MAN OF THE HOUSE

California dreaming in November

Let the leaves pile up and head for the trails. It's going to be a beautiful month.

Nice time for a drive, November. Welcome back the breezes and the sweatered weathercasters promising a slight chance of rain. Breathe deep the oak fire from up the block or the fine damp smells we haven't had in six or eight months. After six months of relentless sun, the clouds are a satisfying change. They alter the light in the living room and the gray-green of the olive trees out back.

In Maine, November is hellish Canadian gusts and time to weatherproof the children. In California, November is nuance and seed pods in the driveway, cracking under your car tires as you pull in.

By the way, do we have to be in such a hurry to sweep up the autumn? L.A.'s gardening corps, the world's fourth-largest standing army, attacks a fallen leaf the way I attack a chicken wing (bones and all). In L.A., there is no mercy for the fallen leaf. We prefer our yards as clean and clipped as a German starlet.

I say leave the leaves alone. Ignore them for a week or two, let them form a quilt around the sycamore or blanket the feet of the yellowing birth. Give the kids a chance to rake them into piles and wallow in them.

Hands off the seed pods and the acorns and the pine cones too. Back off and let them flavor the flower beds, let the squirrels make a stew.

Ever see the long, slender acorns dropped by the live oaks, handsome as a glass of dark beer? The little guy collects them to use as money. With enough acorn husks, you could panel a rich man's yacht.

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Nice time for a hike, November. The early rains have squeegeed the sky, and you can see all the way to downtown, which looks like Oz -- a place you'd like to walk to. But you resist the urge and walk the trails and horse paths instead, till your hamstrings turn to violin strings -- a good feeling, music to the heart.

Last month, I told the eye doctor, only half-seriously, "Doc, sometimes I see too much," a comment he just ignored, I think because our vision plan doesn't really cover that. There's no deductible, no copayment option for patients who see too much.

But in November, I don't mind seeing everything, the Indian-corn colors of a liquidambar tree or the way the little mountain streams begin to fill again.

Love the liquidambar. Who doesn't? I love them so much that I told my wife I want to plant one in the bedroom.

"Look honey," I'd say, "the tree is turning. Time for our semiannual orgy."

Naturally, she'd like some time to think it over.

In the meantime, I take these long hikes on brisk mornings. A November hike is far superior to a summer hike -- more colorful and cool. No need to slather on the sunscreen. You can wear a sweatshirt and be in no danger of collapsing.

November. I want to bottle it and sell it to tourists. I want to pour it into a glass, like bourbon, and drink it in front of a roaring fire.

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Nice time for a little fun, November. Each Sunday, some buddies and I gather for touch football at Mid-Life Memorial Stadium, on the outskirts of time.

Everything about these games is good, except for the caliber of the football itself, which is a distant cousin of the actual game. Somewhere, George Halas, one of football's founding fathers, is doing spin moves in his grave.

"One one-thousand, two one-thousand, three," the nose tackle barks before rushing, and I think, "Hey, is he making fun of my age again?"

We play for free, believe it or not, for the love of the game, for the occasional great pass or catch. We are the dancing hippos in a Pixar movie, all belly fat and smiles.

"One one-thousand, two one-thousand, three . . ."

In our last game, I was traded at halftime -- no doubt one of the worst moves in sports history. Ruth to the Yankees. Broglio for Brock. Erskine to the other team, which needed two touchdowns in a hurry and thought a 51-year-old split end just might be the answer.

Seriously?

Turns out that the team that traded me for T-Bone (we all have nicknames) actually expanded its lead, which made me look like a chump and made T-Bone the day's hero.

"One one-thousand, two one-thousand, ouch . . ."

At Mid-Life Memorial Stadium, November never ends.

chris.erskine@latimes.com

To read more columns, go to latimes.com/erskine.
 

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