Until June, I had lived in California all of my life. Through lengthy business trips over the years, I had spent up to 3 months in parts of the USA where “Fall Colors” occur, usually catching glimpses of the color at the end of day across a Day’s Inn parking lot.
The idea of trees changing dramatic colors and signaling a shift into a harsh winter always seemed an exotic notion to me, perhaps the way “snow birds” feel when viewing palm trees out of their winter timeshare windows. I had so many palm trees in my life throughout various parts of California that they still seem a bit like weeds to me, rather than symbols of an exotic retreat.
No matter how much time you spend around Fall Color, if you don’t actually live there, it’s not the same.
My new home, (Portland, Oregon) has a surprising amount of Fall Color. Not as dramatic as New England or Pennsylvania, but impressive none the less. With a latitude similar to Paris France, we’re far enough North for the Sun to get low and cast a nearly horizontal light through gold, bronze, even heliotrope colored trees that have black/green fir covered slopes in the background. When you live in such a place, the changes in the trees takes on a significance that is difficult to grasp for a visitor from a milder climate.
I went to the zoo last weekend, and the Lorikeets were sometimes difficult to spot amidst the flaming foliage. It was almost enough color to make your eyes wince. Children were dressed in bright Halloween costumes. The experience was almost cinematic, a bit like walking from SUNSET BLVD into JULIET OF THE SPIRITS.
The changing colors (and decreasing amount of leaves) act like a slow motion sun dial, indicating the shift into the dark time of the year. To someone who lived all his life with two seasons (wet and dry) it is a wonder to behold. Some colors almost defy description, or cry out for new names (crimson/scarlet/vermilion). Viewing such outbursts of color through the tinted windows of a swiftly moving rental car is not the same as stepping off your own front porch, feeling the faint warmth of sun and being assaulted by an orgy of color on the way to your mail box. “These are my trees, these are my colors, they are changing for me.” It was difficult to get that emotional about a never changing palm tree. (Well, there was Palm Sunday, but that was one day a year.)
Transiting childhood in my home town of Merced, California, there were only a handful of exotic trees that changed colors. They were usually found on the lawns of the well-heeled. Such trees require a lot of water and we could go 9 months without rain, so high maintenance was the word. As I’ve revisited my birthplace over the years, the “color” trees have gradually died off and were rarely replaced. For children growing up there now, it is kind of like having one or two crayons instead of the whole box. Winter in Merced was no picnic; temperatures were relatively mild (we screamed when it hit 40 degrees F). And it was not uncommon to not see the sun for more than 95 days at a time due to the ever present tule fog!
So after over half a century, this is my first “real” Fall …. and I can’t wait to go through a “real” winter, with occasional snow, ice, the whole nine yards. (Isn’t that what gas fire places were made for?) I can hardly wait until Spring, when the cycle is complete. The currency of freshly minted, new green leaves will really mean something after an absence of several months. I can hardly wait.