Sights, sounds of fall

Kai Stevens lay in a huge bed of loose corn kernels Saturday at the Petaluma Pumpkin Patch off Highway 101, flapping his legs and arms and beckoning his mother to help him make "corn angels."

"It's just for kids, but I can dump corn on your head if you like," said his mother, Ashley Rogers of Alameda, as she tended to her infant son Merritt while her husband, Mike Stevens, took photographs of Kai, 2?.

The Rogers clan was among thousands of people spreading out across Sonoma County to partake in rituals of fall that ranged from festivals to concerts to farming.

The message was obvious: summer is over and the holidays are just around the corner. The mornings are crisp but the days are still warm, an ideal time for getting outside and enjoying the season, Rogers said.

"It's just a fun time of year, because the weather is still nice and there are events that are very kid- friendly," she said, adding that next week the family will be out picking apples.

Jim Groverman, the owner of the pumpkin patch and corn maze, said people "want to get out of the city for a taste of the country." Aside from harvesting pumpkins at the Petaluma patch and other fields, the fall has Groverman beginning to focus on the serious work of planting new crops.

"As a farmer, we're trying to get ready for the winter," he said. On Saturday, Groverman started the fall planting of his hay fields.

Not far from the pumpkin patch, the polka sounds of the Karl Lebherz band marked Cotati's seventh annual Oktoberfest.

"In heaven there is no beer, that's why we drink it here," sang Karl. "In heaven there is no wine, that's why we drink it all the time."

Catherine Shapiro, 31, of Asti danced in front of the stage with her father, who was visiting with her mother from Suisun City. Shapiro said fall is a special time of year.

She and her husband recently bought a farm near Asti in northern Sonoma County, and she's trying to develop an egg delivery and produce business. She has goats, ducks and chickens and has been using their manure to fertilize the soil.

"The sunsets are gorgeous," she said. "In the morning, it feels like fall now. And all the animals are digging little pits in the ground that they like to sit in .<TH>.<TH>. they just kind of hunker down."

And though the days quickly are getting shorter, fall is the time of year when Lucas Picard of Healdsburg could use a few more hours of daylight.

Football, one of the season's most ingrained rituals, is a big deal in the Picard family. His son, Westley, plays quarterback and free safety for the Santa Rosa Stallions youth football team, and his 11-year-old daughter is a cheerleader for the team. Another daughter plays fall soccer.

Picard, an iron worker, wakes up at 3:15 a.m. to be at the his job site at 5 a.m. His wife drives the kids to school in the morning, picks them up in the afternoon, drops them off at practice and then heads home to cook dinner.

"That's when I'm leaving to pick the kids up by 8 p.m.," said Picard, as he stood next to his truck shortly after Westley's football practice at Montgomery High School, the Stallions' home field.

"Today I have two practices, two soccer games and four kids," Picard said.

But Picard, who back in 1992 helped Healdsburg High win a football championship, said all the hassle is more than worth it.

"I love watching watching (Westley) play and my daughter cheer and my daughter play soccer. They're all great athletes," he said.