About the Area and Its Gerrymander Boundary ("Real" California)

The part of California we will be talking about here could be called the “real California”. It doesn’t include all of the state by a long shot—in fact it leaves out about half of it, the northeastern, mountain-and-desert half.  It also spills out beyond the state line into a bit of Oregon at one end and a bit of Baja California at the other. 

It almost follows what is referred to in botanical circles as the California Floristic Province (CAFP), however, the CAFP’s official boundary extends all the way up to the Sierras and Cascades, and we aren’t going nearly that high.

The one perfect way to describe “our” California is by reference to the system of climate zones developed by Sunset Magazine and now used by just about everybody.

“Real California” is everything in zones 7-8 and 14-24, nothing more, nothing less.  This is the balmy Mediterranean island that once was home-sweet-home to hundreds of sedentary, hunting-gathering tribelets living the Good Life and now is home to anything-but-sedentary millions of newcomers, from every corner of the Earth, frantically searching for the Good Life; a place so unlike everything else around it that no less than half of its ___ kinds of native plants are to be found nowhere else.

You can get an idea of the complex boundaries of the area we’re talking about by looking at the map of climate zones: a fairly simple line in the south, separating the coastal crescent of Southern California and Northwestern Baja California from the mountains and desert just inland; another fairly simple boundary defines most of the inland edge, northward all the way up the state along the base of the mountains, following the boundary between snow country and the lower foothills (the zone 1A/zone7 boundary), with lots of little indentations of zone 7 up the river canyons, plus a bigger incursion eastward to include the Pit River region in Northeast Shasta County.

From here, though, the boundaries are anything but regular.  To start with, the Rogue River Valley in Southwest Oregon is a big chunk of zone 7 “California”, separated by the Siskiyou Mountains both to the south (where zone 7 begins again inside the political boundary of California) and to the west (where a little strip of Zone 17 extends up the coast through Brookings to the mouth of the Rogue River Gold Beach.  Back in (political) California, the Klamath Mountains and other high North Coast Ranges interpose an archipelago of snowy zone 1A peaks onto an otherwise “normal” Californian landscape/climate almost all the way south to Clear Lake.  This all makes the northern end of our “real California” as messy and confused as the rest is clear-cut.

The major distinction within this “Real California” is between the main block, a long oval consisting of the Great Valley and its foothills—the region we could call Greater Central California—and that narrow, curving, subtropical, semidesert appendix of coastal Southern California from Santa Barbara to somewhere south of Ensenada.  These are both clearly more Californian than not, in fact their respective inhabitants tend to think of their own region as The California; nevertheless they are unlike in enough ways as to deserve separate treatment.

The other major subdivision within our “real California” is generally called the North Coast.  It differs as much or more from the rest of California as does the Southern California bight, but it isn’t nearly as easy to define either by latitude (it stretches down most of the North and Central coast) or even by climate zone.  It is also not a single uniform block—it gets patchy toward the south and all along the inland edge.  Since there are no sharp boundaries and no precise definition of what constitutes the North Coast, you can pretty much decide for yourself whether you live in it or not.  For our purposes here, the North Coast will be defined roughly by climate (cool summers with fog) and vegetation (conifer forests, especially redwood).