In this season, leaves started to fall on the porch. They crumpled on the steps and blew into the corner by the broom. They caught in the cobwebs under the rocking chair. I didn't recognize them at first because they didn't fall in fronds of 11. They fell one by one. It was only when the shape of the old vine became visible, when the trunk became a skeleton by the porch, that the leaves overhead turned gold. They became the color of sunlight in the darkest, chilliest days of California winter, that painful, rain-soaked yellow in a suddenly blue and verdant world. First they were clear yellow, then they caramelized. Brown spots appeared. The wisteria leaves, as they fell, were having winter all by themselves while the English lavender had its summer and the pink climbing roses on their trellises popped out their June-looking buds, and the worms drowned themselves in the cold center of the pool.
The late Henry Huntington once bought a whole garden simply to preserve a superb specimen of wisteria, a vine believed to be the oldest Wisteria floribunda in America. Perhaps he saw it in winter, when wisteria is bare like a man's arms. That's when its true capacity is revealed to you, its power to entwine, suffocate, merge, and topple. Wisteria can break concrete or strangle a tree. Even as the leaves on our wisteria vine are falling, the buds in the dry wood are pushing out, and they're less like the tails of a young mouse now than the antlers of an elk. Soon the wisteria will nudge itself against the next post. The roots will move deeper under the concrete porch. I sometimes think we've made a mistake planting a vine so near the foundation, but when the four o'clock sun turns the last leaves to flame, I remember those holy men walking down the dirt road in a green country, just seconds away from becoming pure spirit, and I wait for the vines to cover us, to lock us safely in.