, ,


Fremont cottonwood and pepper berries, Davis (9/16/20) Philip Reedy

This week, Philip Reedy, Michelle Pontoni and I separately explored the noxious outdoors before the thermal inversion lifted. At the time, an oppressively dense haze from numerous California wildfires hung over California, keeping the Sun’s rays from brightening the landscape.

Instead, it draped a lackluster pall across the scene.

In Davis, Reedy found fallen Fremont cottonwood leaves resting among pepper berries and upon redwood branches, quiet beauty in an otherwise moribund atmosphere.

Pontoni found a more encouraging scene as she biked south a quarter mile on the Lake Tahoe Boulevard Bike Path from the corner of Lake Tahoe Blvd and Viking Road in South Lake Tahoe. Tiny Quaking Aspen, pushing up from the forest floor, were beginning to change color. Bikers, walkers, and strollers along the path were bombarded by Sugar Pine cones as afternoon winds picked up. She warned, “Wear a helmet!”

At Fallen Leaf lake, Pontoni reported seeing only one aspen full of yellow – all others were still “fully green.” Elsewhere, meadow brush were showing signs of change, painting the landscape with blended tones of lime-green, yellow, orange and russet.

In Tahoe City, red maple lifted their desiccated branches as if pleading for the subalpine lake’s normally clear skies to dissipate the gasses. As I passed Agate Bay, one could see only a hundred yards out into the brown-grey haze. Beyond it, there was only mystery and memories of Tahoe’s beauty.

I drove past Martis Creek’s derelict cabin on CA-267, its aspen enveloped in a foul air that both dulled and warmed their color, a mix of green, to lime, to pastel yellow, to sickly orange. Should it be photographed? Yes, but the scene was then too depressing to stop, unsaddle, gear up and take a photograph that would only leave me saddened.

This morning, I replied to a comment from travelgal485 which opined that perhaps this wasn’t the year to see California’s fall color. Having just experienced the suffocating, disheartening search for something bright and colorful, I was of a mind to agree, but recalled the lessons many years observing autumn have taught.

I answered, “Right now, it’s not the best time, but give it a day and it could be one of the most unbelievably beautiful years, ever. The reason it’s so disappointing, for the moment, are: forest closures (due to smoke and to allow USFS staff to focus on firefighting) and haze. However, both those conditions will change. Yesterday was the first clear day in a month in the Sacramento Valley, with an actual sunset seen along the Coast Range. If I’ve learned anything in more than 40 years writing about California’s fall color it’s what Heraclitus of Ephesus wrote 2,520 years ago, “the only constant is change.”

  • Davis – Just Starting (0 – 10%)
  • South Lake Tahoe / Fallen Leaf Lake – Just Starting (0 – 10%)
  • Tahoe City / Agate Bay / Martis Creek / Truckee – Just Starting (0 – 10%)
Flowering Pear and ornamental debris, Davis (9/16/20) Philip Reedy
3 replies
  1. matthew says:

    Great article john. Poetic and uplifting.
    Yes, so true, Change. As sure as the tides.
    Take it from me, who’s home and memories became ashes and dust under the Woosley fire.
    Things will change and the haze will lift, it just does, in time… all perhaps while the aspens are doing that thing they do.
    A little snow or rain can happen rather quickly.

  2. Maribeth says:

    Thank you for this post. The sunlight on the single cottonwood leaf and the sprigs of pepper berries is simply lovely. While California’s fall color may not “show up” for us, we can still be present for California’s limitless beauty by appreciating past glory, acknowledging current sorrow and remaining hopeful for California’s future.

  3. Jeffery Day says:

    Thank you for this except as someone who lives in Davis I cannot wait until all these nasty flowering pear trees In Davis die. We have hundreds of these smelly non native trees.


Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.