Tinge of pink

Harbingers of spring in the region bring pleasure … and sadness

Lyra Halprin is a former reporter and UC Davis public-information officer whose commentaries have aired on NPR, Capital Public Radio and San Francisco’s KQED

In Northern California, it sometimes begins as early as the last week of January: an almost imperceptible tinge of pink I see out of the corner of my eye as my car speeds by a peach orchard. I mentally check myself and wonder if it’s the light or the position of the sun in the sky at that moment, which is usually gray. Or—and I’m trying to hold back excitement that has been sleeping for months—it could it be a sign that our savior spring is closer than I think after the cold, the rain, the frost and the miserable Central Valley fog of winter. I can almost see the light puffs of blossoms that will come next, followed, miraculously, by fat orange-pink fruit touched with red, surrounded by thick layers of narrow green leaves.

The pleasure I feel seeing the preblossom pink is muted by sadness. Another spring is coming that I won’t share with my father Leahn, a farmer and man of the land, who was nourished by the natural order.

You’d think after more than 30 years it wouldn’t feel so raw.

My father died a few years after I graduated from college; he suffered a heart attack while swimming, something he and I loved to do together. After his unexpected death, my sister and I ran the farm for several years with my mother. It wasn’t the best life for her, so we sold the farm. But surprisingly, for the daughter who loved the ocean and surfers, my writing career became linked for more than two decades with sustainable agriculture.

My father loved the signs of the seasons in our walnut orchard 50 miles northeast of Sacramento, which was surrounded on all sides by rows of spring-heralding peach trees. Our farm was in Sutter County, which used to be known as the “peach bowl of the world.” Because we attended school in Santa Monica where my concert-pianist mother’s musical life was centered, my sister and I didn’t see the delicate and subtle changes from one season to the next, unless we happened to drive up the Central Valley to the farm with Dad during spring vacation. But by then, spring was established throughout the area, with easily recognizable blossoms on fruit and nut trees. The sly changes that I recognize as harbingers of spring are things I learned in three decades without him.

Last week, walking with my border collie, we passed a UC Davis peach orchard. It reminded me of all I want to tell Dad. My sister and I are happy with our families, my mother still plays the piano at age 90, and, as he predicted, computers are tiny, and we can do our banking—and in the future, maybe even our voting—from these devices. The ice caps may be melting, but the earth remains fresh and rich under my feet.

This ache of missing him, like the spring, feels new every year. But now, I more fully understand my father’s delight as winter ebbs. The antidote is in my eyes. The end of winter begins here with a tinge of pink.