Seasons of the San Gabriels
November 15, 1999
Big Rock Creek Revisited: The North Slope along the Manzanita Trail
The season's first rains have come and gone, settling the dust, cleansing the leaves. The sun shines on the north face no longer, not to glare again till spring.
Bare gray branches of bigleaf maple point skyward, small red twigs that held the samaras remain on the tips, piles of brown leaves circle the base. Acorns from the canyon oak, cups separated from the nuts, so prolific, so profligate this year, litter the ground so thickly you can skate on them. Cones of the bigcone spruce fall and roll down the hill collecting like ripples on water at the the first obstruction. Pink cores of white fir cones, resembling empty spindles, lie under the trees, naked of scales the gray squirrels have removed in search of kernels. Flaxen blades of grass stand stiff and erect. Across the canyon, serviceberry bushes, barren of fruit and leaves, filter the weak sun creating a lavender haze.
Definitely November, no bright flowers, no green leaves, no sun, no heat on the north slope. But what a feeling of fall! seedpods to shake, leaves to scrunch, pine-scented air to breathe!
In the moist areas and under canyon oaks, a few black flies remain. But the ground squirrels are in their burrows hibernating, ready for the coming winter. The lizards no longer bask on the rocks. The juncos and fox sparrows have left for lower levels. The only birds heard are the warning raven and the ubiquitous chickadees.
The plume-like seeds of mountain mahogany collect on the ground and reflect like puddles of water in the sparse sunlight. Big sagebrush has spikes of scaly brown flowers easily overlooked. A brisk rub of its resinous leaves brings the scent of "cowboy cologne" to the autumn air. Leaves and seeds of flannelbush fall to the ground, crushed and broken amber. Only small leaves at the ends of the stems remain behind for next year. Maroon manzanita fruits, dried and puckered, provide food for the hungry coyote. In preparation for its early bloom, potential flowers hang in pendant bracts, waiting.
...and the Glories
The color of yellow spills down the canyon darkening as it progresses. In the high narrow recesses, lemon-pie-yellow of willows, the faint buff of scarlet monkeyflower leaves, wild rose's apple-cider-colored leaves, and currant's ecru ones garnish the banks of the remaining spring-fed streams. Further down in the broad rocky wash, brilliant golden Lombardy poplars, trembling egg-yolk-yellow leaves of Fremont cottonwood, and sycamores in shades of tobacco brown hold the lingering light in the early sunset.
The pale quarter moon waxes luminous in deep turquoise skies. Flowers, fruits, seeds gone to ground, leaves fallen to blanket them, next year's generation produced and protected, the woodlands rest.