In southern California, we don’t often get rain. When we do, either it doesn’t know when to quit (like the winter of 2010 when my mom came to visit – it rained for two weeks straight!) or it seems to only last a few hours. Today it has been consistently overcast with intermittent showers. The air is chilly. I have my window open, and I can hear cars driving through the puddles. This is autumn.
Something that my city lacks is that distinctive feeling of summer ending. Sure, we have these rainy days, and rain is definitely synonymous with autumn here. I also see the swimming pools get drained, and I see the seasonal trees change colors; the leaves eventually dry up and fall, to be swept away by the immaculate city workers during the night. But palms and coniferous firs line the streets alongside the bare trees, keeping the landscape beautiful and green through the “winter”, where snow never even concerns the residents. This is in stark contrast to what my body has cued as “autumn” in the past.
Growing up in the upper Midwest, autumn had a very concrete beginning to it. This almost invariably happened over Labor Day weekend, and the change was always drastic. One morning in late August, I would wake up with my oscillating fan on full blast. The air still distinctly felt like summer. I would laze around the house with the air on while my mom was at work, usually working on art with my sister. By the time my mom got home, I would have to be finished with my summer chores: sometimes I would have to mow the grass, but usually I would just water the vegetable garden, feed the animals we kept outdoors, and take care of my mom’s potted plants on the front porch. The trees in our yard may have had hints of fall colors, but it was still decidedly not autumn. The best part was, at the end of the day, we could still enjoy a meal outdoors — or at the very least, with the windows open, drinking lemonade like we were in an advertisement for Summertime ™.
The next morning, my bedroom seemed colder. Maybe it had something to do with me knowing that it was the last weekend before school started, and the sense of responsibility and the grueling schedule that came with it. Whatever it was, I felt like summer was officially over. Looking out the window, I noticed the grass seemed less green. The leaves had many colors: reds and oranges, golden yellows, and dull browns. The cottonwoods seemed like they had released more of their wispy seeds onto the lawn. My mood changed. We went to the typical Labor Day weekend BBQs, my sister and I enjoying the event, but very aware of what the following day meant. It meant trudging to the end of our country driveway at 8:05 to catch a bus to school. It meant the end of summer, of freedom and fun.
Another attribute of the autumn of my childhood was the leaves only holding their glorious vibrancy for a week. I heard stories about taking cruises in the New England area where the leaves and their colors were a spectacular show. Well, in my hometown, they would dry up to a crispy gray-brown and fall to the ground within an extremely short period of time. In other words, there was no grand sightseeing here. The trees, barren, would open up an incredible view of the plains, though –the land was so flat that one could see for miles if the trees had shed their summer skin. Even the crops had been harvested in the last week of August. Lawns turned to brown after the first frost, and Canadian geese migrated south in flocks shaped like giant Vs. Everything hibernated, migrated, or looked dead.
There was a certain sense of peace in those decadent environmental cues, however. I enjoyed taking walks after school and contemplating things while surrounded by the changing landscape. My sister and I always planned our creative endeavors while strolling down the old railroad tracks near our house. My little Boston Terrier loved rolling in the leaves when we took her outside with us. So even though the summer fun had ended and the autumn toil had begun, getting past Labor Day weekend was the hardest. After that, my body and mind settled in to experience a change of pace as well as a change of weather. In the end, it was just part of the year as much as it was inevitable.
Today I’m enjoying the rain as a signal of the changing seasons. Southern California may not get much in the way of distinctive seasonal weather patterns, but right now, I’m enjoying being transported to something similar to the autumn of my youth.