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Ode to autumn in the valley
The sun looks like a giant orange at sunset in this picture taken earlier this week from the parking lot of Doctors Hospital of Manteca. The picture also captures the visual noise in the city, with power lines and cables disrupting the scenic view. - photo by ROSE ALBANO RISSO

“The melancholy days are come, the saddest of the year,
Of wailing winds, and naked woods, and meadows brown and sere.
Heaped in the hollows of the grove, the autumn leaves lie dead;
They rustle to the eddying gust, and to the rabbit’s treat;
The robin and the wren are flown, and from the shrubs the jay,
And from the wood-top calls the crow through all the gloomy day.”

— William Cullen Bryant (179401878)

With all due respect to the 19th-century American poet, although “the autumn leaves lie dead,” I, for one, don’t consider autumn as “the saddest of the year” with its “melancholy days.”

At least, not in these parts of the United States in California where, for the most part in early October, the sizzling summer can’t seem to make up its mind when it should let go and let the more mellow fall envelope the valley with its cooler clime, be it wet, windy or dusty from all the almond-harvesting activity.

But there was a time when I thought autumn was a melancholy time, too. That is, until a chance conversation with Karen Widmer when she told me that fall is her favorite time of the year. “I love fall!” she said, her eyes shining.

Karen is the granddaughter of George and Violet Perry and the daughter of Art and Diane Perry of the family business, George Perry & Sons in Manteca. The conversation took place when I went to their downtown Manteca office to take some pictures for a story about the pumpkin harvest.  The Perry & Sons office was warm and cheery, thanks to the varying sizes of pumpkins that decorated the staff’s desks.

Until that pumpkin-harvest-season encounter with Karen, I was of the Cullen Bryant mindset that autumn is a sad time of the year – with spring and summer flowers fading, foliage falling leaving the trees bare and their branches looking like they are holding the weight of the gray firmament. But the more I thought of Karen’s comment, the more I came to the realization that, indeed, autumn is not a melancholy time but a very colorful season. And the bright orange color of the pumpkins was just the starters.

There are the autumn leaves, of course, with the best windshield-view being offered at that time by the liquidambar trees that lined the corner of St. Paul’s United Methodist Church on Powers Avenue and East North Street. (Those were cut down and replaced with Chinese pistache when the city deemed the majestic liquidambars dangerous to pedestrians because the trees’ massive roots that were pushing up sections of the cement on the curbside were becoming a safety issue.) There was a time as recently as 10 to 15 years ago, if I remember correctly, when the sight of colorful autumn foliage was sporadic at best in Manteca. However, just before Manteca’s former staff arborist Ed Maze retired, the Family City saw a bonanza of trees planted along major thoroughfares such as ginkgo, Chinese pistache, golden raintree such as those found on Cherry Lane next to the Police Department offices at the Civic Center, and other varieties that transform the city into a visual feast of colors in the fall.

Cullen Bryant also mentions in his poem birds such as the robin and the jay vanishing at this time. Of course, he was referring to his neck of the woods on the East Coast, and that makes all the difference. But just earlier this week, I spotted plenty of blue jays in the almond trees. And, to my surprise, even robins! That was a rare sight – I’ve only seen robins in the spring around here.

And flowers? Yes, spring is the season when many flowering plants are in bloom. But if you have plants such as the cosmos, your autumn garden will be a colorful one indeed.

An added bonus: expect to see a number of avian visitors stopping by your garden to feast on the cosmos seeds. Expect even more feathered friends visiting if you have a persimmon tree full of ripening bright-orange fruit. Blue jays and mockingbirds love feasting on the ripe fruit, as well as the occasional special visitor – the cedar waxwing.