I hear it every year. The complaint that we don’t have true Autumn on the West Coast. Where’s the blanket of leaves, the forests on fire with color, the snappy air that retires your fingers deep into pockets? When it comes to Fall, there’s a few things you need to understand about Northern California.
Our seasonal transition starts in August, and in drought years, even in July. The drying hills and quiet oaks signal the end of the growing season and the retraction of life deep into roots. Rather than October, this is the time of year that I begin to feel the specter of death. By the time Samhain comes around, it feels like the last exhalation. Our trees do change color, but unless they are non-natives, the color tends to be more subdued. Burnished copper, gold, brass, a little crimson here and there, on the poison oak, the toyon, the rose hips. The coyote bush fluffs out in seeds and crows fly by with acorns in their mouth.
If we are lucky and get a little rain, the seeds that were dropped back in the summer begin to sprout, signaling the onset of our Winter. Rather than a blanket of snow, we get a carpet of little seedlings, barely visible below the brown thatch of dried grass. The mornings dawn brisk and, come November, sometimes there can even be a little frost. By mid day your jacket is gone and you find yourself wondering if it has always been this way.
Superimposing seasonal stereotypes only works if we live in a place that fits the mold. Like New England. Or old England. Or even the mid-west. But what about all the other everywheres? Lucky us, we get to discover it for ourselves. I hereby give you permission to make up your own nursery rhymes and autumn folk tales, inspired by the signs in your bioregion. Here, in the Blucher Creek Watershed, I am proclaiming the current lunar cycle Badger Moon.
The season truly belongs to the blackbirds, who arrived for the harvest in September. This same little group perches in the poplars at the back of our house every afternoon around 3pm. Jeff calls it the blackbird tea party.
On my morning run, I pass by what I now call The Badger Field, an open and beckoning space, pocketed with large holes in the sandy soil. Mistakenly, at first I thought it was rabbits…then I found tracks, and even more thrillingly, a skull. Badgers, highly secretive, digging deep, mysterious and elusive. Sounds like a Scorpio to me.
For my birthday, I played the reaper in my garden. We spent hours outside tugging out scrawling tomatoes and dried sunflowers, shoveling truckloads of manure and laying mulch. Fern and I tucked in fava seeds and garlic bulbs, as she whispered little songs about Mother Earth cradling you and sleep well little seedy. (Thank you Waldorf).
She also claimed the hay bale as her house and set up shop.
Our Halloween was so stress free that I kept wondering what it was I was forgetting. She came home with a big haul of candy, and after some anxiety and strict limitations I listened to my intuition that said, “It’s one freaking day a year and not only is it her candy, but she “worked” hard to get it. Just let her eat it. Within reason.”. Which is what we’re doing and it seems to be the best way for her to learn self restraint, as she parcels it out and makes choices. She’s also interested in doing the Switch Witch.
With an extra hour on Sunday, I arose early, sneaking out of the house for my run. Knowing the light would be nice, I brought my camera to capture some of the beautiful things I see each morning.
The day of my birthday always has a clarity of light to it, the spaciousness of the first in-breath when surfacing from underwater. Perhaps everyone feels this way on their own birthday? A friend gave me a sweet reflection, saying I can’t get over what a perfect birthday it is for you. The bridge between worlds, a liminal power, a navigator of realms. Being born right in the midst of Halloween/Samhain/Day of the Dead is an entrance with some gravitas, and, especially as a kid, I have sometimes struggled with the weight. But when the day rolls around, when the ancestors draw near and the shadows are faced, I thrum with the resonance of inner and outer experience, and I feel fortunate. (Also, as a kid, it was pretty cool to get candy on one night and to get cake the next day.)
But this year I truly counted my luck upon waking, when my daughter leaned over into my face and said
Mama, guess what?
Today is your birthday!
And she wrapped her arms around me, kissing my cheek and rubbing my back.
Best birthday present, ever.
P.S. No, you’re not crazy, and yes, this blog address was supposed to have changed. But guess what? Since I last checked, someone has “reserved” the url for this blog.
So it’s back to the drawing board, to find a new title, new url, new intro. At this point, I’ll take suggestions.