The early morning clouds lift to reveal the mountains

In spite of the common misconception that California has no seasons, autumn has arrived in Southern California.  We live in an area of coastal oak forests and grasslands where the change is subtle by Northeastern standards, but not as obscure as some may think.  Now that the daytime highs are in the seventies and the nighttime lows in the fifties, it’s time to take camera in hand and document autumn for the skeptics. Commercial pumpkin patches and Halloween costumes at the mall don’t count. The challenge is to capture the arrival of fall in our natural surroundings.

Our days have developed a rhythm based on a six-hour interval of writing sandwiched between morning walks by the lake and evening walks in Wagon Wheel Wilderness Park.  The lake is beautiful but artificial, artfully surrounded by pepper trees, mimosas, and eucalyptus, imported trees whose leaves provide shade the year round. It boasts a lovely view of Saddleback Mountain. But the natural landscape of the wilderness park gives a truer picture of our California autumn.

“Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,” wrote Keats in 1820, and indeed our mornings, which until recently dawned with bright blue skies and growing heat, now begin with a low moist fog that hides the hills and lies across the meadows. This is a country that seldom sees rain between April and November, so by October the grasses are dry and going to seed, giving the hills a golden hue that accentuates the deep green of the native canyon live oaks. These trees stay green all year, growing thick in the crevices between the hills, creating an eerie forest with their dark twisted branches. Here and there the sun spotlights a much lighter Western sycamore whose dry leaves that have begun to fall, revealing evergreen clusters of mistletoe hanging high above.

The sycamore’s leaves fall, exposing its burden of evergreen mistletoe

In the early evening as the shadows lengthen the wildlife begins to emerge. A small gopher snake crosses our path. A black phoebe balances impossibly on the very tip of a grass stalk. And, sure sign of autumn, a buck with a full set of antlers gazes fearlessly at us from the golden hillside. In another month the days will be shorter and perhaps the rains will start, bringing more changes to the land.With the cooler weather, I find it easier to focus on the dissertation. 5,324 words are done, which completes the introduction. Now to attack the first chapter.

A coastal mule deer pauses on a cool October evening


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