What do Autumn, pop up thunderstorms and squirrels have in common? It might depend on where you live!

It rained last night, completely catching us off-guard.  For a little while it came down quite thunderously, causing some concern that Darwin (you remember the tortoise?) might get caught in a freakish flash flood.  His subterranean digging has been fierce.  Jay deftly wielded the sun umbrella with accompanying apparatus over the deck, through a narrow passage clanking and clanging in the dark, then poising the canopy over the burrow.  We are good parents.

The university doesn’t recognize Labor Day as a holiday–the fall semester is in bloom and we are needed. But to soften the impact of working a holiday I took a little time to appreciate the sight of the rain coming down through streams of sunshine; after yesterday’s double rainbow I’m on the look-out.

Even the animals are sensing the change in seasons. Driving home from dinner in Pasadena  we watched two raccoons, oddly out-of-place in the middle of a busy intersection,  lumbering out of a storm drain. These nocturnal bandits are very well-adjusted to human settings and are probably the most common species of wildlife in Southern California.

And the squirrels are at it again, too.  With  on-time performance instinct supersedes need. Our gorgeous grandfather Oak, giant centerpiece to our backyard, drops acorns at an alarming rate. Buckets! The kids used to call them bombs, as they bounced off the roof and patio awning, filling the backyard pond with debris.  Frenetic and ambitious, the squirrels gather and hide their winter stash apparently unaware that we won’t have snow and the bird feeders will be filled year-round. Thrifty creatures, they leave nothing to chance!

In Autumn  I like to imagine that the geese in their daily round-trip flyover between a local park and the Los Angeles County Arboretum and Botanical Gardens are majestic Canadian geese participating in the miracle of Winged Migration.  In two perfect V formations they honk flight instructions to each other and I never miss an opportunity to run outside and gawk in appreciation.

See?  We do have seasons!

Out-of-towners sometimes imply that absence of tornadoes, hurricanes and monumental flooding have made us soft.  It also amuses most Southern Californians to be told by the uninitiated that we don’t even have seasonal change. I read once that there are those who mock that we don’t have weather at all! The Mediterranean climate (which extends into southern Oregon and northern Baja) contributes to a distinct and specific ecology, you just have to know what to look for.

This climate type is found in only four other places, including the coasts of Chile, South Africa, Australia, and of course, the Mediterranean region itself.  So heat waves in December herald below freezing nights in January and heavy rainfall or drought depends on sea surface temperatures in the tropics– irregular El Nino patterns do the predicting for us.

And then there’s fire “season.”  Today’s cool and rainy morning by noon turned to high heat and humidity. We all know that September and October can be erratically brutal as the Santa Ana winds sweep through with the potential to fan horrific, deadly wildfires, and today we were fortunate that winds were low.  Meteorologists are having fun with the overuse of the term pop up thunderstorms (last season’s microbursts) to describe conditions contributing to at least one or two of the four Southern California wildfires currently whipping up trouble.  In some areas fifty years of  native chaparral growth with powerful incendiary potential has firefighters on high alert. And the Santa Anas haven’t yet come to town!

So fall is a Southern California mixed bag.  And despite Kate Hutton‘s words to the contrary (every Southern Californian knows the face of the Caltech geologist Kate), I still worry that this is earthquake weather!