One thing I miss while living in Cali is the feeling of four seasons. I'd nearly forgotten what it felt like to dread adding yet another layer as the day draws shorter, and the relief of ripping the leaden layers off come spring, as flowers blossom and we (kids) jump for joy, literally jumping ropes until the cows come home.
I miss seeing the dramatic changes in trees, sprinkled in our court yard and neighboring streets of my childhood home in Beijing, a city dripping with seasonal characters. Winter, marked by the despair of seeing brittle, naked branches hanging on until the westward Mongolian wind had ripped them raw, the melting snow had frozen them solid, and the sun had parched their already thirsty core. We watch inside from a spot near the only stove, with a exposed chimney runs along the walls of the house to bring heat. Our only purpose outside seem to be fetching a bowl of hot milky tea for mom from the festivals, and a sour cherry kabob drizzled with sugar icing for us. Then as the spring festival celebration fireworks drift off the morning after air and eventually cover every trees' base with their fallen red pieces, as we prepare sweet rice desert for the coming lantern day, a spot or two of yellow-green buds would emerge. Over the next few weeks, they expand to cover up branches, and explode into flowers en mass. Snowy and fragrant, as if winter returned yet again, except the air is warm, and dizzying.
Beijing has extremely short springs. A day, two days, a week at the most was all we got between full snow suits and a cardigan over muslin skirts. Summer trees would bring us endless fun as dozens of critters rest in the giant 梧桐 tree in the center of the court yard. My brother and his league of boys invented a glue made with melted sections of old tires. They dipped a Popsicle stick in this glue and then tied it at the end of a tree length bamboo staff. Then it was raised up into the thick of leaves ever so gingerly to touch the back of some poor colorful dragonfly or singer bug, rendering it flightless until they remove the catch and release it into a jar or a spare room (in the case of a dragonfly). We climbed up and over the trees lining the street, for hide and seek, for knight and castle, and plain jumps. As we got older, they became soccer goal posts. We usually ran right to them after the evening shower, faster than the sound of our mothers pleads and lectures, whom had only labored to see us free from mud and insects streaks for one entire second.
Then again for some reason I miss fall the most. It couldn't have been the hand operated pop corn "exploder" that came after the Popsicle cart vendors disappear with the summer heat, as I was always afraid of the sudden "pop!" sound, covering my ears and standing at the far corner with only one eye peering over the raised elbows. It couldn't have been the start of schools and the forming and reforming of the walking lines, allowing neighboring kids to keep company over the unchaperoned blocks from home to school, as I had the habit of sleeping late, talking too much and never turn in any homework, so school hadn't been the brightest aspects of days. Nor could it have been the mountains of apples, cabbages and tomatoes we'd began clean, pickle and store for the winter, during which time father would read Dickens, A thousand night, or Three Kingdoms, just so he could get out of the bulk of the work in my opinion; as my hands would get raw from constant washing and my backs sore from bending and lifting, though I did routinely enjoy the sparkly fruit of these efforts during the depth of otherwise colorless, seemingly endless and joyless winter breaks.
I think it was the fall colors. Beijing was known for summer rains and fall skies. With all the moisture wrung out by the summer storms, the sky was cloud free for the first time in month, and it felt miles higher, unimaginably bluer and spreading into infinity. It was a tradition to climb the nearby Mount Fresh (香山), as its hills would be dotted with the special perfume of a red leaf tree in autumn. They were grown among maples and other fall color varieties, yet rendering the entire area fragrant, a sight to see and be seen, when all were submerged in waves of gold, yellow, orange, burnt, sienna, red, scarlet, cranberry and auburn. We played and invented numerous games with fallen leaves, bookmark making, more insect trappings, stem pulling contests, and...more. Crickets, lightening bugs, tadpoles that had disappeared overnight, stink bugs made toys in thousands of ways. At night, it was finally cool enough to sit out after dinner, we hang onto our parents legs and gaze into the velvety sky when we hear for the thousandth time the same fairy tale stories about the stars, the moons, the milky way and how the beautiful and beloved princess 嫦婀 stole an escape to the glamorous but chilling moon palace, where she spends an eternity in regret and loneliness..." We learn a lesson in humility, perseverance, and the dangers of unguarded desires.
Yes, it was definitely the colors. Even today, when I hear of friends reports from New England, Chicago, Europe, and Canada of their fantasy fall leaves, I am green with envy. I dream, I plot an escape, I sigh with longing and then I am blue with whatever grounding me in the sunny balmy suburban sameness.
Until I look up, and find the street outside of our community dressed neatly in rows of gold, orange, and cranberry - our very own California fall solute, to resting wanderers, to seasons be darned, to eyes opened, goodness in our grasps, and a humbling heart.