After spending my childhood in San Diego and a few other mild climates, I spent three years in the Midwest and discovered and truly experienced the four seasons. It was during this time living in the tri-state area of Iowa, Illinois, and Wisconsin that I fell in love with the beauty of autumn. (Winter: not so much.)
I came back to Southern California, first to Los Angeles where my husband attended graduate school and finally back to San Diego in 1981. I remember how dismayed I was by the annual presence of the Santa Ana winds and the accompanied fire threats. While living in the Midwest, during the same period, the air would be chilling and the leaves turning beautiful colors. It made sense that all the stores were filled with clothing featuring layers and wool. Trips to the pumpkin patch involved REAL pumpkin patches on farms out in the country. Celebrating fall in Southern California seemed so artificial and out of touch to me.
The traditional approach to teaching in the 1980’s and early 90’s when I returned to the classroom involved using “themes” so our topics would be “apples” and “fall leaves” in September and October. It didn’t make sense to me, so I didn’t do it. I do remember taking a class on a field trip to San Clemente Canyon off 52 where giant, native sycamores grow and drop their dry, yellow and brown leaves starting in November. It was a genuine fall experience that filled our senses with sound, texture and smell.
Since those days, I have learned to appreciate that Southern California does experience a change of season that goes beyond the threat of wildfires. Although much more subtle than what I experienced in the Midwest, the climate does cool and changes can be observed.
One simple observation may be a new phenomenon not available when I was growing up. Just like the jacaranda trees (whose purple flowers herald spring) liquid amber trees have been planted everywhere and we can all witness the change of seasons throughout the year. We at Hanna are so lucky to have a small grove available right on our block! If you take a close peek, you will see some leaves where the edges are turning a reddish brown and others have turned a beautiful yellow. Each day as I walk by, I pick up the yellow leaves that have dropped on the ground. Even the leaves on our very own grape vine found along the fence separating the lower and Garden Classroom are changing colors due to the shortened hours of each day.
These leaves, along with some small pumpkins, and a pomegranate that I received as a gift served as the inspiration for our “fall pallet” that was mixed by the children. Besides being a tangible concept of autumn, the beautiful jewel tones of the paints is another way for the children to connect with nature and appreciate all the earth has to offer.
Yes, we can all take the drive to our local mountains to pick some apples or gather acorns (which I do!) but I like looking for the small signs in the trees or even in our own backyards, where the tomato plants are starting to wither (this is one great advantage of living in San Diego) and a new crop of “winter vegetables” can be planted.
Meanwhile, I have to go outside and water, Santa Ana winds are coming. Sigh…