I remember Reno sporting a chill in the air as early as mid-September. An otherwise unheard of rain would make it over the Sierras and dump itself into the valley, and it would happen again and again, on and off for about a month and a half until the first snow arrived in late October. And when I was sixteen years old, my high school girlfriend lived on the other side of town. We started going out in the spring, but as the summer fizzled out, my trips to her house took twice as long. I’d opt for the bus that left a good half-hour walk between us, just to be able to span the length of West Seventh Street on foot. I’d start as far back as Washington, dipping underneath the Vine Street overpass and strolling up past Keystone, past CVS, past Raley’s with clumps of sodden orange leaves stuck to the underside of my overpriced Tom’s. Trees sprouted up in front of the bungalows on West Seventh, now golden, now bare, and it was the nicest I’d ever seen the city. When I’d eventually arrive at her house, I’d bake ghost cookies with her roommates in her 1970s kitchen and we carved pumpkins on the dining room table. The rain continued to fall. I would leave long after sundown wrapped in my winter parka, and I’d wait for the lights of the inbound Number 4 to illuminate the wet tarmac as it rolled over from the western suburbs. For a time, everything I knew was orange.
But outside the short-lived phenomenon that is autumn, Reno was always made up of three colours: brown for the desert, white for the blinding snow in winter, and the deepest indigo blue for the sky that almost never clouded. In sharp contrast, northern England is made up of only two: green for the undulating hills in the countryside and various shades of gray for the post-industrial mill towns that sit within in, and for the sky that almost never shows itself. Only in autumn is everything the same. The weather turned a little later than expected this year, but today, everything I know is orange.
Everyone knows that the deepest hue of all – central and symbolic to the entire season – is that of the pumpkin. For the last three years, I’ve been gifted a pumpkin pie by my good friend’s mother, and they all began life as seeds buried in the family allotment. I have friends the world over who laud the ultimate supremacy of Hocus Pocus as soon as the clock strikes midnight on October 1st, but modern-day Halloween as we know it is a decidedly American tradition, and pumpkin pie just isn’t a thing here. And although British supermarkets will provide tiny pumpkins for the sole purpose of cashing in on the dreams of little kids who just want to dress up and eat pillowcase candy, and of broke-ass travelers who lust after peak foliage in New England, they’re just not suitable for much of anything other than carving up and sticking a tealight in. I know this because I’ve tried, always in vain. So when word came in the other day that my pie was almost ready to go, I fell back – as I have done every year for the last three – onto rain-soaked West Seventh, back to ghost-shaped cookies in the old kitchen with once-white laminated flooring, back to the pumpkin patch and corn maze.
It was ready today and I went over after lunch to pick it up. I’ve been to Lucy’s house countless times, but never once in the fall, and she took me out into her conservatory where several huge pumpkins sat on a table, the largest of them all cut open and partially de-seeded. There was almost too much to take in here, because behind them, lining the entire length of the conservatory itself, the long stalks of various plants grew high against the frosted windows. Freshly harvested carrots, still coated in dirt, sat in a tray behind me. Out back, the yard was scattered with tools and the woodpile grew high. The wind was cold through my knitted jumper and I fell in love with everything I saw. I ate two and a half-slices of fresh pumpkin bread over a cup of tea, and I considered that while pumpkin pie is decidedly American, allotments and the continued (or is it rekindled?) commitment to low-scale harvesting is decidedly British. And how beautiful. And how much I love this duality. And what a glorious time of year this is everywhere I go.
I’ve just eaten a full quarter of the pie. Nobody else in my family likes it, and neither do my friends that have tried it at my insistence, so it’s up to me to enjoy the other three. The leaves are falling at a steady rate now, and it’ll soon be winter, but not yet.