Fall is in the air. I can tell by the cooler nights (in the 40′s now) and how it takes much longer in the morning for the air to warm up. The heat has even come on once or twice, albeit very briefly.
Mostly though, I can tell by the light. There is a subtle shift in the color and warmth of the light. Summer light is gloriously warm, soft and yellow. Then one day in September I suddenly realize that the light has become sharply cold, harsh and white. In this photo I tried to capture this light and the way it reflects off the long needles of the Ponderosa Pines. When I see this crystalline glow, I know that daytime temperatures will soon cool down in anticipation of the snows we hope to have despite our long drought.
My thoughts begin to turn to “nesting.” Sorting junk to make room for the long winter of being mostly indoors. Cooking soup, and squash, and pumpkin bread. Putting the garden “to bed” for the season. Monitoring nighttime temperatures so as to bring all tender potted plants indoors before the first frosty night.
Most of the summer inhabitants begin to leave to return to the warm desert areas that are gradually becoming tolerable as we here become cold. Traffic eases. Those of you in big cities will laugh at me when I talk of “traffic.” In the winter we can always make a left turn almost immediately. In the summer it may take a whole three minutes to find a break in the traffic! My goodness, do we permanent residents complain about that!
With the migration of the “Summer People,” as we tough “Year-Rounders” call them, our small Safeway grocery store decongests. The narrow aisles are no longer clogged with Summer People attempting to find (unsuccessfully of course) the same gourmet organic capers that they buy in Phoenix (“The Valley” as it is known here).
The overworked cashiers seem relieved at the exodus and there is something of a camaraderie that builds between the grocery store staff and the “Year-Rounders.” They know us by name and we discuss the weather, the growth of our children, how much snow we might get, and other weighty matters.
The golf course behind our house is gradually depleted of golfers all fleeing the cold. It will close on October 1st and then will become my children’s winter playground. No longer restricted to before 7 AM or after 7PM, the kids run wild out there, flying kites on windy days, having picnics on sunny days, and building snowmen on snowy days.
I think my favorite part of the approaching fall is how the cooler air begins to smell deliciously of pinyon and cedar as those of us brave enough to stay for the winter start to have our evening fires in our fireplaces. If I could bottle the smell of burning pinyon I would make a scratch-and-sniff blog post for you all to enjoy. Even the Wikipedia entry on “pinyon” points out that: “The fragrance of the wood, especially when burned, is unmistakable.” If you have never been in the cold parts of the Southwestern US in the wintertime, open your spice cabinet and find some cumin. Give it a sniff, and that is the closest thing I can think of to the heavenly smell of burning pinyon.