fall autumn

Maple leaves at Tofukuji Temple, Kyoto

It’s autumn again. The temperatures are dropping up here in the mountains of Big Bear, especially at night, when it’s now approaching freezing or below. A surprising number of trees are changing colors. I say surprising because this is California, after all, and we don’t usually see fall colors unless we know where to look.

The aspens are of course doing their thing and changing from green to yellow, and there are other surprising splashes of red and orange as I drive through the neighborhood. So it’s getting cold and the colors are changing - sounds like a pretty typical autumn, right?

But down the mountain it’s a different story.

It will be October in a few days, and for much of the 300 square miles of Southern California suburbia, that means one of the hottest times of the year. It usually cools down briefly, but September and October have always been known to be hot.

And the winds! My dad complains that his birthday falls during one of the most uncomfortable times of the year, when the warm Santa Ana winds come to fan the flames of the inevitable wildfires. This time last year a wildfire got too close for comfort at our place in Big Bear. Vast tracts of land were destroyed, including a beloved trail that my parents used to hike when they were younger.

Because of that fire the county regulations are a bit stricter now. We’ve had to cut back some the plants to leave space between them. The shrubs are no longer wild and overgrown - they’ve been chopped back to thin and small regulated sizes, with precisely measure space between them. They now look like they belong more in a zen garden than in a mountain town. And all the shrubs in the neighborhood have fallen in line and have the same regulated dimensions. I might not have much in common with my neighbors here, but we all received that same letter from the county. We are unified in a common bond by the regulated size of our shrubs.

I’m learning what autumn means here. It means that some days are very windy, and that wind helps shake things to the ground. First it’s the pine needles, and later the aspen leaves. Mountains of yellow aspen leaves. I spent some much needed time sweeping them up from the driveway and street today, but for a while now I know this will seem like a real sisyphean task. By next week, these trees will have shaken off more leaves and dispersed them all over the place for us to sweep up again.

The house under construction nearby looks finished, but I guess it’s not quite ready. I can still hear construction crews working there during the day. Sometimes they briefly blast music out over the neighborhood while they work. But if it was me, I’d be embarassed - the age of the music gives away the age of the construction workers. They seem to be too old to still be in that line of work. Or maybe they just like older music.

I’m looking forward to taking a few drives to see autumn in the eastern sierras. I hope to get some good shots!

And I’m looking forward to the eventual winter. Instead of taking care of the leaves and pine needles on the driveway, I’ll trade in my broom for a snow shovel. My task will still seem sisyphean for a brief period of time, then the seasons will change again.

It all goes by too fast really.

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