Monday, September 10, 2007

Subtle Seasons

These days the Canada geese
who’ve been making the bay area their home for the last several months are starting to fly. You hear them coming before you see them, from the cacophonous racket they make that sounds, strangely, like autumn. Then they fly past, usually small groups of 7 or 8 geese, making that familiar ‘V’ formation as well as they can, some doing it better than others. The other day, from my office window at work, I saw a small group of geese flying north in a formless jumble “You’re going the wrong way!” I told them, as they honked past. About ten minutes later, forming a more recognizable flight pattern, they returned, flying south. “That’s more like it,” I thought.

In this place, the geese are really the only sign that the season is changing. There are no jewel-like colors of leaves, no sparkling frosty nights. This is California. It’s September, and nobody except, perhaps, in the most northern part of the state, are putting up storm windows, winterizing their motorcycles or power boats, digging in closets for the heavy winter coats and gloves, packing the outdoor plants with straw, getting out the tire chains, anticipating snowfall and black ice. Most of us are going about our normal business, enjoying (or complaining about) the typical late-summer heat, really the only time during the summer that it is consistently hot in the bay area.

In California, we are in, for all intents and purposes (and in spite of the water-guzzling, ever-expanding tumor known as L.A.) a gigantic desert, and I like the subtlety of the season changes for the same reason I love the desert. At a casual glance, the desert seems dead, but the closer you look, the more life you see. In fact, the desert is teeming with life and its tiny dramas, the same way the signs of fall are all around us here, if we take the time to notice them. September; in a month or so, we hope, it might rain (“might” being the operative word) and that’s how we know it’s fall.

East coast transplants love to guffaw about how there are no seasons here, but that’s not true, ours just aren’t as obvious. You have to be alert to notice the first signs of yellow and orange creeping across the leaves of maple, the way the bird songs in the morning seem…different…somehow. Deeper, or more hoarse. The way the summer light has thinned and become watery and the nights smell smokier, like old leaves. The darkness falling earlier, but only slightly at first: ten minutes, then fifteen, then an hour, and finally the way the sky starts to purple at 5:30 and you know winter has finally arrived.

In the summer, around this time, I always anticipate the cold and the dark the way I’d anticipate a warm down comforter and a cup of spicy tea. It feels like comfort, like after an active summer playing outside, it’s time to come inside, curl up, and rest. I think of warm fires, the taste of cinnamon and cloves, the sound of rain against the window. I love the summer, but the fall is welcomed. It’s time to harvest all the lessons of summer, bake them into a pie, and invite family and friends over. Time for the tan to fade, and the sandals to eventually wend their way into the depths of the closet, taken over by boots. Time to watch the dramatic tumble of stormclouds and wait eagerly for that first splash of rain. Time to say goodbye to the loud, honking geese for awhile, and wish them well on their journey.

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