california life nostalgia

Home I Come

5 October 2009

[Leaves, Sebastopol, October 2009.]

Delicious autumn! My very soul is wedded to it, and if I were a bird I would fly about the earth seeking the successive autumns. – George Eliot

Beautiful October, you are sweet blue skies and cool breezes flowing through the screen and the bit of melancholy that always seems to crop up around this time every year. The air is simmering down from its Indian Summer and in Sonoma County it smells like smoke and damp earth and the coming of winter. Crickets are busily singing their last songs. The redwoods yesterday afternoon were quiet and beautiful and still.

The thing is, Ms. Evans’ sentiments aside, autumn tends to makes me homesick even as I love it dearly. But what’s that — aren’t I already home? and this indeed would be a valid query. The answer is: yes. And also no. I am that peculiar kind of person who can feel homesick at any given moment for a given moment, if that makes sense — sometimes I feel like I’m missing someone, all the time, even if that person is just a bus ride away or in another room. (But mostly: yes. I’m home, well and truly. It’s just that feeling.)

Missing, it must be noted, is not always a terrible thing. Why-ever else would there be sayings such as absence makes the heart grow fonder if in fact it did not? There is a certain poignancy to missing a person or place, a quiet wistfulness that can lead to a bit of introspection and scribblings on pieces of paper to be mailed East to grandmothers nearly about to turn 90 years old, or dreamily imagining what the Yosemite Valley might look like in deepest winter, deer picking their way across the snow-washed lawn of the Awhahnee and inside warm with tea and wood fires. I certainly don’t think these are terrible things at all.

Still, autumn for me is the truest season of wistfulness, that patient ache. It is brilliant and blue, fiery and orange, apples hanging low on the trees. It is long runs in the waning sun and kicking leaves around the field and feeling the parched grass under your feet that at the end of September you swear will never turn green again though at the back of your mind you know will, and in just a month or less. It is the earth preparing for its long sleep and the sun feeling warmer than it will for a good long while — and how you want to hold on to it. It is the maples turning pale gold against the green and the flowers struggling to hold on just a bit longer. It is time to bring in wood for the fireplace and think about what sorts of soups will ease the starting chill (roasted potato-leek, of course, and vegetable-barley).

[Redwoods, Armstrong, October 2009.]

This weekend I skipped out of town, completely bypassing the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival (Billy Bragg we will meet again, I swear!) I’d so been looking forward to because … well, I was homesick. I needed a little October sunshine up north, a few days of back roads-running, my mom’s delicious scrambled eggs, a few coffees from Hardcore Espresso, and a swim with my dad. I needed to see the season’s shift outside of the city — and am starting to look forward to November and a drive through Sam P. Taylor to see the trees burst into yellow amid the evergreens — and catch a glimpse of the full harvest moon sailing away across the black sky last night. So while I may feel slightly foolish at missing some of my favorite musicians I got no regrets, really.

And it was perfect: sleeping long nights and waking to birds chattering outside my window and a hint of frost on the grass in the field. This morning I went early to get coffee and found the neighbor’s cat — since our own orange Mister took off to walk by himself last year the two next door have adopted us — sunning himself on a a patch of bare earth (he kindly let me scratch his ears for a while). I had a swim in the outdoor pool downtown and seven good miles along the winding road I love and breathed in all that good air.

Fall I lament sometimes but truly I forget how much I love it: Thanksgiving and all the cooking to do and four whole days off. Then Christmas, and my brother comes for a week or so. Pumpkin bread. Roasted Brussels sprouts. Light that slants down over the remaining apple orchards on Pleasant Hill and the way Mt. St. Helena shines in December. Listening to Madredeus late at night with all the lights out. Red wine in dark bars. The transition from gin to scotch (can’t take that one as my own, but it’s so very spot on). Birthdays. The Pacific in October, all foam and dark blue. The bittersweet sun and how fleeting it becomes.

But right now I’m caught in the in-between time, see. And when that happens — as it does, as it must — all I can think of to do is cook a bit and to tie my heart up neatly in preparation for winter. So I did: Saturday night supper of roasted cauliflower soup and a sort of cheeseless herb pesto made with garlic, pine nuts, the last of the herbs in the backyard and a bit of olive oil spread on good whole grain bread and toasted for a few minutes in the oven; and an apple galette made from the apples in the front field, gently held together by an olive oil crust. We also ate a good dinner of linguine with homemade sauce from the neighbor’s tomatoes mixed with sauteed zucchini and mushrooms, and there were breakfasts of eggs and potatoes and pancakes, too.

Food, as always, to bridge the gap.

Delicious autumn, I will treat you to soups and stews, applesauce and upside-down pear cakes — as many as you can stand. And I shall try my darnedest to remember that, after all, we’re old friends.

ps: RIP, Gourmet. There are not enough words to articulate how you will be missed.

  • heather 6 October 2009 at 10:28 am

    Excellent – another adorer of that quote. I posted it several days ago, and am happy to see a few others know it as well. Autumn is truly the finest Mother Nature has to offer. Wish I could be back in the Midwest savoring every moment, and having the season change beckon for delicious treats. Nonetheless, the Texas swelter won’t bar me from baking them all anyway!



  • Marlene Dotterer 6 October 2009 at 8:17 am

    I think Autumn brings us back to the land. It’s this that fills us with ambiguous longing – we civilized city dwellers (or even suburban dwellers – it’s all much the same) – we simply miss living with the land. For all our local eating, and hikes through our wooded parks, there is a divide we can’t cross.

    We are rootless, and Autumn reminds us of this.

    Lest I sound too depressed, let me say it’s a bittersweet feeling. Autumn tells us to notice the land, to stare amazed at the harvest, to prepare for the winter. We glimpse the wholeness that could be ours, if we were brave enough to grab it.

    Our spirits respond to this call. Our response might be weak and fumbling, but we offer it anyway. A blessing for the earth.

  • dawn 6 October 2009 at 7:47 am

    I join the chorus of Gourmet mourners. But as always your fall cooking inspires me. -D

  • justrun 6 October 2009 at 4:22 am

    I’m with you. As much as I love summer, fall just makes death and hibernation too inviting to be that disappointed.

    I’m sad for Gourmet, too. Even me, the non-gourmet cook.