. Esther has such a gift for taking us right along with her as she observes and appreciates the natural world around her.

When we moved to a coastal valley in California, I could not get used to how different the weather was from where we had lived, just 200 miles away. A neighbor told me about moving somewhere else for a year and how she could hardly wait to get back where everything was the way it was supposed to be. By now I have lived in four very different parts of the country and have traveled in most of the rest of it. I know each season has its own “way it is supposed to be.”

A park ranger in North Dakota told us his state was mostly a desert, albeit a cold one, and the snow there didn't so much melt as it just wore out. He's probably right. Cold, dry, wind-driven snow is not going to have much moisture in it.

A recent email from a friend in Houston said it was finally cool enough there to wear a sweater without glowing! In Dallas, the second week in March there's a massive display of tulips and daffodils.

A great book I read recently explains why the author thinks many Arizonans aren't too interested in church. Their winters are already heavenly, and summer is so hot, hell doesn't scare them.

While visiting our daughter in Seattle, we discovered weather forecasters there don't dwell on rain…it is a given from mid-fall well into spring. Instead, they get all excited over sun breaks!

In Iowa, it rarely snows without wind. I have seen wondrous snowdrifts along country roads after just three or four inches of snow. Yet in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, the snow usually comes straight down and turns mundane telephone cables—and even wire fences—into a winter wonderland.

Snow on fenceposts and gate

Snow in Elizabeth Cottrell's yard in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. Photo by Elizabeth Cottrell.

Another book I read recently described the Navajo words for rain. The violent thunderstorms that may dump several inches of rain in a very localized area are usually in summer. Winter rains are the soaking, earth-renewing rains, and there are different terms for each.

Usually we hear of birds heading south for the winter, deserting northern residents who so enjoy their presence. Just as the first robins of spring are a delight if you live in the north, the first robins of winter are a cause for rejoicing down south.

Christmas is invariably depicted with reindeer on snow, evergreen trees covered with snow, snow, and more snow. But for millions of people, Christmas never has snow. I hadn't lived in California long before I discovered California snowmen, also known as Arizona snowmen, probably New Mexico, Texas, and Nevada snowmen as well. Gather three sizes of tumbleweeds, coat them with spray-on flocking, put the biggest one on the bottom and work your way up, get an old hat, scarf, whatever else you'd need and voilà…a warm-weather snow man.

This year I'm rediscovering winter on the central coast of California. First of all, it isn't summer! Summer is cool and foggy and monotonous (to me). Winter is beautifully clear. Bright sun fills a cloudless sky, and temperatures are in the 70s. The hills all around this valley are green. Green hills only happen in winter, and I gorge myself on their beauty.

strawberry plants growing in California

Strawberries growing near author's home in California.   Photo by author.


Winter is harvest season for citrus. So many yards have orange or lemon trees, and they are loaded with fruit. Many roses are still blooming. Strawberry fields are starting to bloom, broccoli and cauliflower are being harvested. Huge fields of lettuce are showing their colors…bright green, darker green, and red lettuces are all big enough to be identified from the road.

As beautiful as all this sunshine is, I am anxious for rain. There have been two very dry winters in a row, and this is the third. Without some soaking rains soon, the drought will turn even more serious. I long for the sound of rain. I turn my face to the southeast, hoping the wind is blowing into low pressure in the northwest, which will bring us rain. The rainy season ends in March, so my joy in the warmth is tempered by the knowledge that winter is supposed to be rainy, blustery, bone-chilling in its dampness.

Bring on the rain! That's how winter works here.

Esther Miller

Esther Miller is a friend, fellow writer and amateur radio operator (KK6AD). Born and raised in the Midwest, Esther lived in California for over 30 years before moving to the Shenandoah Valley over 10 years ago. She's currently back in California living nearer her children and grandchildren.

Esther has been a Virginia Master Gardener for many years. She has traveled all over the United States and brings a wealth of experience to her writing. She invites you to follow her through her blog “At Home…On the Road.” Besides gardening, Esther is interested in genealogy. She has two children and three grandchildren.

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