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Indications of Fall

by Linda Thomas

September is the month that southern Californians recognize as the end of summer. Labor Day happens. School resumes. Target removes the $6.99 tank tops and replaces them with the $9.99 mock turtlenecks. Christmas ornaments are suddenly on display in cut-rate drugstores. And the heat--ranging from eighty-five to one hundred degrees Farenheit--doesn't blink. But southern Californians call this season "fall."

What the rest of America fails to understand about fall in southern California is that, if you rely on the temperature gauge, fall feels much like summer. Last night, for example--a mid-September night--the temperature did not drop below 70 degrees.

And this unmerciful heat is the very reason that I am here now, on the beach at Crystal Cove. This is a rocky beach, accessible only by steep trails that wind down from the stick-dry chaparral that grows on the cliffs above. The sky is overcast, the air humid, and the breakers crash in sets of three, running straight for the beach. The beach itself is deserted, and the birds have reclaimed their district. The gulls stand round like bullies at a heap of seaweed, already steaming and fly-infested in the heat. Six sanderlings, like mechanical birds, scurry here then there at the water's edge, chasing their dream of sand crabs and worms. A sandpiper steps stiff-legged. Then, swooping low across the surf that pounds close to shore, three pelicans scour the water's surface. A cormorant plunges in just behind a churning wave and emerges, glistening.

All around me are indications that the summer has slipped past. The first indication is easy to spot, for the sun is farther away now than it was a month ago when the beach was crowded with brightly clothed people, sunning, swimming, walking. The earth has tipped away in its long orbit around the sun, the shadows have lengthened.

The lifeguard stand is a skeleton. Its bright striped canvas awning is folded away now, and there is no clutch of teenage girls to adore the now absent suntanned Adonis.

There are no children, but caught in the seagrass, I find their rumpled candy wrappers--Tootsie Roll and M&Ms. A rubber ball, cheerfully pink and painted with purple seahorses, lies forgotten in the sand.

At the shoreline, a young gull--still wearing his mottled brown feathers--stands staring as if dazed by the sudden loss of bread crusts and potato chips.

And farther down the beach at a point where the shoreline juts out into the sea and last winter's storms pounded the rocks and left debris, I find a cruel indication thatsummer has come to an end in southern California. The carcass of an enormous sea lion lies on the rocks, washed up there perhaps at high tide by the Baja hurricane that has heightened the surf for the past four days. Or, possibly diseased, he lifted himself onto the rocks, crawled there to escape a shark attack, then died. His flesh has blackened and peeled back like wallpaper in an abandoned room. His powerful flippers are so still that I am moved to regret, for him, perhaps, but too for this indication that a season has passed.

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Linda Thomas was a judge in the Tapestry Fiction and Poetry Contest. A native of southern California, she has been writing poems, stories, and essays for 25 years, and her work has appeared in numerous print journals, including American Poetry Review, Hawaii Pacific Review, and the University of New Mexico's Blue Mesa Review. She holds an MFA from the University of California, Irvine, and is a community college professor of writing and literature. All photographs accompanyingRambles are taken by Linda herself.

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