Growing up in Los Angeles, I only read in books about piles of fall leaves to rake. We cut out of colored paper fall leaves for art collages in school, and we had advertisements for pretty coats and jackets that we wore only on the coldest January days.
But Los Angeles had hardly any fall leaves. Almost all of the landscaping for those miles and miles of suburban houses was in evergreen shrubs and trees. A few trees shed their leaves in the fall, but they were brown and crunchy.
Here in Northern California, I have been discovering different styles of fall. Down in the valley, fall has such a variety of colors and changes. So many streets have such wonderful, tall, deciduous trees. I still can’t get over the surprise of turning a corner and finding one or two trees glowing in the sunshine in full fall color. I like how many of the office complexes have incorporated deciduous trees into their landscaping and for a brief few weeks the colors of the trees make one last bold statement before the winter sets in.
I have learned about plants that bloom in the fall and add a blast of color to an otherwise green lawn or yellow-brown foothill.
Up in the foothills, the dry grass seems empty and the oak trees seem bleak, but the cooler fall temperatures bring the creatures out from hiding. The birds are about, eating the late insects and the myriad of grass seeds. Woodpeckers and squirrels are busy collecting the precious acorns, and the great horned owls come out of their hiding places earlier in the twilight to catch the mice busy collecting seeds for their burrows.
There are weeds that grow over the dry summer, seemingly without water, that bloom in the fall, and so, oddly, do the oak trees around my house. The oaks are now buzzing with bees collecting the last bit of nectar from late-blooming oaks and weeds.
Higher up on the hillside, amid the pines, the large oaks show their colors. The shallower water in the rivers seem more blue-green as the deeper pools still and the water flows slowly. Now that the crowds of tourists are gone, the shy animals come out to play. I see more bobcats out in the daylight in the picnic areas, hunting the ground squirrels fattened on summer potato and corn chips.
Fall has a variety of smells, too. I still don’t like the smell of the fruit rotting on the ground in the orchards and vineyards in the valley, even though I know it makes good fertilizer in the spring. I do like the smell of the last cutting of hay and the smell of almonds being processed.
I must be one of the few people who actually likes the tart smell of tarweed in the foothills. I love the smell after the first rain. Fall brings out the smell of fresh-cut wood for the woodpiles, and the smell of smoke from the wood stoves heating the cabins here on the mountain.
Now that I have lived a few years here in Northern California, fall has become a favorite season. No fake decorations for me. I will go outside and enjoy the real thing.
Holt is a landscape horticulture graduate of Merced College. Send comments or questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.