Legends of the Mexican fall

Expats here sometimes muse nostalgically about the “changing of the seasons” back home, particularly autumn, when the leaves flip from green to shades of ocher almost overnight. In spring, nature then awakens and the landscape reverses to bright green; crocuses and other small harbinger bulbs peek tentatively out of the muddy ground and everyone goes out for a walk to celebrate, often prematurely, the end of winter.

Me, I rather miss winter, sometimes, the brilliant cerulean sky of a cold winter morning or the immaculate whiteness of fluffy, fresh snow. For several years Stew and I had a small lakeside cottage whose beauty in retrospect I didn’t appreciate enough. Our dog Pooch certainly did: After a restless hour’s drive from Chicago he’d leap out of the car and, full-speed, dive into the virgin snow. God help any goose, duck or other creature dumb enough to stand in his way. Later, exhausted, he’d come in for a drink of water and plop in front of the wood stove to thaw out his fur and feet, and dream of doing it all over again. Life is good, free from leashes, fences or other urban restraints.

In the eerie light of an autumn morning, a cobweb becomes magical.

Nostalgia, of course, is a most undependable friend who lives mostly in our imagination. There’s a flip side to the northern climate, such as the nearly madness-inducing gloom of January and February, when the sun barely bothers to come out, or the sooty snow melting in mid March to reveal dog turds, soggy cigarette butts and other detritus we thought had miraculously vanished during the winter. But we’d rather rhapsodize about the changing of the seasons.

Granted, in San Miguel we don’t have such four-season drama. But if you pay close attention, you’ll notice, and come to appreciate, the more subtle transitions of our climate. In autumn, temperatures, never extreme, turn cooler. After the sun sets it feels good to light up the fireplace and at bedtime reach for that fluffy comforter, wherever we put it. By noon the next day, the sun will warm things up, and temperatures will go into the mid-seventies. Then I can walk around the ranch in shirtsleeves, dogs closely trailing me, and fantasize about which trees and flowers I’ll plant next year, and swear to stagger our vegetable plantings so we don’t end up with the usual avalanche of tomatoes and cucumbers we can’t possibly eat.

The plumes of a patch of Pampas Grass glisten in the fall. 

Another sure sign of autumn is the awesome appearance—eerily timed to coincide with Halloween— of hundreds of spiders perilously clinging to branches, eaves and anything standing still. Where do they go the rest of the year? How does a tiny spider spin a web four or five feet across? How do cobwebs withstand the wind? Why have spiders become synonymous with spookiness? Check them out closely next time you see a web; spiders are really lovely creatures, not frightful at all. (And let the New York Times clear up some of those mysteries.)

One last nibble before it all ends. 

When we fall back to Standard Time, two weeks before the U.S., the sharp drop in the sun’s angle recasts the appearance of everything outside. Colors are more vivid, shadows more dramatic, even the plumes of the lowliest weeds glisten, making everything seem new and special. Photographers call such moments “the magic hours,” early in the morning and also late in the afternoon before the sun sets. In the fall you don’t have to rise early to catch this almost surreal spectacle. 

The landscape browns up, just like in northern latitudes, as flowers and low-lying vegetation dies off and some trees shed their leaves. The fields of yellow daisies, lavender cosmos and some of the Northern perennials I’ve planted—the glory of the September landscape—by now have all but withered and their seed pods get ready to drop their loads on the soil where they’ll await the spring to dazzle us with a new generation of blooms. There’s a last-minute flurry of butterflies too, to take advantage of whatever flowers are left.

Hmm. Where did the summer go?

With most flowers gone, the bees return to one of our three hives, probably to buzz among themselves how things went over the summer. Stew and Félix, who peek inside the hives periodically, predict a bumper crop of honey this year. Tomorrow is supposed to be honey extraction day, when the hand-cranked centrifuge makes its annual appearance and the dogs hide inside the house to avoid the angry bees angrily swarming around. Expect a sticky mess of honey drippings all over the garage, another sign of autumn in our ranch.

We will have several overnight freezes which this year can’t come too soon. Even at this late date, swarms of grasshoppers still infest the yard, tormenting practically every piece of greenery. Only succulents seem immune. Good riddance. Let if freeze and we’ll just throw a few more logs in the fireplace and look for that extra blanket.

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