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After 5 Years, San Diego's Autumn Is Easier to Find

November 20, 1986|MICKEY FERNANDEZ | Mickey Fernandez of Del Mar is a free-lance writer

DEL MAR — I know it's autumn in San Diego because Sunset Magazine tells me it's time to plant bulbs and prune the camellias. Oh, we might have a little rain, a foggy morning that doesn't clear up, or maybe a cool breeze to greet me when I get the morning newspaper that says it's not summer anymore.

It's been hard for me to find fall in San Diego. Fall has always been an important season to me, and my spirit craves the drama of the changing seasons that have force and sometimes fury to them. The organizational aspect of the changing seasons also appeals to me. Each season there's a list of chores to be done, and in the fall I especially like being able to check them off and be rewarded with rain.

So, I plant my bulbs and prune the camellias. I pack the bathing suits and summer shorts away, pull out the jackets, sweaters and corduroy pants, put the summer patio furniture into the garage and clean up the yard to prepare for the rainy season. Then, just when I get comfortable in my jeans and old sweater (I have to wear sweaters in the fall or it just isn't fall)--bingo--it's hot again. There come those Santa Ana winds--dry windy days that wilt my impatiens and throw my watering schedule helter-skelter.

Don't get me wrong. I like San Diego weather, in general. I like the spring and summer of San Diego when the hills are covered with bright yellow mustard and the dull gray ice plants that suffice as front yard gardens blossom into carpets of bright pinks and magentas. But there is a point when my suntanned skin becomes a dry brown background for the white canyons of wrinkles which crease my face, when there is more sand in my carpet than at the beach, and when the thought of another chicken barbecue turns my stomach. I begin to anxiously look forward to the fall, and each year I'm disappointed as the season approaches, makes a feeble attempt at change, then falters back into summer weather.

I've lived in San Diego for five years--long enough by California standards to call this town home. Still, I haven't been able to let go of the Northern California seasons I had become accustomed to. I miss the valleys of vineyards in rusty reds and brilliant oranges. I miss the cherry trees that line the streets of the small country towns. I miss the walks through the redwoods--rain dripping softly from the heavens above, the ground below damp and gentle to the weary foot.

In the fall I get the urge to call my old friends and talk about the year that just flew by, reassess where I am in my life and where I'm going. I guess it's a form of personal harvesting, and it feels right to do in order to meet the new year.

So, each fall in San Diego I want to rush away--back to the mountains, the woods and the rivers. And I usually do, if only for a weekend. Once there I will stop and breathe the cold wet air of Sonoma County and force myself to be still, to hold onto that moment so that I will never forget it, to imprint in my memory that I am standing on the soil I love and my spirit is content.

When I return to San Diego, I feel somewhat detached and sad to leave such incredible beauty. Sometimes it takes a few days to shake off that dreamlike quality. But, recently, that melancholy feeling seems to be changing along with the seasons. I'm finding that each time I return here it isn't quite as bad as before. It's good to be home with my children, who manage to change tremendously in the few short days I am gone, and to my husband whom I always appreciate a bit more after an absence. I'm beginning to now enjoy walking into my home, which I used to hate because it is a typical Southern California tract house, complete with cottage cheese ceilings and aluminum sliding glass doors.

Now those details don't bother me so much. Our home is filled with the people I love and the things I love. I like the way the light fills our living room so it's always bright and cheery. I like my small and growing garden of succulents with their subtle shades of grays, greens and lavenders. I enjoy sitting on our deck under the shade of our large fir tree, surrounded by the redwood fence we built, which is slowly weathering from rich reds into beautiful silvery wood tones.

And surprisingly, I find myself glad to be back in the warm weather, feeling free in my physical movements, not hampered by layers of heavy clothing. Sure, with the slightest change in weather I still have my sweaters at hand, ready to throw over my shoulders. Only now my wool sweaters have turned into cotton sweaters, but sweaters nonetheless.

Just the other day I was standing at my kitchen window brewing the morning coffee and noticed the fog lifting from the top of my neighbor's apricot tree. The leaves had turned yellow. It was like magic. I was so excited.

Each morning thereafter I would view the tree with intense interest. I wanted to savor each moment, watching the leaves slowly drop from the small tree. I didn't mention the tree to anyone. It was special and it was only for me to see. Within a week all the leaves had fallen and the tree was bare. I was left with a feeling of satisfaction and comfort. Maybe that's all it takes. Maybe I don't need a valley of changing leaves--a precious few moments to pause and take notice of one tree is all I need to make me aware that my favorite season, autumn, has arrived in San Diego.

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