Southern California sublime

It has been said that we will never be content with the weather until each man makes his own. True. I complain constantly that there is no real weather here, only a flat, enervating sunlight that saps the spirit and diminishes creativity. Even Oakland has weather.

But for a few days last week and part of the week before, we were witness to a combination of weather and color that painted our town with brush strokes that not even Monet could equal. It began with a sunset so intense it seemed artificial, streaks of pastel golds and reds in a fiery mix that burned into the scattered clouds above it.

I was on a balcony at the Getty when I saw it, startled by what seemed to be an abrupt burst of color, as if the horizon had suddenly exploded. I waited until it had subsided, then stopped along PCH on the way home to watch darkness descend like a dream over the ocean, the last traces of sunset melting into the Pacific.

While I realize that it was not a performance meant especially for me, I was moved to begin noticing the intricacy of color and weather, one blending into the other in remarkable displays of dependency, creating a glory isolated only for a few moments and then, like drifts of a passing memory, gone.


The next morning, fog embraced the Santa Monicas, creeping over the hilltops in billowing strands of silver that added a sheen to the trees along the canyon roads and down the slopes of the valleys. I don’t know why I hadn’t noticed before how autumn dresses the mountains in a harmony of shades that glow in the dampness of the passing mists. The leaves of the trees -- elms, liquidambars, pomegranates and buckeyes -- responded to the cool moisture with a chromatic affirmation of fall that could move a poet to tears. It wasn’t the fierce autumn colors of the Adirondacks, but it did at least contribute a moment of splendor to a city that hungers for seasons.

Then the rain came, quickly and unexpectedly, tapping on the roof like a hesitant drummer, then building into downpours to signal with gusto its return to the land of eternal sunshine. I couldn’t believe, even as the sky darkened, that it would actually rain. Heavy clouds moved in, then broke up, leaving diagonals of sunlight slicing through the darkness to illuminate flowers still braving the weather change. Then it poured.

It was a storm of modest proportions compared with the horror that plagued parts of the East and the South. No tornadoes tore through our cities, killing and uprooting like demons descending from the sky. The winds that followed our rain were more benign than murderous. Trees fell here and there, power lines snapped in the gusts that blew down from the northeast and the lights went out in some parts of town. But the effect of the wind was to enhance what a poet called “the perfect image of the infinite.”

It scrubbed the sky into a blue so dazzling it hurt the eyes, and faked our vision into believing that Santa Catalina Island was but a touch away. As it blew, the leaves of fall fluttered like butterflies to the mountain trails, laying pathways of gold for us to wonder at their destination. Then it whisked them away into corners of the poetic infinity that weather creates. The cries of crows riding the wind filled the day with music, completing the chemistry of fusion when weather changes.

Autumn to me is a time between seasons, an unraveling of complexities, an easing of tensions. Even as God’s patience is tested amid the bluster of warrior kings, autumn cautions us to wait, to listen, to sigh deeply into the wind and to walk softly on the fallen leaves. This pause between summer and winter reminds us of the transitory nature of beauty and of the fleeting moments of grandeur meant to be absorbed and remembered.

There will be other sunsets and other rainy days, mornings laced with strands of fog and nights lit by starry skies. The wind will blow and the multi-colored leaves will grace its currents and settle softly to earth. But they won’t come often in a combination of weather and color that set our world aglow for a few days in November. I was moved to regard it as a message from heaven to a troubled world, and to wonder at its timing.


Al Martinez’s column appears Mondays and Fridays. He’s at