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That Rainwater Thing

By Allen L Phillips We’ve always noticed the effect of rainwater on our gardens over the years.  There’s just something about it that plants love.  So it was with some anticipation that we set out the last week of April to visit Pat’s step-daughter in San Jose, and my daughter in San Francisco.  We picked this time to make the drive up old Route 101 because the landscape between Los Angeles and the bay area is so beautiful in the spring. Our expectations were high, due to the exceptionally wet winter, and we weren’t disappointed. North of L. A. we went through the San Fernando Valley to the coast at Ventura and along the ocean to Santa Barbara where the hills inland were streaked yellow with wild mustard. In

By Allen L Phillips

We’ve always noticed the effect of rainwater on our gardens over the years.  There’s just something about it that plants love.  So it was with some anticipation that we set out the last week of April to visit Pat’s step-daughter in San Jose, and my daughter in San Francisco.  We picked this time to make the drive up old Route 101 because the landscape between Los Angeles and the bay area is so beautiful in the spring. Our expectations were high, due to the exceptionally wet winter, and we weren’t disappointed.

Photo: Allen L Phillips

North of L. A. we went through the San Fernando Valley to the coast at Ventura and along the ocean to Santa Barbara where the hills inland were streaked yellow with wild mustard. In Santa Barbara we turned right on Highway 154 to Solvang where we overnight to break up the drive. This beautiful drive up through the hills, where it seemed everything was blooming, took us past Lake Cachuma, near capacity from that rainwater thing.
After checking in at the King Frederik Inn we walked around the unique village of Solvang, with its Danish architecture including an occasional windmill. Our timing was perfect to catch the wisteria in full bloom on several store fronts, all the brighter because of the rains.
We had reservations for dinner at Los Olivos Wine Merchant Cafe, east of Solvang past vineyards and horse ranches, and scored a table on their front porch surrounded by more blooming wisteria. Gaining sudden fame with the release of the movie “Sideways” in 2004, people first came because it was featured in the movie. Now they come because it’s good.

Photo: Allen L Phillips

The next morning we headed north through Santa Maria, touching the ocean again at San Luis Obisbo, then turning inland through Atascadero, Paso Robles, King City, Salinas and Gilroy before approaching San Jose and the Bay Area. All along this drive we are stunned by the beauty; rolling green hills studded with California Live Oaks and grazing cattle; cropland in full spring growth; and everywhere artwork on the hillsides in streaks and swirls like the works of Vincent Van Gogh. Our photos taken from the car don’t do it justice.

Our visit with my daughter and her husband was wonderful and their long, major, remodel of their home is finally nearing completion. They have done some amazing work and, with the heavy lifting done, the finish work will soon be over and they can kick back and enjoy it. They have earned it.
In addition to restaurants that only locals know they showed us some sights we hadn’t seen before:

Photo: Allen L Phillip

Downtown, a few blocks from the embarcadero, is a small square that commemorates the original shoreline of the bay before the Gold Rush. Hoards of people arrived in 1849 and many abandoned their boats in the bay. City fathers then hauled in dirt, buried the unsightly boats and moved the bay front a few blocks east. This little park, where Market, Bush and Battery streets intersect, has map displays, a plaque and 2 beach chairs for photo ops.


The San Francisco Palace of Fine Arts was built for the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition, a world’s fair held in San Francisco, and showed that they had survived the devastating 1906 earthquake and fire and were back in business. The centerpiece is the beautiful and elaborate Greco-roman structure fronting a lagoon in the Marina District. Completely rebuilt in the 1970’s, this amazing structure hides a large exhibition hall behind it’s curving colonnades.

Photo: Allen L Phillip

We also spent several afternoons in San Jose with Pat’s step daughter and her two sons, one in college studying space science and the other a junior in high school and running track. He qualified for the 4 by 400 relay in an invitational meet where he ran anchor. We hadn’t watched a track meet in years and it was great to see the dedication of these kids.

Then we started the drive back and something was different – colors seemed brighter – our drive up had been sunny – the drive back more overcast, a threat of more rain chasing us south. Had the mustard grown that much in a week, becoming a brighter yellow? It’s that rainwater thing. We watched this visual feast with awe and were so enraptured by the scenery that the miles rolled by and we arrived back in Solvang ahead of schedule for our overnight rest.

Photo: Allen L Phillip

Heading on to San Diego the next day, we realized that everywhere the freeway cut through a hill, the slopes on either side had become canvases for nature’s artwork. I doubt that the seed mix sprayed on these slopes during construction included wild mustard. But mustard was the show now with little yellow puff balls on the end of tall spindly stems quivering in the wind as they reach for the sky.
At a view point at Camp Pendleton we watched gulls surfing the on-shore winds hoping for handouts from people who had stopped to stretch their legs. Even here brushstrokes of mustard surrounded us.

Back home in our complex, looking east at the hill behind us, the mustard is still stretching toward the heavens.

Photo: Allen L Phillip

And about that rainwater thing – why do plants love it? According to Mr. Google: First, it doesn’t have all those nasty additives from water treatment; Second, it is slightly acidic, a good thing; Third, it naturally contains nitrates, another good thing; Lastly, it usually washes off organic matter from roofs and foliage, left there by recent visitors, which nourishes the soil.

So from now on when rain is forecast, I will count my blessings.

Photo: Allen L Phillip


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