I took a walk on the East Blithedale Ridge today, a long loop with just my feet and water and an apple, an old route once, I daresay, and Indian footpath, now a fireroad. It was a walk we used to take often when I was a child, coast live oak lined, steep and sunny dry chaparral, that smell of dusty bay-spiced Mt. Tamalpais. I'm housesitting for my parents for a few days, wandering the streets of Mill Valley and getting sweet nostalgic whiffs of old memories in the lanes, roads such as Catalpa and Sycamore that have much meaning in my heart. Up on the ridge, my dad and brother and I would go in the evenings with the dog before dinner and look at the mountain or the stars coming out. Feeling overwhelmed, I often went up there and lay down in the redwood needles. Home from college, having missed the smell of redwoods (down the north facing slope), the color of bay leaves, the shape of the oaks (on the south facing slope), so much, I would walk almost in tears with my parents on the little footpaths during winter break.
Now, the madrones are peeling off their bark, the coast live oaks are shedding a few (though never all) leaves along with some unripe beautiful acorns (I have so many memories of getting poked by their spiny edges barefoot as a child!), the bays are dropping a few (but never all) of their spicy leaves, a bird, perhaps a small accipiter such as a cooper's hawk, left behind a feather. I learned just yesterday that madrones actually photosynthesize through their (delicious, satiny) bark. Those trunks that curve like muscles, like arms, are sugar-making factories from stem to stern! And the bark peels off to protect the tree from pests and unwanted fungi (making scrolls that I always used to imagine, and still do, belonged to small dark beings on the backs of chipmunks or riding the dark blue wings of the jays). Magic.
These little treasures are scraps of the coming autumn, the shift in season into the depths of drought and out the other side. They are runes— Acorn, Usnea, Madrone Bark, Spiny Oak Leaf— of this move toward harvest, toward softer light.