postcard-from-l-a: Fall makes all of us see routine things with fresh eyes, even coffee-flavored onions

Chris Erskine's escape screen, where autumn aspens perennially ring Walker Lake in the Eastern Sierra.
Chris Erskine’s escape screen, where autumn aspens perennially ring Walker Lake in the Eastern Sierra.
(Alicia Vennos /

Splashed a little leftover coffee in the onions the other morning. It was a lightning strike of inspiration. The onions sizzled joyously, as if applauding.

If I have a genius, it’s to spot an opportunity like that. At the time, I was frying onions in a large skillet, and I’d already added a spritz of Worcestershire, a crumble of bacon. But I needed a smokier cologne. The leftover coffee was just right. Coffee and onions? Magic.

I think fall makes all of us see routine things with fresh eyes. Look at the accompanying photo. So perfect it almost makes me want to curse. Look at God’s gold rimming that luminous lake. I see perfect solitude in that moment, though that seems redundant to me. Isn’t solitude inherently perfect?

Because it’s my screen saver, I stop to study the photo now and then. What do you think the woman by the water is thinking about? Her selfish sister? A jilted lover? An ailing father back in Newark?


Somehow, I’m willing to bet that she’s not quite in the moment, because that seems so rare anymore — for us to disconnect from all our obligations and concerns. To look up at that heavenly sky and breathe out: Amen.

So much fall. So much joy. This really is the best time of year; don’t tell me otherwise.

Fall is as easy as onions, as flavorful, as full. In celebration, we killed an entire keg of beer the other night, a bunch of moms and dads huddled up against the 70-degree chill of a late-October evening, warming our hands on hasty semi-friendships.

We tailgated in the sweet twilight that can make a 50-year-old look 45 again. I’ve known some of the folks forever, some I know hardly at all. Doesn’t matter. There were tables of wings, tri-tip sliders and those incredible wraps Rhonda always brings. Some moron even brought onions that tasted like stale coffee. If anyone noticed, they at least had the grace to shut up.

This could be the best fall ever. Why not? Adding to the ambience and anticipation is the possibility of frequent and nourishing rain.

Love the rain. That I live in a place that rarely has any speaks to the evil ironies that have made up my semi-interesting life. But like CEOs and circus clowns, I go where the work is.

When it rains here, it almost feels like a lie, as if Mother Nature committed some sort of typo. I’ve seen it rain here for hours yet still be dry under the magnolia trees or arid under the eaves.

This winter may be different. Early rains have made the mountains and hiking trails greener, leaving the landscape looking more like March.


I take this as an omen, a promise, an inadvertent caress. Around here, a wet winter can be almost soulful. Books are better when it rains. Even an old movie seems more inviting when it’s storming outside and you throw an extra log — or one of those ugly midcentury tables — into the fire.

El Niño forecast could be it for us -- a lifesaver, a curse or (as often happens) a total lie.

No, there is nothing like a little cruddy weather to turn a dwelling into what we crave over almost anything in life: a home.

With luck, those Sierras in the photo will enjoy the rush of a wet and stormy winter as well. Despite the strong start, an early winter seldom guarantees a long one. As a friend once said during an early deluge: “That could be it for us. You never know.”


Look, I hate the media. Well, that’s an exaggeration. What I hate are all the doomsday scenarios the media seem to burp up about every six months. Newspapers and newscasts have always been full of fear — it seems the coin of our realm.

Remember when the Avian flu would wipe us out? A year ago, it was Ebola. With regularity, the media latch on to some new threat that must mean we’re finally finished. The assumption is that every new discovery will kill us by breakfast.

Amid all that is the quaint prospect of regular rain — or epic storms, take your pick. Oddly, this El Niño forecast could be it for us — a lifesaver, a curse or (as often happens) a total lie.

In any case, we need some holy water, and we need it now. Stir your onions and pray.


Twitter: @erskinetimes


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