On an old thoroughfare graced by more shade trees than any other street in town, the first Sunday of the autumn approached as a savior from summer steam. From Southeast past the train station along the row of embassies to the cathedral atop the hill and out to the Montgomery suburbs, Massachusetts Avenue was alive yesterday with crisp inspiration.

Sweaters and windbreakers were retrieved from winter storing as the people of the avenue took to the special day.

"It's the splendor of God's eternal goodness, that's what it is," said Monsignor James Montgomery, greeting parishioners outside the Church of the Annunciation at the corner of Massachusetts Avenue and 39th Street NW.

"Autumn is the best of all.After all the pope is coming, isn't he?"

Slight traces of the "grim season" appeared yesterday, as cool winds blew beneath cloudless skies and a few lifeless leaves fluttered to the ground. Sweatsuited joggers trundled along sidewalks in the 65-degree weather.

"You know it's fall when it starts getting cold in the morning. I put blankets on the beds and started getting the sweaters out of the closets," said Barbara Jeffco, who was entertaining friends on the porch of her home at 16th Street SE and Massachusetts Avenue.

Farther north, at 4707 Massachusetts Avenue NW, Pat Shields rose from the wicker chair in his front yard and squinted at the image of his house he was recreating on a canvas before him.

He was trying to capture two sunflowers as they appeared in several weeks ago before they became withered autumn stalks.

"I waited a little too long," said Shields, a house painter kind of snuck up pretty fast."

Rakes and brooms were brought out in neighborhoods bordering Embassy Row, as the first few leaves of fall began accumulating on lawns sidewalks.

In front of their brick house at the corner of Albemarle Street NW, Venezuelans Juan and Suleima Herreta found themselves raking leaves for the first time in their lives.

"Otono doesn't happen like this in Caracas," Suleima Herreta said, as her heavily perspiring husband leaned on a wooden rake. "We've been here for only three months. In Caracas, the leaves -- they stay on the trees, I think."

Jean Herreta spoke in Spanish to his wife, who translated for a reporter. "He says he is embarrassed to be sweating so much. He is an army colonel, but this is the only exercise he can get in Washington," she said.

Further out the avenue, along a murky tributary of the Potomac River in Montgomery County, two fishermen cast their rods and reflected on how the seasons affect C and O Canal fishing.

"When it's hot the fish don't bite. They just lie around," said Meyer Jackson, as his brother, Morris, pulled a minnow trap from the water.

Nearby, Danny -- a guitar player who regularly plays along the tow path but who declined to give his last name fof fear of becoming "famous," he said -- pulled on his tattered leather cap and got up from his seat beneath a large oak.

"The best thing is watching the joggers. Especially women. When it's hot, they run by in shorts and T-shirts," Danny said. "You say it's fall now, hun? That's probably who the girls are wearing sweatsuits now. It's not as much fun."