Subtle signs of fall

You have to look close to catch the changing seasons here in coastal California. With no snow and a mild climate, each plant dances to its own tempo. So if you aren’t paying attention, you could miss the fact that fall is heavily upon us. The hillsides are still a patchwork of green and brown, like they have been all summer. Plenty of flowers are still blooming in yards and on hillsides.

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But if you look close, the signs are everywhere. Our deciduous trees are putting on their subtle show, genteelly turning color as leaves drift and pile on the ground. Maple, oak, alder, box elder, Oregon ash, and hazlenut are all going yellow and brown. Poison oak leaves are crimson and yellow, limbs thick with pale berries.  Acorns are heavy on the oaks, and Christmas-ornament sized nuts decorate the naked branches of the buckeye trees. Birds are having feeding frenzies on the sweet, purple coffeeberry fruits, or the orange and red feasts offered up by toyon and madrone.  A few summer blackberries and huckleberries are even hanging on–I ate some the other day and they were delicious.

Even our many evergreens are sporting more spots of color in their lush pelts of green. Red leaves peek from the deep green of toyon, and pepperwoods are speckled with yellow leaves.

In the fields and meadows, the grasses and weeds that grew tall throughout the summer have collapsed under their own weight, dying back into straw-colored heaps. Here the world seems painted from a palette of brown: brown grass, brown thistle heads, brown bracken fern. But California autumn is a confused beast: even here, flowers are blooming, defiant flares of color. Morning glory, Indian paintbrush, nasturtium, wild radish, and more.

In just a few short months, the “early” bloomers will start to flower and the cycle will start all over again.

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