Kage Baker loved late summer. Especially as a child. Her summer routines were all well set by midsummer, and she could drift through the hot days and warm nights with absolutely no thought of boundaries in her mind. Even as an adult, even after she had quit her day job and was a happily home-bound writer – the cusp of August and September was the very peak and pinnacle of summertime. Everything was in fruit and flower then.
One of the things that she viewed with fear and loathing, though, was the annual blooming of the crepe myrtles. Now, the crepe myrtle is a lovely tree, and it blooms in a palette of white, cream and a rainbow of pinks and reds: from seashell blush to dark wine. Roses are its only competition for the spectrum of red it produces. And Kage loved the colour. What she hated was that it bloomed late in the season, and was therefore a sure-fire indicator that summer was going, going, gone.
But even the myrtles give way to autumn, and that was a season Kage adored. What she liked about it was were the colours – red and gold and black, flame colours and smoke colours; trees turning gaudy and then stripping wildly. Chrysanthemums and the last sunflowers all the same fiery hues as the leaves; and then the ecdysiast trees revealing shapely bare limbs cast in marble and pewter …
The plants that die back in the garden uncover treasures when they fade: pumpkins under the broad vine leaves, corn stalks fading to soft beaten gold and learning to sing under the hand of the wind. The last roses. Piles of bougainvillea petals piling up in dunes against white walls. The endless bounty of apples.
And then the whole spectacular carnival of October culminates in Halloween; and that was Kage’s favourite holiday. She loved our Dickensian Yule and threw herself whole-heartedly into Extreme Christmas – but she loved Halloween. By the time it comes round, all the flowers are dried, bowls are filled with fragrant petals and pine cones are stacked on the hearth. The bushes are full of glowing eyes after dark (ours are, anyway; plugged into extension cords … ) and faerie lanterns adorn the bare tree branches.
Kage forgave the year its dying in exchange for the wonders of Halloween.
The Autumnal Equinox, of course, was a few days ago (and a belated Happy Equinox to you all, Dear Readers!); now we’re spinning briefly in place, the days and nights equalizing. Right on cue Autumn has appeared, hitting its mark flawlessly – blue skies as smooth as enamel and a rising wind; still warm while the sun shines, deliciously cool when it goes. The air smells of wood smoke even before anyone lights a fireplace.
Though it is still the season for real fires. Wild fires. We always light the hills before the jack o’lanterns here in California. The hills above Pasadena, Altadena, La Verne have burned three times at least this year. Riverside smoulders at intervals; there can hardly be an unburned empty lot in the place. And Devore, where the 10 and 15 freeways meet and the Renaissance Faire once blazed – is blazing in earnest now.
Those are the brightest flowers of the autumn. The scariest, too. Kage watched for them fearfully and guiltily: thrilled by their colours, dreading their blooming on the golden hills. The autumn fires are the penultimate blossoms on the annual flower clock. After these shed their petals, the hills will be black and grey until the winter rains come and drown them in a green flood.
Tick tock …