You may wonder why there’s a pumpkin sitting on my fence post, pretending not to look out of place surrounded by palm trees and yucca and rocks.
Pumpkins are not native to the desert, but, hey, neither am I.
I put it there to remind myself (as if I’d forget) to buy candy for Halloween (peanut butter cups that I will eat because we don’t get many trick-or-treaters) and also of the fact that summer has come and gone and my favorite season _ fall _ is finally here.
Why do I need a reminder?
Five years ago, when my husband took a job that moved us from the coast of California, to a hill overlooking Las Vegas, I wasn’t sure what to expect.
Like most of the other 37 million tourists who visit the Strip each year, my experience with the area had been limited to a hotel where climate was artificially controlled and the only change of season I saw was Chinese New Year in the gardens at the Bellagio.
I knew, of course, that the desert is hot and dry, and that in summer, walking a block is a bit like the Bataan Death March.
But I did not expect seasons. Or mountains. Or birds. Or any of my favorite things, aside from being with my husband.
Life is full of surprises.
I remember, as a child growing up in the Blue Ridge Mountains,  being so captivated, so taken by the annual transformation called “fall” _ the blazing colors, the cooling air, the changing angle of light that played in the trees and danced on the creek and cast long-legged shadows that flew after the birds.
I loved kicking fallen leaves to watch them cartwheel on the wind; wearing my red wool sweater, the one my grandmother made for me, the one that smelled just like her neck; and gathering wormy apples, not to eat, but to hurl at cows that chased me around the pasture. Cows are not as dumb as they look.
Best of all, I loved the colors. I wish you could’ve seen them. My brother was born blind, a fact I hated every day, but I hated it most of all in fall.
Those were the autumns I knew and loved for 20 years. Then I moved across country, became a wife and a mother, and “fall” took on new meaning.
On the coast of Northern California, autumn is by far the finest time of year, when the fog of summer melts away and the sun lights up Monterey Bay with the same blue as the sky to make heaven and earth seem as one.
The leaves on the cottonwoods in Carmel Valley turn buttery yellow and fly like gold coins tossed in the air. A harvest moon rises over the mountains just as the sun sets over the bay. And great clouds of Monarch butterflies drift into Pacific Grove, to winter in the tall pines and be welcomed back by the town’s children who don orange and black wings and parade laughing through the streets.
Fall in California meant my kids went back to school and their dad, a coach, started basketball practice. It ushered in the holidays _ Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas. It was different from the past, yes, but it was still my favorite season.
Then my children grew up, we lost their dad to cancer, and I went “home,” as we say, to spend fall in the mountains where I was born. Sometimes after a loss, we try to salve the wound, fill the empty place with something external, only to find that it has to heal from within. It wasn’t a cure, but it was good medicine.
Seasons change and we change with them. Autumn, like joy, is where you choose to find it.
I find it now in the desert. In the quail that quarrel outside my window. In the mountains backlit by an early setting sun. In the air that has cooled to Garden of Eden perfect. I set a pumpkin on my fence, buy candy that I will eat, tease my husband about his goofy Halloween costume, and look forward to photos of our grandchildren trick-or-treating.
It is different, but it is autumn, still my favorite season. Where will you find fall this year?

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