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The Small Fall Of The San Francisco Bay Area


In the USA, Fall has been usurped. The Northeast rules our iconography, and yet. Sweaters, boots? It’s still in the 70s where I live. Waves of forest red? We’re still growing roses.

I’m here to represent other autumns. We know when the oleander drops.


You see, contrary to popular mythology, California does have a fall. It’s just small. It comes when summer has passed, when the concrete of our driveways cools down. Before winter, when it rains. Or doesn’t rain, so we gather at the dinner table worrying about whether it will rain.

Our light changes.


But we have to pay attention. In summer we close our eyes and walk in the sun. Sometimes it’s too bright to get to the car without dark glasses. In fall, we look around. Even if around just means somewhere up above suburban roofs. The sensibility develops over time.


And down. Not just because pyracantha berries are slippery and lodge themselves enthusiastically in our sneaker treads.


In order to find fall in the grain of light on asphalt, and long shadows cast by leaves.


Not to worry. No plans to secede. When we want to share the national zeitgeist, we head over the hill to Half Moon Bay, an agricultural and fishing town that throws one heck of a pumpkin festival.

My friends, what are the joys of your particular autumn? Alternatively, which of your seasons do you nominate for the National Calendar? I propose Northern California to represent July. Oh, and despite a slight petulance, if you’re in Vermont I support your right to proclaim the forest red. It’s just that I suspect Alabama and Oregon might also have something to say.





42 Responses

  1. You nailed our season. I can’t help but miss the rainbow colors of New England but I wouldn’t trade our sunshine for anything. Happy Fall!

  2. Loved this post! Born and raised very near to where you live, I miss the fall that you have described – the light, oleanders, pyracanathas, etc. Living in New England for 30+ years, I truly understand where the colors come from for fall fashion. Today, our New England weather will rival yours as we have already hit 75 degrees!

    1. @Heidi, Thank you! Happy to connect with people who’ve made the reverse life transition, i.e., go East young woman, go East:).

  3. Here (Los Angeles), too, it’s the light that marks fall. The air feels and even smells different than in other seasons.

  4. Hi Lisa, I live in the Southern California Wine Country. We do have a Fall if you go up into the mountains where some of the native oaks turn red and the Sycamores turn yellow. Happily, out here in the suburbs, we have Liquid Amber (a type of maple) that turns red, yellow, orange, purple and sometime all those colors on the same tree depending on the variety. My Bradford Pears turn a mix of orange, red and burgundy. However, for the most part, we only have two seasons – Fire and Flood.

    You are right about the change in the quality of light. In Autumn, it seems more gold as opposed to the yellow/white of summer. Once 3 pm passes, the temperatures cool down pretty quickly. No more air conditioning bills for the next 6 months!

    Happy Fall to the Northern Hemisphere!


  5. It was 82 degrees in Manhattan yesterday: full sun, sleeveless tops and sandals, hair curling in the humidity. And still warm at 10 PM!

    No autumnal nip in the air this morning in Princeton, even with leaves changing, dropping, and covering the ground. Raking them, albeit in shorts, is a more unpleasant chore than usual, but pumpkins are still fun …

    1. @Victoire, It’s hotter everywhere:(. I wonder how the leaves know to fall, when the temperatures stay high? Maybe they just get tired. Hmm, not to burden you with a gloomy outlook, I’ve caught a fall cold and I think it’s affecting my mood!

  6. it’s 80 degrees in new york city at the moment, god help us; my panoply of seasonal plaids reproaches me from the closet. thank goodness i have armfuls of migratory avian pals to confirm the season for me.

  7. It’s 78 here in Andover, MA! The trees are in peak color. They give the light a golden yellow glow with a touch of pink. The yellow leaves are dropping and flying in the breeze today. It’s kind of magical. Today is a gift.

  8. Here in Ireland there’s a slight sense of melancholy in the Fall especially as we edge towards November. The leaves are dropping daily, Every morning I wake to the sound of cows lowing. Now is the time the farmrrs separate them from their calves and they sound bereft. The hedgerows are bursting with blackberries, sloes and rosehip that will soon be past their best. We really do get to experience the slowing down of the year, and while I love the cosiness it promises, I am sad to be relinquishing bright mornings and long evenings.

  9. It’s warm here in Ohio too! And the trees are turning colors, so it’s a confusing mix of summer and fall right now. If the weather stays warm, we will see a fun range of Halloween costumes this year, not covered up by coats.

