Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Autumn Leaves are Falling

For many people, the onset of fall is nothing but a reminder of the headlong rush towards winter, but I love this time of year.  Of course, that’s easy for me to say; I live in a part of the world where the temperature rarely goes below 40 degrees and snow is something we see from a distance.  As we drive clear, sun drenched streets, we can look towards the east where there are a couple of isolated mountains of enough elevation that their peaks are occasionally dusted with snow during the winter months.  It’s a cause for great excitement and considerable comment, as well as spontaneous “drives to the snow” to bring back snowballs, carefully preserved in coolers, for a seconds-long snowball fight or the general pranking of one’s friends.  Not for us the rapidly plummeting temperatures, the leafless, rattling tree branches, the desertion by hummingbirds and butterflies, or the retrieval from storage of ice scrapers and snow shovels.. 

In high school, my favorite English teacher once broke my heart when she groaned in an agonized tone, “I hate autumn.  It speaks of nothing but death.”  I had no idea what to say to her.  Even now, words of comfort or understanding would probably desert me.  At seventeen, I could only gaze at her with aching pity.  I wanted to graft my love of the season, whole cloth, into her brain.  Even that word—autumn—is beautiful.  It’s the taste of crisp apples, the smell of quiet earth and the soul-soothing touch of the lengthening angles of sunlight.

Here in Monterey, the season also brings with it our warmest weather of the year.  Many people call this Indian Summer, but that always seems a misnomer to me.  For someone who grew up in Pennsylvania and Vermont, Indian Summer was the warm period that followed a cool period that followed a hot summer.  Here in Central California, it doesn’t seem fair to call the one really hot time of the year anything but October.  When your summer is cold and foggy and your early fall is mild with the promise of sunshine, a week of 70s and 80s doesn’t really deserve to be called Indian Summer.

We are funny here, though.  We pine for warm, sunny weather for months, then two days into our warm spell, we’re all staggering around, sweaty and exhausted, poleaxed by the heat and humidity.  I really feel for Cleo.  I can pare down to shorts and a tank top; she is stuck in a fur coat.  The major part of every day this past week, she has spread herself out on the gel mat I stand on as I work at the computer.  It’s the only cool surface in the room.  Everything else is textile: the carpet, the couch, the cushions on the chairs.  She barely lifts her head as I straddle her, one foot on either side of her prone body, tapping away at the keyboard.  Occasionally, she’ll muster the energy to get up and greet a visitor, giving the hand a peremptory lick before once more flopping onto her side in heat-induced lethargy.  Of course, that means that in the evening, when the sun sets and the thermometer drops to a pleasant sixty-two or –three, she is ready for action, bounding into the backyard, barking a challenge and making the world safe for democracy.

A couple of times this past week, she rallied herself for daytime action.  At 10:18 AM on 10/18, many schools participate in the Great California Shakeout, an earthquake drill.  Cleo and I were in charge of the library, a beautiful, if impractical, open structure with soaring ceilings and outer walls of plate glass.  When the building was constructed, there was no thought for installing safety glass or, indeed, tempered glass of any kind.  Over the years, we’ve had occasion, thanks to chairs being too forcefully pushed out of the way, to replace two or three sheets of glass with the safer variety.  The cost of replacing them all would put us in debt for the foreseeable century.  So one of the things Cleo and I did last Thursday was to go around to the students sitting by the outer walls and quietly ask them, “What would you do if there were an earthquake?” 

“Oh,” responded one young man, looking with doubt at the towering window behind him.  “Huh.”

Huh, indeed.  That’s why we have drills.

We followed our earthquake drill with a fire drill.  Let’s just say, not Cleo’s favorite sound in the world.  With the county fire marshal in attendance, I wanted Cleo to be on her best behavior, so when she started barking at the alarm, I picked her up.  She quieted instantly.  And for an instant.  Then she redoubled her barking and upped the ante with some struggling, kicking and whining.  I put her down and headed for the mustering area, one of our athletic fields.  She strained against the leash the whole way, but once on the field, she got into line and sat politely, if anxiously, by my side.  Having Mom nearby helped her restrain herself, but once we were dismissed, she needed to get rid of that pent up energy.  In spite of the heat, she and I sprinted all over that field, chasing each other, chasing the crows, chasing a soccer drill thingie that flew like a Frisbee.  When she eventually lay down, panting, with her tummy pressed against the cool grass, I figured it was time to go in and get a drink of water.

Her other daytime outing was when Auntie Kim took her across the street to the Wilderness Lab.  I swear, though it’s only across the street, the Lab is always a good ten degrees warmer than the rest of campus.  Hot, dry, and full of prickly stuff, but also redolent of wild animal scat.  Cleo loves going over there.  This outing with Auntie was her first time without me.  When they returned, Kim was full of amazed compliments.  “Cleo was so well behaved!” she reported.  “A couple times she tried to sneak under the razor wire onto the BLM land, but the second I said, ‘No!’ she came right back.  She heeled all the way back to school.  Without a leash! Everyone was so impressed!” 

Well of course she did!  I’d love to say that it was because she is so very well trained, and to some extent, that’s true.  But the real reason she was so obedient was because without Mama there, she was afraid she’d be abandoned to the mountain lions and coyotes.  There was no way she was going to let her Auntie out of her sight. 

This weekend, the weather broke and we’ve had cool days, cooler nights and buckets of rain.  Sodden pine needles clog the gutters and storm drains.  As I write, I can hear cars swishing by on the wet pavement.  Clouds pile up above the Bay in frothy imitations of snow-capped peaks.  I’m snuggled up on the chaise, a blanket covering me, the world’s most perfect puppy warming my feet, her chin flung across my shins.  As I said, I love this time of year.

Dear Faithful Readers,

Thank you for your comments, your readership, your good wishes for Cleo and me!  I wanted you to know that I will be taking the next month off to focus on revising and compiling the first year's worth of blog posts for collection in a book that will be ready in time for the holidays.  Perfect for gift giving!  We'll be back in December.  In the meantime, feel free to be in touch.  We always love hearing from you all.

All the best,
Joyce and Cleo


  1. I love the idea of Cleo making the world safe for democracy...somebody certainly needs to. Also love the idea of you making a book--congratulations!

  2. Joyce and Cleo,
    Sharing your adventures and wonderful blogs has been a highlight of my day. Thanks for sharing the adventure with me.