Friday, December 6, 2013

The Anonymous Season

A magnificent autumn sunset transforms the already striking view from Kanan Dume Road into something strange and wonderful. All photos © 2013 Suzanne Guldimann

The Beat poet Kenneth Rexroth famously wrote in 1938 that:

Autumn in California is a mild
And anonymous season, hills and valleys
Are colorless then, only the sooty green
Eucalyptus, the conifers and oaks sink deep
Into the haze; the fields are plowed, bare, waiting;
The steep pastures are tracked deep by the cattle;
There are no flowers, the herbage is brittle.
All night along the coast and the mountain crests
Birds go by, murmurous, high in the warm air.
Only in the mountain meadows the aspens
Glitter like goldfish moving up swift water;
Only in the desert villages the leaves
Of the cottonwoods descend in smoky air. 

It's a nice enough poem, but I don't agree with him.

Autumn arrived late in Malibu this year, but it's here at last, and there is nothing anonymous about it. It was 38 degrees on Point Dume last night. The ocean was warmer than the air this morning—61 v. 45 at 7 a.m. Tonight will be even colder. In the canyons, where cold air drainage lowers the temperature even on warm days, there will be frost.

Frost has already turned the canyon willows and cottonwoods to gold. 
There's a sense of anticipation for the first real chance of serious rain on Friday. All over Malibu there are signs that autumn has arrived at last.

In the garden, the liquidamber trees have turned crimson, the pomegranates are finally ripe, and the narcissus bulbs—a harbinger of Christmas here, instead of spring—are sprouting.

Autumn doesn't officially end until the Winter Solstice— December 21 at 9:11 a.m., PST, this year— but the winter birds are already here: the fierce wren tit, cheeky oak titmouse and the valiant Bewick's wren;  the sharp-shined hawk and the brilliant blue and white king fisher, shaped like a lawn dart.

Over at Bluffs Park, the white-tailed kite can be found every afternoon surveying its winter territory. It shares its treetop lookout with a pair of ravens and a sharp-shined hawk.

The crows, in vast noisy convocations, conduct corvid business, or quarrel with the red-tailed hawks and the great horned owls, who are already in the process of selecting mates and potential nesting sites in the Point Dume eucalyptus trees for winter breeding season.

Liquidamber trees bring a blaze of late autumn color even to coastal gardens. 

This is the season for dramatic sunsets and sunrises. It's also the season for star gazing. After sunset, clear skies reveal Orion and Canis Major—the winter constellations—rising earlier and earlier each evening. The clear, cold, stable sea air, without a trace of the summer marine layer, still offers a view of the Milky Way, something that's becoming rare as light pollution increases.

Shorebirds, like these sandpipers at Zuma Beach, have the coast to themselves. 

Last night, the thin new moon was in the western sky with Venus, with the last glow of sunset turning the horizon a color popular in Rexroth's time called "ashes of roses." It is so clear today that the skyscrapers in Downtown L.A. and the mountains beyond the city are visible from the beach. 

Until the rains come, it's a nervous time for everyone in wildfire country. We all fear that the winds will bring the red and black skies of fire season. Every siren, every helicopter, can stir a wave of panic. Fires are by far the least welcome aspect of the season, but no one could describe them—or the demon winds that drive them—as mild or anonymous.

Perhaps the poet measured our skies against the Indiana sunsets of his childhood and found them lacking. Or perhaps he just didn't look in the right places to find the colors of autumn in California. 
A surfer, lulled by the last evening of warm weather, dreams of of winter waves. 

Storm clouds heralding the first major Alaskan cold front gather, and night comes early. 

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