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Postcards from London: Blue Autumn

Airdate: December 27, 2012

            I hope I will be forgiven for saying this, but it’s not Autumn.  Yes, the calendar says we’re in the final months of the year, but it sure doesn’t feel like Autumn here in London.  At least, not the way I remember it.

            I do need to say that for the most part, I love living in the U.K.  But at this time of year, this place is sorely lacking in flaming red and yellow leaves that drift gently down on a cool, dry breeze, to blanket your pathway in a bright and crunchy carpet.  Reading Facebook posts from my friends back in the Midwest have me sighing loudly, trying to re-create smells of burning wood fires and fragrant apple orchards.  Fresh sweet corn roasting.  Hot cider and roasted pumpkin seeds.  I can hardly stand it.

            For some reason, I wasn’t as discontent with Autumn in London the first time around.  But this second year, I can’t shake the itchy feeling that somewhere, very far away, I’m missing it all.

            On the short walk between the university where I study and the hospital where I volunteer, I happened upon a smattering of yellow leaves, and stopped in my tracks.  Looking up I saw a small but undeniable maple tree, dutifully shedding its leaves and making as good a show of it as could be expected.  I picked up one of the leaves, admiring it, and then pocketing it for future pressing, so as not to lose this experience.  And then it occurred to me: maple trees!  I hadn’t seen very many around the city.  I remembered my childhood in Iowa when lush, flaming orange and yellow maples turned the town into a magical world.  There must be some to be found, somewhere on this island.  A friend suggested that I visit Grosvenor Square, where, as it happens, the U.S. Embassy is also located.  Apparently, he said, they had imported a number of maples and planted them there.  I was on a mission.

            I’d been to Grosvenor Square before, but never took notice of the trees during the summer time.  Now I couldn’t wait to get there, imagining a fairylike re-creation of childhood Autumns, right there in the heart of London.  But this time, I couldn’t find the place.  My pre-planned route took a wrong turn somewhere, and I ended up, frustratingly, at Berkeley Square instead.  No maples here, and the daylight was fading much too quickly.  Somehow I instinctively found my way to the chosen destination, but when I arrived the sun had already set, and thus the gates were closed for the night.  No matter, because it was clear to me, even in this dim light, that there would be no magical flaming trees here.  Maples, yes.  But only slightly changing colors, and hardly any dropping their leaves in this maddening island climate.  I sat down in front of my embassy, across from Eisenhower in his proud military regalia, and sighed deeply.  And in one of those very rare moments, I asked myself, “What am I doing here?”  Not the embassy, but this country.  This damp, Autumn-less place.

            I resolved that in future years, I would simply plan a Stateside trip during this, my favorite season, to get my fix of pumpkins and apples and crisp, burning things.  Until then, I’ll have to be content with a single leaf, plucked from a rainy pathway, where one small but proud orange maple dares to show its colors.

            — Wendy Sherer