The Septembers of Southern California

|Ilustrations from MS Office.

It's almost my birthday. And in the fables I tell myself -- which I insist are memories -- my September birthday always coincided with the first day of school and the hottest days of the year.

I would get up in the dark as my father dressed for his job at the Gas Company, open the presents waiting for me (because I have no patience), and leave for school where an airless classroom drowsed, the students dripping in heavy cotton uniforms and the nun shrouded in her long black gown.

Southern California isn't a desert, but it feels like it's one in September.

September has other contradictions. It's hot when the Dick and Jane reader showed leaves turning orange and brisk winds that pulled Sally's tiny umbrella inside out. September breathes summer's continuation but the in national imagination, which has no place for Southern Californian specificity, September is all about beginnings.

In our September, the time's arrow misdirects. The imported trees and perennials of the northern temperate zone respond to lessening hours of daylight by getting ready for the snow that never falls. The sunlight -- more reactive in the drying air -- prepares the chaparral to burn in the Santa Anas of October.

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Someone was running a Rainbird sprinkler as I walked away from my house this morning, trying to hold back September through irrigation. The sprinkler cycled through four evenly spaced clicks and the whirring passage back to a beginning.

Seamus Heaney, the Irish poet who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1995, died today. He wrote about time and landscape in a much wetter place where the rhythms in nature are more regular and the relations of men less so. I met him once in New York. We walked together from a hotel to a reading he gave.

Heaney wrote in "Wintering Out" a short poem titled Travel:

Oxen supporting their heads
into the afternoon sun,
melons studding the hill like brass;

who reads into distance reads
beyond us, our sleeping children
and the dust settling in scorched grass.

September is read in the scorched grass of the lawns on my block, left unwatered for the entire year, and in gardens nearby gone uncultivated. In the distance are more days and dust and a birthday.

About the Author

D. J. Waldie is the author of "Holy Land: A Suburban Memoir" and "Where We Are Now: Notes from Los Angeles," among other books about the social history of Southern California. He is a contributing editor for the Los Angeles Times ...
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