    Lisa, I was just reading Joan Didion’s essays about California in “Slouching towards Bethlehem,” and your writing reminds me of hers in the best way :) She describes the subtle changes of California weather so well, just like you.

    1. @Danielle, To be compared to Joan Didion is lovely – I should read her work again. Hope Halloween brings you all kinds of fun little critters.

  10. Oh to be in Michigan now that fall is here…(apologies to Mr. W. for borrowing his words.)..Its 71 degrees now…A trip across state this morning found the leaves red, orange and yellow…dancing in the light wind…Pumpkins were in abundance at the roadside stands, apple spicy lattes on the billboards and fashionistas defying the temp wore ankle booties and blanket scarves…Hey, its just what you imagined when you thought of fall…all of that fall stuff…
    Have an apple….

  11. Fall is a lovely season. Idaho is the North East’s low rent cousin. It is so gorgeous today. About 60 degrees and sunny. Perfect.

  12. It is hot here, although it had been cooler, and will be cooler again. It has also been dry, so dry that the soil is like dust, and the trees will not parade their autumn colors for us. Still the light is different, and the scent of the air. This is true wherever I have lived: Texas, New York, Spain, Tennessee. There is a period of transition, of slowing down, sometimes lengthy, sometimes so short it can be easily missed. Fall is my favorite season, although in Tennessee Spring is glorious. Perhaps April?

  13. This is so interesting! I’ve never given some thoughts about those subtle changes in your climate :-) except some clichés like “it never rains in south California” ,”The New York Fall” etc.- so this is what they call “whole life education”,my ladies :-). Happy to attend!
    I am jealous and like your seasons,so far!
    We (in Zagreb,Croatia) have the full fall,after summer and indian summer,42-60°F today,leaves changing colours,rain or beautiful sunny days (sometimes both :-),chestnuts ready to roast! Jackets,coats,boots and booties ready to go!
    Our 4 seasons are usually by the book

  14. For me, the quality of light is the most noticeable change as summer becomes fall in Los Angeles. The slant is so different and and makes things seem more three dimensional than in summer, where the light can be very flat. The sky is also bluer, and even when it’s hot in the sun, it’s chilly in the shadows. I love fall. Lovely post as always.

  15. Here where I live, Autumn features the colours of Liquid Ambers, Acers, Crab Apples, Poplars, the Pear family of trees… but as I live south of the Equator at the moment the season is featuring the blossom of crab apples, wisteria, early roses, flowers of the jacaranda trees, bloosom from the pear family of trees and a sun that is slowly making its summer zenith sunset in the south west.

  16. What about the breathtaking Sierra aspens? So fall, so California. Here, deep in New England but not far from the coast, I am coaxing roses & dahlias out of my garden before the cold & darkness descends. My love of fall has waned as it has come to mean impending winter and very long, dark nights.

    1. @JB, I suppose I think of the Sierras as a whole other state, as I do Southern California, and the far North of California, and the inner valleys…The long dark nights. I find I am far more sensitive to the seasons as I age – you too?

  17. I have a complicated relationship with autumn. As nut farmers, we work very long hours for six weeks or so this time of year, frequently racing the first October rains to bring in our annual paycheck. But we’ve got a fire pit in the front yard (front/back being an academic distinction on a farm),and I cherish beers with my husband and brother at the end of a long day, hungrily subtracting the days, acres, tons of nuts to hull before the end of the season. The sunsets through the walnut orchard are really spectacular then. We don’t talk about how they are spectacular because of all the dust….

    1. @Kristina, Ohhh! I saw “complicated relationship” and knew I could relate [we have hurricanes come through/by/near/over/around us every Fall here on the Fla/Ga coastline, indeed we have just returned from most recent mandatory evacuation inland, we thought this time there would be nothing to return to, such were the dire warnings, but Hurricane Matthew tilted off shore to benefit our particular coordinates, so house was only damaged, water incursion, ho hum, hello Fall], but you, wow! Must you hull those nuts? Can you not ship to those who sell them unshelled? My sympathies to you…

  18. The light is different and your FALL looks similar to ours in many ways.
    We get lots of rain and fog which makes us yearn for bright sunshine to illuminate the autumnal foliage….today the fog has rolled away and the sun is out and the trees look rich.
    Enjoy your week!

    1. @Chronica Domus, Agreed. And don’t you feel as though Half Moon Bay is still just a little bit undiscovered? I mean, more people every year, but still, not quite modern and full-on 2016 California over there.

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