• Otter Views: Pumpkins, Politics, and Pageantry

    by Tom Stevens

    A recent patch of Indian summer blessed PG with exquisite days and star-spangled nights. For a week or more, the October light was soft and golden. Maple leaves started turning crimson. The warm air shimmered like a fairy tale garment.

    Out at Asilomar one afternoon, slanting sun glazed the ocean to molten silver. Silhouetted surfers eyed the horizon, where a northbound tanker caught the late light. Along the beach, an offshore breeze combed back small, bottle-green waves. A conferee in a business suit kicked off his shoes and socks to stroll across flat wet sand.

    Other days offered other glimpses: sunlit sloops tacking offshore, kayaks suspended in kelp, a pale half moon cradled in a treetop. All over town, garage sales spilled in colorful cornucopias out onto the sidewalks. Fat orange pumpkins appeared on porches and staircases, awaiting antic Halloween faces.

    Fine weather greeted a library benefit book sale and doubled the usual Monday farmer’s market turnout. There, streets clamoring with merchants, musicians, shoppers, kids and dogs brought Breughel to mind. Nearby, citizens pondering their Measure F votes squinted up at the Holman building, where “story poles” and strings of flags limned a prospective hotel.

    The nights were equally remarkable. The celestial firmament so rarely visible here – moon, planets, comets, constellations – seemed to sparkle with compensatory brilliance. On several nights, a black velvet sky accentuated the stars the way a jeweler’s case sets off diamonds.

    Beneath the stars, the lamps of Monterey squid boats spot-lit midnight water. Across the bay, the city lights pulsed and blazed like a treasure chest of pirate gems. Fainter light clusters revealed other bayside towns, the glow dimming with distance. Pinpoints at sea marked solitary night boats. Twin red beacons topped the Moss Landing stacks.

    Altogether, the first October fortnight was a startling window of beauty and clarity. It seemed as if the darkening year had hit “pause” as a sort of cautionary cue before rolling on toward winter. As poets world-wide attest, autumn may be serene, soulful and lovely, but it’s also very brief. Carpe diem.

    More prosaic observers bugged by politics, fallen leaves and football telecasts might prefer to fast-forward through autumn. By now, the presidential campaign seems to have lasted as long as the presidency itself. Local brouhahas about water, zoning and Fort Ord redevelopment seem no closer to closure than they ever were. Meanwhile, leaves keep piling up, and footballs keep flying.

    Others might also wish the season to accelerate: snowboarders and skiers awaiting snow, surfers awaiting winter swells, clerics awaiting advent. I would add kids awaiting Christmas, but they’re likely fixated on Halloween at present.

    As for me, I’ve come to cherish this brief autumnal caesura. Where I grew up, island seasons blended and overlapped indistinctly, like footprints in the sand. They did vary, but only subtly. Summer was long, hot, windy and dusty. Winter was cool, breezy, surfy and rainy. Spring and fall were mere preludes to the other two.

    I needed a few years on the continent to experience the full seasonal panoply. I found California has the most vivid spring – neon green hills, carpets of wildflowers, snow melt rivers sparkling in the mountains, and the narcotic perfumes of fruit trees in blossom.

    New England has the quintessential autumnal experience dialed in: psychedelic leaf canopies, pumpkins proliferating in meadows, apples ripening in orchards, jugs of cider hardening on windowsills.

    It’s the “season of mists and mellow fruitfulness” lauded by Keats, but don’t blink, or you’ll miss it. At its autumnal peak, there is nothing so smolderingly, achingly, fulsomely gorgeous as a New England hillside. But “fall foliage” tourists arriving even a week late find bare branches, leaden skies, leaves blackening on rain-beaten streets.

    Like many warm-climate people, I had romantic notions about New England in autumn. The Massachusetts college I entered, sight unseen, stoked these fancies by sending each entering freshman a glossy, full-color photo calendar.

    The calendar’s 12 monthly images showed handsome campus buildings in various seasons. Having never been through real seasons, I did not question the photo distribution: four colorful autumn months, two snowy winter months, three limpid spring months, and three verdant summer months. All the photos showed clear blue sunny skies.

    Once I got to northern Massachusetts, August actually looked like the calendar photo. I happily anticipated three more months of golden autumn sun and leisurely study sessions out on green. Then, after gym class one September afternoon, my hair froze into a solid helmet as I ran down the steps.

    That wasn’t in the calendar . . . and it was just the beginning.

    posted to Cedar Street Times on October 19, 2012

    Topics: Otter Views

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