This week I began reading David Mitchell’s memoir Back Story, and today I came across this little observation:
“[Autumn was] another subject seriously over-covered by schools in my experience…take the word “deciduous”– I was taught it, I think, at age seven, ditto eight and nine– and I’ve only used it twice since. And that’s in this paragraph…”
By and large, our education on Fall (as we call autumn) was no less rigourous out here, in a state so far away from England that it was actually shelled by the Japanese in World War II. Stranger still was the fact that we learned most of the same things.
The teacher would generally start like so: “Today we’re going to learn about Fall, which is sometimes called ahdum. Actually, we’re supposed to say ahdum now because it’s more correct.”
Each teacher made it clear that “autumn” was more ‘politically correct’ than “fall,” but most of them still used the latter. This was just the tip of the iceberg. “Fall is what happens when the leaves change colours and fall off the trees. Then it gets very cold until you have to wear gloves. Usually it snows at the end, and lots of animals hibernate.”
This talk was totally in keeping with the idea that California is an inferior colony beholden to the Eastern states, because none of that was true out here. But then again, fall in California, and especially Pasadena, is kind of horrible.
First of all, it’s very short. September is the hottest month of the year, and the heat continues relentlessly until mid-October. Around that time, there will be the first rain. Because it never rains in the summer, all of the oil from cars builds and builds on the road until the first rain washes it all off, resulting in spectacular car accidents. And because Pasadena is built on a slope at the base of the San Gabriel Mountains, water rushes into the sewers at a high level faster than it can get out, causing the sewers further south to explode. It’s practically a winter tradition.
After that, there’s a little heat wave, then another storm, and this goes back and forth until Thanksgiving.
There are very few trees here that change colours, and to my knowledge no animals that hibernate. Instead, we have parrots at the peak of their mating season, swarming in the thousands for hours and hours, days and days, keeping people like me up all night.
So there’s a certain logic to telling people out west about a fall that’s long, luxurious, and not schizophrenic. I just wish they’d given tips on what to do when the streets turn to rapids.