The trail through this Malibu Canyon cottonwood grove evokes Robert Frost's "path diverging in a yellow wood." December cold has brought autumn to the Santa Monica Mountains. All photos @ 2015 S. Guldimann
And winds start spinning the leaves
And out by the wall the cornstalks
Are neatened in packs called sheaves;
When apples bump on the roadway
And over the road and higher
The last of the birds, like clothespins,
Are clipped to the telegraph wire.
I suddenly think, "Horse-chestnuts!"
And, singing a song, I go
And find a tree in the meadow
Where millions of chestnuts grow;
And underneath in the grasses
I gather the nuts, and then
As soon as I've filled my pockets,
I sing along home again.
And singing and scuffing homeward
Each year through the drying clover,
I feel like a king with treasure,
Though-now that I think it over-
I don't do much with horse-chestnuts
Except to make sure I've shined them.
It's just that fall
Isn't fall at all
Until I go out and find them.
The other day I went looking for autumn. Not, like poet Kaye Starbird, in search of horse chestnuts, but on a quest instead for autumn leaves.
There was frost in the canyons overnight all week, and it brought the most fleeting and transitory beauties of the year to the Santa Monica Mountains. This gold can be neither bought nor sold, and like the fairy gold in stories, it turns from treasure to withered brown leaves overnight.
A massive sycamore carries an entire symphony of autumn colors on its twisted boughs.
Bright leaves transform the still pond water into a golden mosaic.
Hooded mergansers—the females are brown, the male spectacular in black and white and red (just like that joke about a newspaper) plumage, glide on gilded water.
Sycamores, walnut trees and willows in the visitor center native plant garden offer an appealing fall palette of ochres, browns and golds, but the cottonwood is the tree that really stands out in autumn.
Cottonwood trees, found only where they can have their feet in water, are transformed from dusty green to pure gold for a few brief weeks in late autumn.
This is the view from the Tapia Creek Bridge in Malibu Canyon.
Directly beneath the endless stream of cars, is a magic mirror of still water that reflects living gold.
Only the scrawl of graffiti reminds the viewer that this view is right next to Los Angeles, one of the largest urban areas in the country, and not some remote corner of California backcountry.
Malibu's autumn gold is a fleeting joy, soon transformed by nature's alchemy back into earth. It's a reminder to take time to breathe during this frantically busy season, and to stop and look at the beauty around us.
There's another kind of December gold, even more fugitive than that of the leaves. It's the gold of the sun, setting at midwinter over the ocean and transforming the sea and sand into the colors of the rarest and most vivid jewels in nature.
These are treasures that cost only one thing: the time it takes to go and look for them.
9 December 2015