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Before the Fall

Very early on Friday morning, the seasons changed. The northern hemisphere passed from summer to autumn through another equinox of equal night and day. Although summer-like days can be common in October - Santa Ana winds, too - the equinox means we have begun another fall.

This morning (and all week) a thin, high fog stalled into the crowns of the bigger trees at the end of my block. At pedestrian level, the effect is to gray the light softly, but ahead the limbs and leaves of the trees were made unsharp, as if deceptively removed a little further away.

I had to pause at the top of my steps (and so noticed the fog's effect on perspective) because of an orb spider making use of the Bignonia vine over my porch. This morning, the spider and I faced each other through its web, which fully blocked my way. I went around.

Smaller spiders have strung lines at eye level through the branches of the Chinese elm that drapes over the sidewalk a few doors down. I and they forgot every morning this week that we share the same space. Brushing webs out of my thinning hair, I reminded myself to walk out into the quiet street next time. But I'll probably forget again.

I noticed that the crape myrtles along the street have suddenly lost all their color. The pastel reds and pinks of a few days ago are gone to rust and brown as if a switch had been thrown.

The Brazilian pepper trees -- the oldest trees on the block, planted in the mid-1950s -- don't change color. But they bloom in late summer, producing thousands of tiny yellow blossoms that are mostly hidden in the tree canopy. Bees find them, though, and work them hard. The hum from one of the bigger pepper trees is loud enough to be distracting, and falling blossoms litter the sidewalk in pale drifts that show my footsteps and those of the earlier walker who dropped advertising circulars on the driveway aprons.

Late September already has a different light, slightly more oblique and, if anything, slower light than midsummer. Perhaps that's what made whole days this week seem like an interminable afternoon.

Spiders, morning fog, and a slight adjustment in the light don't have the gaudy effect of leaves blazing into red and gold (although the maple in my yard and others down the street have taken on some color). The fall here hasn't that spectacle. What it does is shift the everyday into the spiral that winds down in the dark in December.

There is melancholy in our fall, as local perfection is muted. I felt a cold wind blowing up Clark Avenue from Alamitos Bay and thought glumly of buying a new raincoat.

D. J. Waldie, author, historian, and as the New York Times said in 2007, "a gorgeous distiller of architectural and social history," writes about Los Angeles on KCET's SoCal Focus blog.

The image on this page is from public domain sources.

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