Anyone who's lived in San Francisco for any length of time has heard (and likely empathized with on some level) Mark Twain's infamous quip on the state of our summer. Or rather, the months traditionally known to the rest of the northern hemisphere as Summer. Come on, say it with me now: "The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco." Oh, so droll Mr. Twain. But while perhaps a slight exaggeration, it's true that first part of the phrase "sunny California" seems to often elude a good portion of our city for a good part of June through August in favor of its beloved fog. And in the five years I've lived here I've personally witnessed hundreds of tourists discover this the hard way as they shiver in their shorts and t-shirts, mentally moving up their departure date to LA.
In fact, San Francisco often seems to often be confused when it comes to weather and seasons in general. Now, I've lived in California all my life, in mild, moderate climates where it never gets too hot or too cold. So I guess I never put too much thought into seasonal progression as it occurs elsewhere. But recently the topic has randomly come up with several different people I know who are either from or have spent a significant amount of time on the east coast. They all seemed to have remarkably similar perspectives, which is basically that, without distinctive seasons to mark the passage of time, the months and even years can sometimes seem to muddle together, it becomes harder to keep track, and we can perhaps lose a sense of perspective. Or as one friend who recently moved away from the city put it, "I found out that I need to see the seasons change in order to not get wrapped up in too much peripheral shit."
I have to say, this all blew my mind just a little bit. I guess I'd never really thought about it that way. I mean, having never personally felt or lived my life to the rhythm of "real" seasons, why would I? But it suddenly made a lot of sense... there are times when I try to recall when a certain event took place and just can't seem to pick it out of the years with any degree of certainty. Could this be, just maybe, due not to a poor memory, but instead to a lack of seasons to help mark the changing times? Have I merely been a victim of the California Un-season?
And then it occurred to me that for most of my life I counted largely on school to mark my seasons: the beginning of one semester marked the coming of fall and its end winter and Christmastime, the start of the next heralded a new year and with its conclusion came the ever blessed and longed-after summer. It does become trickier, I think, to keep track of time without these external indications. I had to count back on the calendar the other day just to realize that I'm well into my eighth month at my current job. Eight months. And it seems like I just started yesterday. Yikes. I guess the time really does tend to blur together when you're wallowing in the purgatory of unemployment or working an office job, doing more or less the same thing day after day, week after week. It's a slightly disturbing thought, that significant chunks of your life can pass by with seemingly little notice or change.
So there I was, half convinced that I was trapped in a bland, seasonless limbo; a blur of indistinct months spinning round and round like a moderately-climated carousel, in a place so unused to extremes in weather that our roads become a giant clusterfuck when it rains and we just don't know what to do with ourselves if the temperature reaches over 90 degrees for more than three consecutive days. Frustrated by a San Francisco Summer that (true to Mr. Twain's accusation) never seemed to get warm enough, and an Indian Summer that never seemed to want to arrive. And then a funny thing happened. Fall happened. But it didn't happen so much out there as it did in here, somewhere inside me, and I realized that we do have seasons, we do have those natural indicators of time, even if they perhaps exist here more as a state of mind than as a phenomenon of weather and foliage.
I don't know, maybe as a native Californian I've inevitably had to develop a more fine-tuned instinct for the change of the seasons, because we don't have a huge amount of consistency in that department, and we don't get the in-your-face indications. Instead we have inconspicuous signs, subtle hints, perhaps unnoticed to one who hasn't gown up (or at least spent a significant amount of time) here. It's the little things you have to look for: the different seasonal produce that appears at the farmer's market, the changing drink menu at the coffee shops and the decorations display at the local Walgreens. It's the start of the free concert season in Golden Gate Park, or the end of it. It's in the blossoming of our little sidewalk trees, or the subtle changing of its leaves' color. It's in the length of the days, the swell of the waves at Ocean Beach, the subtle scent of barbecue that wafts on the breeze during late summer evenings or the crisp edge it carries in autumn, and the mild rain that comes to wash the city clean in early spring.
It's a certain inexplicable feeling in the air, the same that suddenly came upon me one day a few weeks ago as I stepped out of my office building for lunch, took a deep breath of crisp sunny air, and decided, yes, it is fall. An indescribable instinct that in a mere instant quelled my longing for Indian Summer and long warm days, had me putting away my dreams of lemonade and popsicles, strawberries and watermelon, endless beach days and backyard BBQ's; packing them away with my shorts and sundresses for another year. I embraced Fall, brought out my plaid flannel and my winter coats, started looking forward to pumpkins and cozy nights, Thanksgiving and the scent of pine and twinkling lights just around the corner.
And so for the next several months you may find me experimenting with new recipes for sweet potatoes and butternut squash, sipping on piping hot chai tea and pumpkin spice lattes, curling up with a book and a blanket on my yet-to-be-found window seat (wishing for a crackling fireplace), and as always, testing my theory that one can never own too many plaid shirts. Because no matter what the cynics and naysayers may think, to me it is officially fall in San Francisco. You may have to look a little harder for it, you may need to know where to look, and how. But there are seasons here after all. It's just that, as with most things, San Francisco does them its own way.