It’s been years since I’ve seen a real autumn – I mean a fall of orange and red leaves, when the mornings are crisp, and birds wing south in arrowed columns across the azure sky in the afternoons, and the nights are soft and as sweet as apple cider.
In Southern California, autumn typically means a continuation of summer heat, and smoke from wildfires. The leaves do not change colors, and we have to wait until spring for any leaves to fall, when the lavender flowers on the Jacaranda trees bloom and soon thereafter drop to cover the lawns and sidewalks like purple snow.
For some reason, this year I have been longing to experience a true autumn, like the Indian brown and golden wheat-field autumns of my youth in Kansas. Perhaps, I am simply pining for some change. When you live in an area with a Mediterranean climate, the changing from summer to autumn and winter to spring can be so subtle that you hardly notice. The sameness grows tiresome. Now the days are growing shorter and the shadows are longer, but it seems to be the identical sun and matching sky each day, day after day . . .
Yet there is constant change. It’s easy to forget that not a single moment is like any other. Moments are subtle, too.
Last week we had a day of rain, the first since April, but just one day. By nightfall, the clouds had moved on, and we have returned to the monotony of clear skies and relentless sunshine.
It’s important to maintain a balanced perspective, so there is much for us to keep in mind. Seasons changing cause me to reflect that we humans have no dominion over nature; we only participate in it. When I read how our mind’s aptitude is such that we can build probes to travel to the edge of the solar system, and when I see that our sense of adventure is bold enough for men to fall from the sky faster than the speed of sound, I am awestruck and proud, but I also try to remember that our deficiencies and misadventures are as numerous as leaves scattering in the wind.
It’s similar to what the Chinese poet, Lu Yu, wrote in a poem titled “Autumn Thoughts”:
Great fame can be obtained
By routing an army
With oxen carrying
Burning straw on their horns,
But, after all, it is no more important than
The track of sandpipers on a wave washed beach . . .
Autumn has come
To my withered garden.
I decide to climb to some
High place to enjoy the view.
But I can only manage
The hundred steps of the
Yuan Hung Pagoda.
Translated by Kenneth Rexroth, One Hundred Poems From the Chinese, New Directions, 1971