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In Santa Clarita, it's not really October until a few thousand acres have been ravaged by a Santa-Ana-wind-driven, Super-Scooper-doused blaze. What's interesting - and annoying - is how these fires always seem to make us turn against the very substance that helped us extinguish them, namely water.
It's surprisingly easy to ignore 99 percent of the things that happen in SCV, even when we live here. To get by, many just need to know a few places to eat and shop and directions to the nearest freeway on ramp. Those with children tend to be slightly better acquainted with the community. Their attention has shifted from escaping Santa Clarita to finding its best schools, signing up for sports and figuring out if the shifty guy down the street who wears sleeveless flannel shirts is registered on the Megan's Law website.
Judith Larner Lowry, one of California's finest nature writers, divides the year into five parts. There's fall, winter, spring, summer and then, a fifth season comprising August and October. She calls it "the quiet time" when all is parched and still: "That long luxurious warm spell with no rain."
Santa Clarita is a terrifyingly predictable place. Every election, local politicians will promise to improve traffic and keep children safe. You can walk into any restaurant and order a chicken Caesar salad - menu unseen - knowing that it will cost $9.99 and taste pretty good. SCOPE will always find something wrong about every development.
Graduations from high school and college mean it's time for many a fresh, eager young Claritan to begin the always-arduous task of job hunting. After spending nearly two decades in school being told that their education would help them get a good job, these people will finally have the opportunity to put a paycheck where their diploma is.
You have probably heard of China's "little emperors," a term that rose to prominence in the 1990s. It describes the spoiled, willful generation of kids resulting from one-child policies.

One might think that things would be different in Santa Clarita. Most of the stick-figure family decals marring SUV rear windows show two or three kids - and a labradoodle - among whom attention must be divided. The team sports so pivotal to raising children in proper Claritan style teach cooperation and how to work as a group.
You have probably heard of China's "little emperors," a term that rose to prominence in the 1990s. It describes the spoiled, willful generation of kids resulting from one-child policies.
Most Santa Claritans think nature roams wild and free in precisely two places: Placerita Canyon and the refrigerator shelves of C-rated restaurants. But this winter and spring, we were reminded that the Santa Clara River is the third place where we can still find a bit of untamed wilderness, so long as we're willing to look past the cement levies and storm drains. With heavy rain in February and early March, the river has had a run of weeks rather than the usual days.
Santa Clarita may not be a college town, but we're certainly a town with college. We have the ever-popular College of the Canyons, spiritual sanctuary offered by The Master's College, career schools like Flair Beauty College... then there's CalArts.
Come February 14, St. Valentine will be stealing attention from our valley's namesake, St. Clare. When it comes to saints, why is it that Santa Claritans spend so much more time fussing over Valentine's Day than Clare's Day, given that we live in a valley named after, well, Clare?
New Year's resolutions are the natural consequence of irrational, out-of-control holiday behavior. We drink, eat and spend too much during December, so we decide to push the pendulum the other direction upon ringing in the new year. We resolve to become trimmer, more responsible, better versions of who we are: Self 2.0 (a catch-phrase I'm sure some motivational speaker has already branded - sorry).
It has been a hard end of the year for everyone. Tragically, those of us who matter most in this valley - movers and shakers like myself - are especially struggling. If times weren't so tough, my mailbox would be full of invites to formal dinners and holiday parties with people who own car dealerships and real estate firms. But no one's putting on such events this year and in this economy.
It's natural to get defensive in November. Let your guard down for but an instant and this month will eat you alive. There are limitless opportunities for getting into fights over politics, the last remaining must-have toy at after-Thanksgiving sales, or the proper way to prepare cornbread stuffing. Then there are battles over whether to watch football or sitcoms, who's hosting Thanksgiving, whether Thanksgiving dinner is an appropriate time to tell your brother what the family really thinks about his trashy fiancee...
As Halloween nears, Santa Claritans will participate in the long, illustrious tradition of getting scared in the safest ways possible. We will go to Fright Fest at Six Flags, where we scream securely in the knowledge that the murderous clowns are really just harmless actors. We will go through haunted houses where the reassuring glow of exit signs offers us an easy out. We will watch scary movies from secure homes on well-lit streets in gated communities.
September has arrived to return order to the Santa Clarita Valley. Traditional rules and roles evaporated in August's incendiary air: bed times were gone; adults and kids alike loafed in pools and lazed around patios. Being useless, unproductive members of society was alright. Even the straight-laced City Council took off most of August, presumably to prank call Ken Pulskamp and go drinking at Doc's Inn.
A barbecue is meat and flame. That's it. The act of gathering around an outdoor fire to share food and company has remained essentially unchanged since caveman times. And though modern barbecues rely on meat from shrink-wrapped Styrofoam trays rather than something we clubbed ourselves, there's still no denying a barbecue's "shades of roasted mastodon," according to cookbook author Irma Rombauer.
Imagine legions of abandoned lapdogs roaming the street in packs, desperately seeking out meager scraps of food. Behind the hungry growls and yips of these hapless hounds, you hear the sound of glass shattering - more looting, probably. You try to escape but are confronted with endless rows of homes, their inhabitants living in squalor. Trash hasn't been collected for months, and decay is everywhere.
I'm a sucker for graduation speeches. No matter the year or the school, they're all so reassuringly the same. Some bright-eyed valedictorian comes to the podium and talks about how their class has come so far, accomplished so much, and is now oh so ready to take on life's challenges and succeed. "The future" is always the central concern of a graduation speech, and we're invited to meditate on just how unbearably bright and beautiful it promises to be.
Late last February, the Amgen Tour of California bike race brought Santa Claritans a vision they rarely get to see: people moving on streets at about 30 miles per hour. I know, I know; they were moving on vehicles powered by their own legs rather than gasoline and they were on two wheels instead of four. Still, the thing I like most about the race isn't seeing people ride bicycles at moderate rates of speed. No, it's watching my fellow Santa Claritans appreciate a sport and culture that most of us don't give a second-thought the other 364 days of the year. Indeed, when else do we get to say "peloton" or cheer on people who make their living by turning pedals?
I often wonder how much bigger Santa Clarita can grow and still feel like, well, Santa Clarita. My grandparents moved here in the early 1960s and they say the hometown they once knew has all but disappeared. We bade good riddance to onion fields for soccer fields, close-knit neighborhoods for interaction-phobic ones, and jokes about hokey small towns for much-beloved suburban cliches.
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