“Let’s drive up to New England and watch the leaves die.” Bruce Eric Kaplan
I grew up in the mid-west where four seasons were the norm. I never gave much thought to what what life might be like in warmer climes or somewhere without seasons altogether. I accepted Spring showers, Winter snows, Summer humidity and the leaves falling in Autumn. It was the natural order and the way things are supposed to be.
Then after college when I had to decide where I wanted to live and work, I chose California and everything I thought I knew about the seasons changed. In Southern California where I lived for over 30 years, Winter can be the best season. In Winter you get the full gamut of possibilities; rain, sun fog, even enough chill to make a fire feel good, once in a while. There is a lot of sun but it is never too hot. Flowers bloom all year round and it stays green- or at least the gray-green shade that you learn to accept as green in arid regions- all year round.
What’s not to like about SoCal?
From day one, I loved the weather. I learned to understand June gloom and look forward to the Winter rains. I loved forgetting that there was something called humidity. I never noticed how Fall just disappeared because the leaves just don’t turn in Southern California.
I truthfully didn’t miss the fall color at all. I remember that I kept wondering why anyone in SoCal would even plant a deciduous tree, I couldn’t see any appeal to a bare tree when you could have a green one all year round. There were deciduous trees in So Cal but because the weather was too mild, they didn’t get bright colors in the Fall. They just die, turned brown and fall off. How boring!
NoCal is different!
In the mountains and even some parts of Northern California, the air gets more chill and some selected varieties of deciduous trees will color. Now that I am 100 miles from the Pacific and 1,000 feet above sea level in the Sierra foothills, we get a faint shadow of the seasons I knew back in the mid-west. Just this week, the weather turned and the nights became cool. Our maple leaves are starting to dry but it is too early to tell if we will get color this year. It’s never a sure thing.
The sycamores lining the parkway started browning in August. By now they are totally brown and shriveled but still on the trees. Any day now they will drop and cover the ground. They are really ugly. I always wonder why our city planner selected them. They aren’t particularly lovely. They don’t color in the fall or have flowers in the Spring- only some nasty pollen, followed by silky seeds. I think their only charm is that they are native to the area which seems like a poor excuse to me. What I loved about California was the great variety of plants from all over the world that can grow here. I loved the groves of Eucalyptus trees all over the state and particularly the ones leading to our home in SoCal where you would know that you were almost home just from the smell of the leaves. Nobody plants eucalyptus anymore. They aren’t cool because they aren’t native.
Aging makes you reflective.
These days I miss the dramatic season changes from my youth. I think about driving into the mountains in the Fall to see the brilliantly colored aspens and closer to home look for the odd tree in my neighborhood with real fall color. At this point, I probably will never be willing to move back to someplace with four real seasons. I just don’t want the extremes of hot, humid summers and cold, snowy winters. I have become more appreciative of deciduous trees however and the beauty of bare branches against the winter sky; the colors of the leaves in the Fall and the soft green of the Spring buds.
It’s been a long time since I first came to California and in that time both I and the state have come a long way. Maybe it is just that I’m getting older but these days, I really appreciate the dramatic show of color before the leaves die. I can understand making a grand statement and going out with a flourish. It inspires me to have a few more adventures before I finally concede that my life is over. I can learn something from the leaves of Autumn.