After five years of drought, I had forgotten about the restorative effects of green. Living on the western slope of the Sierra surrounded by evergreens, I thought I remembered. The large, drought-resistant ponderosa pines and the incense-cedars growing near the cabin where I live led me to believe the mountain landscapes flourished in spite of the lack of rain. The thick-bark ponderosa pine, with its long, dark-green needles and the bright-green plumes of the cedar were a soothing sight on hot summer days. The trees provided refreshing shade and filled the air with the pungent fragrance of pine. But if I had looked closer, I would have seen the dead branches at the tops of the trees, the brown needles hidden in the green. I knew the drought had damaged the less drought-resistant, but the sight of green provided some relief during those hot, dry years.
Each week, I drove down the mountain and into the valley to buy groceries. Unlike my forest home, the low-lands were thirsty and the ground hard and cracked. At the sight of the parched earth, my mind worried and my heart felt heavy. The once prolific willows spread along the waterways had yellowed as the streams dried up. The wind-wavy grasses became still, brown stubble. The drought-savvy blue oaks dropped their leaves in their effort to retain moisture. For weeks, fire filled the valley, and a thick-grey smoke choked the skies. The land lost its color: blue skies became haze and ash, the ground- dust. I felt relief when I arrived home to my patch of green in the mountains. It was a luxury I savored.
Then the rains came, and after five months of continuous precipitation, I saw the full spectrum of green. I drove through the valley where the clouds were grey and a light, spring mist sprinkled the sky, creating contrast against the green hues. The once brown fields were bursting with emerald grasses, and the deep-blue-green leaves of the blue oaks hung in heavy clumps. Bright-green mosses clung to clusters of rock. Long, tapered, waxy-green leaves lavished the tall, camphor-smelling laurel. The valley oak’s lime-green foliage grew thick and abundant. New life popped, splashed its glow across the landscape. My own limbs lightened, as I reveled in the return of the heart-slowing, mind-calming restorative effects of green.
Kandi Maxwell lives and writes in the Sierra foothills of Northern California. She walks through forests, soaks and splashes in rivers, lakes and hot springs, and bends frequently in downward dog. She is a retired high school English teacher. Her work has been published in Fair Haven Literary Review, KYSO Flash, The Raven’s Perch, One in Four, Foliate Oak, and others. Her work has been nominated for The Best American Essay series.
Photo by the author