My sister, a Californian for 37 years, with brief time-out to attend college in Seattle, has a theory about the arrival of Fall in this sunny land. Even with the past 23 years spent mostly on the East Coast, she remembered and boiled the shift of our seasons down to two words: the snap.
The (captial T, capital S) Snap, as I'll call it, happens one morning when those of us who wondered if we'd ever want to see a sweatshirt again wake up and know something is different. We shiver in our tank tops, or even ordinary tee shirts. There is the mildest bite to the air. The digital temperature on the clock above the computer registers somewhere below 73 degrees at 6 a.m. It happened today.
In my memory, there has never been a hint of The Snap earlier than mid-October, and usually later than that. For even a faux, teasing snap (and there has never been such a creature) to arrive on September 3 is unprecedented. Our school used to start around the middle of September and all those new, heavy, frequently itchy clothes had to stay in the closet for ages. Some years, September is the hottest month.
I did not dream or imagine it this morning. It was not the marine layer as our tv newscasters have taken to calling ordinary fog, for in South Pasadena the sky was clear. And there WAS snappy air wafting through the open windows. Pasadena's Sunday forecast, somewhat warmer, generally, than our small town to the south, calls for a high of 94. Nothing cool about that. But as I gathered evidence to support my own personal barometer, downtown Los Angeles this morning was a mere 57 degrees at 6:l5 and was only 70 at 4:l5 p.m. Something, I swear, is afoot.
Since I began waiting, watching for The Snap, I have never known it to arrive, then depart, returning finally six weeks later. The pattern has been, once here, it is here for the duration. I don't know what this means. Our squirrels, as they scale the palms and run the utility wires, look particularly scrawny, their fur far from lush, their tails mere shadows of ordinary fullness. There are no wooly caterpillars for me to observe, classic harbingers of chilly days.
Tomorrow morning I will take another reading, sniff the wind, squint at the sunrise, let my skin inform me. The Snap has been such a reliable sign ever since I was made aware of it, I am disheartened to think it may have turned fickle. The number of things on which we can depend shrinks by the day. I cannot bear to think our stalwart Snap may follow other vanished certainties into oblivion.