Mr. October

A Midwest transplant ruminates on the joys of fall in the Valley.

  • Category
  • Written by
    Steven Stiefel
  • Illustrated by
    Yuiko Sugino

I grew up in Iowa, where fall signified the death of everything. After Halloween, the last beacon of hope, you settled into a phase of endless gray skies and unbearably cold temperatures. I hated this time of year.

But when I was 10 years old, a visit to my San Fernando Valley-dwelling great aunt turned me on to a revelatory concept: endless summer.

Aunt Gerry lived in Reseda, where she had a ginormous, ancient turtle living in the backyard. She had moved to the Valley shortly after World War II and lived in the same home until she died a few years ago—a worshipper of the sun and heat to the very end. 

That long-ago vacation planted the seed of a goal: to relocate to LA as soon as humanly possible.

I finally arrived in Tinseltown to attend USC, where I earned a master’s degree in screenwriting. I reconnected with the Valley when I took a life-changing job working for Joe Weider and his fitness-oriented publishing empire (think Muscle & Fitness magazine) in Woodland Hills in 1997. Joe was a legendary figure in bodybuilding who helped popularize the sport and introduced Arnold Schwarzenegger to the world.

The job would be yet another step in my “Go west, young man” saga. I ultimately found magazine publishing more rewarding than writing screenplays and sitcom specs (and chasing after agents). I’ve worked as a freelance writer ever since. 

I eventually bought a place and moved to the Valley, where I found the quality of life better than in my old neighborhood in West Hollywood. From my home in Woodland Hills, I’m a quick jaunt to the beaches in Malibu to surf. Dozens of hiking trails are within a short drive, and I can quickly immerse myself in nature. It is essentially my meditation. 

And then there’s the wildlife entertainment. On any given hike I may see a coyote that looks as though it was styled by José Eber. Or a mass of mesmerizing native wildflowers that look like they could be fake. Some years are rife with snakes; in others there are bunnies everywhere. 2022 seems to be the year of the crow.

After several years of living in the Valley, my only complaint is the scorching summer heat. It makes everything from getting into a car to exercising outdoors patently unpleasant. But then—just when I feel like I can’t take it anymore—along comes fall. I look forward to October the way kids anticipate Christmas. 

Fall in the Valley creeps up on you. First there’s that subtle shift in the early evening light. The nights get cooler. The sun actually starts feeling good on your back. Daytime temperatures shift to moderate. The ocean water is tepid. Trees drop leaves—but now instead of signifying death, fall signals rebirth. It is a reawakening of the very concept that brought me here: endless summer. Every October I remember exactly why I came to California.