Undergoing a Seasonal Shift in Attitude
Like many other immigrants to Southern California from New England, at this season each year I gaze longingly at calendar pictures of colored autumn woods.
Come fall, I am homesick for green trees suddenly gone mad, bursting into hues of crimson, russet, orange, wine, yellow. I feel uprooted here in the Los Angeles heat, amid the evergreens and the dry, dusty palms.
This year I returned to the East. The leaves were just beginning to change. I’d walk down a placid city street, past a row of ordinary green trees with but a few leaves hinting color and then, suddenly, I’d come upon one entire maple transmuted to scarlet, an oak tree now gold.
“I know you miss the seasons,” my sister said to me, “living there in L.A. where it’s always the same.”
“But it’s not always the same,” I replied. “The seasons are more subtle, but they do change.”
“How?” she asked.
And at that moment I couldn’t recall, my mind’s eye dazed with the blood and fire of the maples.
But later, back in Los Angeles, on a twilight evening in Echo Park, I look around me and remember some of what I wanted to tell her.
It is evening, and the sun is lowering, dusky-white. The air is cool. Daylight is shortened; no long and balmy summer’s night lies ahead. Warm and well-lit kitchens beckon, filled with savory hearth smells.
The water level in the park’s lake is low. The giant pink lotus blossoms are long faded and gone, and the shield-sized lotus pads on their tall green stalks are also fading, falling, wilting brown and downward, though for the moment they’re still high and dense enough to host a flock of loudly chattering blackbirds that I can hear but barely see.
By December, there will be no visible trace of the marshy thicket of lotus plants. Only the roots will remain alive, biding their time under earth, underwater.
Then the cold winter rains come, flooding the lake and greening the parched Los Angeles hills. The park ducks are delighted with the showers. On chilly, rain-drenched January afternoons they cavort on the grass, squawking at me when I intrude, a lone human strutting through the raindrops.
Nights are early, dark and sharp.
Spring nudges in quietly, gently. The mornings are sooner, the sun longer and stronger. Thin lotus shoots peer above the water’s surface, and those trees that did stand winter-bare now start to bud.
Soon blossoms are exploding everywhere, extravagant in shape and color, on low perfumed bushes and stately tall trees, the crimson bottlebrush, the scarlet coral, the pale rose horse chestnut. By May, the magnolias burgeon white and the graceful jacarandas are dressed in splendorous lavender.
I walk down the street at twilight. The air swims with fragrance. I feel flushed, erotic, alive.
In Echo Park, the lotus plants grow taller. Amid the reeds a pair of slate-gray duck-like coots swim to and fro with twigs and leaves in their beaks, building a nest. They lay eggs and hatch their young, and one sunny morning I see the tiny newborns splashing their furry heads in the water.
I gather bouquets of wildflowers from the alleys: sunshine-yellow dandelions and field mustard and buttercups, purple lupine and wild radish, bright orange poppies, and the feathery green fennel that smells like licorice when you rub it between your fingers.
The lotuses are in full array by July. Artists sit or stand with easels at lake’s edge, painting canvases of rich pink blooms.
Vendors ring the bells of their hand-pushed carts as they walk the streets and parks selling flavored ices--lime, strawberry, tamarind--others offer ripe juicy mangoes served on a stick, with chili pepper sprinkled over.
And now it is an evening in autumn. The persistent beating heat of the summer is finally past. A luminous film of thin, white clouds filters the rays of the setting sun.
I look around me, in the dimming air. An old black man with white hair sits on a blue milk crate, smoking a pipe and fishing in the lake. Young laughing children call to each other in Spanish in the playground. A Cambodian family throws bread to the ducks, and a Filipino jogger does stretching exercises on the bench where the Chinese grandmothers sit and talk in the mornings after tossing last night’s leftover white rice on the pavement for the birds. A gay man with gold loop rings in his ears and tattoos on his fair-skinned bare chest walks by, eating fresh, hot corn bought from the Mexican woman in the multicolored skirt.
The air is cool, and I pull my sweater closer to my body.
My heart still skips a beat when I think of the New England autumn colors. But this is Echo Park in Los Angeles in the fall. And I am glad, very glad, to be home.