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Notice how the light has changed? Autumn is here. The sun is less harsh, daylight is softer, the mornings are cooler and the nights are longer. Santa Ana winds provide us with warm weather for our “Indian Summer” and make the nights clear and the stars sparkly.

When we start school and homework begins, Halloween can’t be far behind. For now, we have rounded third base and are heading for home with holidays beginning this weekend. Rosh Hashanah begins Friday night and with it the Jewish New Year. For Jews this is the “head of the year” and a time to recall the world’s creation. It is a time for spiritual growth and contemplation. Coupled with Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, which comes 10 days later, forgiveness and new beginnings allow for a clean slate every year. I also like the Buddhist way of thinking, which includes, “Every second is an opportunity for change.”

My mother passed away on Rosh Hashanah, so normally I light my Yahrzeit candle for her on this day. My sister remembers her according to the Gregorian calendar, but I prefer to honor her during this time. It is easy for me to forget a simple date in September, but not Rosh Hashanah. For my son, it is the holiday when apples get dipped in honey.

I have special memories attached to autumn. The ending of summer and the return to school is also the time to return to disciplines and routines that, as a child, can often be tedious. My favorite memories are more towards the incredible camping trips I have consistently taken as an adult after the crowds have left, the leaves have changed and our wild lands are once again quieted. I make a yearly trek with my camping vehicle from Oregon back to its winter base in Southern California.

People ask me how long it takes to drive from Oregon to California, and I tell them a good trip takes at least 10 days. I take my time and visit the places I love, such as “The American Outback,” which is what Eastern Oregon is now being labeled, particularly the Steens Mountains and the Alvord Desert. Further south and west lies the Mount Shasta area, and when weather permits, the Northern Redwood coasts and down into Anderson Valley and Mendocino County. There is no hassle getting a campsite, and river sites are plentiful. Last year we got to spend a beautiful fall weekend on the upper Rogue River outside of Crater Lake with barely a soul around. What a treat. One of my pet gripes is that the Park Service encourages people to camp off-season, and then they close the campsites early. Hey! Those are OUR campsites, and all we ask is you clean the bathrooms and take out the trash. (Of course, that’s what my wife says about me too!).

One of the more interesting aspects of autumn in the southland is the re-emergence of flowers. Because of our extreme heat many plants go dormant in the summer to preserve energy. When the days are shorter and cooler there is another rush of flowers before winter sets in. Most noticeable are the native fuchsias, which are in abundance right now.

For those of you who love butterflies, keep a lookout for migrating Monarchs heading to Central America for their winter sojourn. I was camping once at Sycamore Canyon at Point Mugu, the northernmost reach of the Santa Monica Mountains, and had my breath taken away when several of the mature Sycamore trees were covered with Monarchs. And I mean covered, as in thousands of them. It was quite a sight, and now I look forward to their fluttering through the garden every fall.

My two majors in college were Political Science and Native American Studies, so the fall season holds special meaning for me. It is a time of change and when the most serious elections are held to determine our governance for the next several years. For the Native Americans it was a time for harvest and storing foods for the long winter. We still honor that season with Thanksgiving.

Baseball also wraps up its long season in the fall as football begins. As of this writing, the Dodgers still have a chance for a division title and the Samohi Vikings are looking strong.

Do note that this is also the beginning of the season for charitable giving with many of our nonprofits holding their annual fundraisers.

Happy autumn to all.

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