Watching the palm trees that line Zuma Beach do improbably strenuous backbends.
Dreading the morning when you wake up to notice that the natural light is ever so slightly off.
As Didion puts it, “We know it because we feel it.” On Thursday, I explained to my mom over Face Time the supposed chemistry behind why she can’t sleep during Santa Anas.
The next day, in London, I woke up to a text message from her: “Winds completely gone all of a sudden at our house.
Beyond Didion’s seminal essay from her Los Angeles Notebook, there is Raymond Chandler’s piece (pdf) on the winds that “curl your hair and make your nerves jump and your skin itch.” The Beach Boys, Randy Newman, and Tim Buckley all referenced the winds and their mysterious effects in their lyrics.
Even an episode plot line of the musical-comedy TV series personifies the winds as a camp singing character who “makes things weird.”Often, these creators blame the winds for that edgy, anxious-by-proxy feeling I’ve had all week.For that reason, they loom large in the collective local psyche.But perhaps it is because so many writers, filmmakers, musicians, and modern-day content creators have tried their luck in Los Angeles that the Santa Anas have taken on such elevated meaning in popular culture.One study from UC Berkeley found that human prevention and mitigation efforts haven’t changed the fact that large, Santa Ana-enabled fires have occurred in Santa Barbara (just north of Ventura County) every couple of decades for nearly 600 years.As the National Parks Service, writing about the Santa Monica mountains, rather glumly put it: “The fact that large fires have continued to occur steadily though different historic periods with very different approaches to fire suppression suggest that the incidence of large fires is primarily determined by fire weather, and that it is substantially unaffected by even our best modern attempts at fire suppression.”Indeed, whether we like to admit it or not, the Santa Anas—and the fires they bring—are a fact of life in southern California.Didion writes: “To live with the Santa Ana is to accept, consciously or unconsciously, a deeply mechanistic view of human behavior.” A 1988 article from the Los Angeles Times offers a scientific reason: The winds “contain an excess of positive ions,” making us prone to headaches and nausea and prompting the excretion of more serotonin, which causes those edgy feels.While the actual science evaluating the effect these winds have on our psyche and collective nervous systems is shaky, many Angelenos (myself, a lapsed Angeleno, included) take it as a matter of ancient fact.While forest fires can occur in absence of winds, the large, sprawling and often concurrent fires—fires, unfortunately, beget more fire—that cause mass property damage almost always have these winds as an ingredient.The hot and dry winds themselves aren’t unique to southern California.It’s about the crazy things that happen when the Santa Ana winds are blowing in Southern California.Joan Didion quoted this passage in her essay, “The Santa Ana,” available here: And the quote: “There was a desert wind blowing that night.