Santa Ana Winds of Change

The other night was a Santa Ana Winds night. Southern Californians know what this means. The hot, dry winds come raging down from the high desert, through the San Bernardino mountain passes. They carry dust and debris and the sage-scented shrapnel of the chaparral. They fuel fires and defrock the palms. They howl with glee as they rattle windows and send trash cans tumbling. They tip over semis and send Jacaranda purple blossoms everywhere. I love the way poet Dana Gioia describes them in his poem, “In Chandler Country”:

California night. The Devil’s wind, The Santa Ana, blows in from the east, Raging through the canyon like a drunkScreaming in a bar.

The air tastes likea stubbed out cigarette. But why complain? The weather’s fine as long as you don’t breathe. Just lean back on the sweat-stained furniture, lights turned out, windows shut against the storm, and count your blessings.

I love the Santa Anas. The whistling pounding of the air shaking our windows and slamming our doors shut reminds me of my Oklahoma and Kansas youth. The Santa Anas are California’s dryer version of the raging thunderstorms that rolled in off the plains and pounded our homes with humid sheets of rain and hail. There is never rain with the Santa Anas; only dust and dirt. But at least the Santa Anas typically blow only during the colder months of the year. Summers and autumns are hot enough without them.

My wife and I have lived in our current place, a 1910 craftsman bungalow we rented in Old Towne Orange, for the last three years. We’ve had our share of Santa Ana Wind nights, but even more nights that were simply unbearably hot. The 100 degree days of September and October make for restless (and sheetless) nights, especially without air conditioning. Wall AC units and fans can hardly make headway against the desert dry heat that fills the house like a furnace.

I won’t miss those sweaty nights. But I’ll miss a lot about living in this house. It’s the house we came home to after our honeymoon, the house where dozens of college students and young adults gathered on a weekly basis to enjoy good food and conversation. It’s the house where we lived our first three years of marriage, full of memories of porch talks and neighborhood walks, front yard fire pits and backyard barbecues. I’ll miss the orange tree in our yard, which gave us fresh squeezed OJ four months out of the year. I’ll miss the buzz of the Orange Circle in Old Towne, a time capsule of Americana just a five minute walk from our door.

But we are moving on. We bought a mid-century ranch house in the next town over, Santa Ana. The winds will follow us there, but hopefully they won’t feel as hot (we are installing an AC within the first few months of moving in). The citrus smells will still be there too, but more lemony-scented. Kira’s gaining an avocado tree and I’m gaining an office. All-in-all it’s a positive change. But it’s still change. In these final nights of sleeping in our first little place here on Grand Street, I’m feeling nostalgic.

These moments are bittersweet, even when they are most definitely wins. I think it’s because they symbolize time slipping away, the impermanence of all things, the moving on from a dwelling space that became a place that shaped your life. The walls and creaks and Saturday morning sounds that only memory will hereafter conjure. But this is life. It’s always moving on! The winds of change are a constant, as brutal and beautiful and certain as the Santa Anas.