Autumn Splendor at First Water and the Winter Creek, Chantry Flats’ Trails

Posted on October 11, 2012 – Written by Chris Kasten

Autumn is a great time to get out and hike the trails out of Chantry Flats.  With the recent cooling temperatures and even a little rain on the way, this coming week should feel refreshingly fall-like.   The dust of the trails should be laying down and the spicy scent of fallen bay leaves will awaken you.  This last week I photographed a couple of the accompany scenes that evoked a sense of returning to my favorite time of year.

Looking skyward through a canopy of Big Leaf Canyon maples. Big Santa Anita Canyon.

Big leaf canyon maples, once referred to as “water maples” (see “The Southern Sierra”, Charles Francis Saunders)  are plentiful along stream courses in most of the front country canyons of the Angeles.  Occasionally, if you look high up the slopes, well above any stream bed, you might spot one of these trees that’s gotten a toe hold in a fold or shady nook that provides just enough water to eke out its’ existence.  Maples are deciduous, meaning that they drop their leaves and remain dormant until spring makes her return.  The maples you’ll see in the Big Santa Anita and Winter Creek canyons are all of the same species (Acer macrophyllum), are capable of producing really large leaves and produce shade throughout most of the year.  In the fall, their leaves begin to produce tinges of yellow in the margins, gradually becoming mostly yellow-gold by the time we’re approaching late October to early November.  By mid-December, most of their leaves have fallen to the ground, their smooth gray trunks often contrasting vividly against the dark green-blues of canyon slopes.

Big Leaf Canyon maple is backlit in the Winter Creek. Big Santa Anita Canyon.

One of the memorable sides to fall in our canyons is the wonderful, earthy scent of the maple leaves mingling with the damp soils.  Like so many of our long-term memories, scent is a trigger for reliving events and places.  There’s this eternal aspect to every year’s return to autumn.  Over the years, I’m drawn back to some place deep inside.  It’s as if hiking back to the same haunts that I visited when still a child continue to call me with the same longing, yet at a later time in life.  Is there any way of merging with this scene?  Will I ever consummate this relationship, dissolving once and for all the illusion of the duality of myself and the outdoor world?  Traveling throughout our canyons in the fall, regardless of how you do it, may be some kind of a timeless redux at wholeness and merging with this earth.  However, it takes time.  For things to stick, it may take both time and stillness.  A chance to absorb what’s going on between us and the scene.   A time to come home.

This makes me think of a book that I picked up years ago at Christmas time that I’ve continued to return to, again and again.  It’s entitled “In Praise of Slowness – Challenging the Cult of Speed, by Carl Honore.  Here there are great insights into the habit of occasionally slowing down our fast-paced lives in favor of becoming present to what is right around us, right now.  The fall season may be just that, a reminder to not only go inside ourselves, but to be present to this moment before us.  That somehow, being present to all this day is miracle enough.