London: Autumn Respite Around the Pond

A few years ago I penned a blog “Sounds of Summer” where I listened to the sounds of a summer afternoon. I let the politics and opinions and controversies of Washington, where I live, recede in my mind on the threshold of presidential elections, and I focused on the moments of nature and the wonders of a child’s summer world. I find myself wanting to retreat there more and more these days as the civic dialogue and political events seem harsher and less civil and downright mean.

In the last month I’ve had reason to travel to Beirut and London, where I considered events from a slightly different point of view, though no less fraught. The constant news coverage and the acrimony of the Kavanaugh Supreme Court hearings in the U.S. was replaced by the general uncertainty over refugees and the government in Beirut and by the angst over Brexit in London. While in Beirut, the disappearance of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi broke in the news, and the horror of the unfolding tale of death and torture riveted attention in Washington and London as well. The possible political coverup currently brewing for this brutal violation of human rights remains the most troubling of all.

And yet for a moment—just an hour—in London yesterday I sat around the Round Pond in Kensington Gardens and allowed myself time to listen to the sounds and to witness life without a wider prism of consciousness and a larger world intruding.

On the crisp October morning the leaves stirred, still dusky green on the trees, not yet the vibrant reds and yellows of fall. Autumn arrived gently here in slight gusts of wind. A robust population of birds—elegant white long-necked swans, husky geese, green-faced mallards, plain brown ducks and a bevy of smaller birds cruised the water, circling the pond, eventually veering towards the edges where passersby tossed bread crumbs and seeds. A troupe of white seagulls swooped in for a landing on the water like trained hydroplaners and then just as abruptly and deftly took off for other parts of London.

At the far end of the pond sat Kensington Palace, quiet that day, home to the Duke and Duchess of SussexPrince Harry and his American bride Meghan Markle—who at the moment were in Australia, where they announced they’re having a baby.

People of all backgrounds circled the pond, dressed in slacks, jeans, dresses, light jackets, in hejabs and thwabs, children in strollers, young and old, sitting on the benches that ring the pond. School children in florescent green and yellow vests jogged by on a morning run.

Two elderly ladies and I increased our walking pace in a silent, unannounced race to the one empty bench at the bottom of the pond. I won, but they sat down beside me anyway, and we shared this coveted space where they talked quietly, and I wrote, and we watched this slice of morning.

A tiny dog trotted by as two stragglers panted past trying to catch up with their schoolmates. A couple stopped beside us and talked loudly on the phone in a language I didn’t recognize. In front of us a swan groomed herself, shaking off the water.

The grim headlines in the news: the possible failure of Brexit, the assassination and dismemberment of Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate, the US government’s closing of borders to a new convoy of migrants, the slippery commitment to truth for a moment receded on a blue sky London morning on the edge of autumn before the days grew short and dark.

A teacher with his final two lagging students jogged past, shouting, “Come on, guys…Let’s sprint to the finish! You can do this!”

Reluctantly I rose from the bench and left my fellow sojourners as I headed into the city for meetings and the work of the day.


  1. Gretchen Henry on October 19, 2018 at 6:25 pm

    I can almost hear the sounds and see the people going about their daily lives. Peaceful, even for one hour.

  2. Liz Musch on October 19, 2018 at 6:37 pm

    too cool, love how u write and u captured how i often feel.

  3. David Anable on October 19, 2018 at 8:34 pm

    For at least a moment, reading your piece (peace?) from Kensington Gardens and the Round Pond, I felt a moment of relaxation — a chance to unwind from the shallowness and stupidity of too much of America’s current “leadership”. To echo the old song: “When will they ever learn, When will they ever learn?” Thank you.

    • Joanne on October 19, 2018 at 9:07 pm

      Thank you!

      • Eliza beth Paterson on October 20, 2018 at 8:58 am

        I particularly ebjoyed your very vivid description of KENSINGTON GARDENS. It made me feel an urge to go there as soon as possible. Best regards, Elizabeth

  4. Betty Aridjis on October 19, 2018 at 9:29 pm

    Had I been in London, I would happily have beaten those ladies to the bench and shared the birds and respite from the unrelenting news with you.

  5. Hori Takeaki on October 19, 2018 at 9:33 pm

    Time sometime transcends the reality of daily life. After reading your essay, I instantly remembered two pieces of
    Matsuo Basho’s Haiku, the father of Haiku in modern Japan.
    seeping Into the very rock
    the cicade’s voice

    Old pond
    frog jumped in
    the sound of water

  6. Karen Kistler on October 19, 2018 at 10:21 pm

    Oh, Joanne,

    Thank you for the piece of tranquility so many of us hunger for. Your writing evokes the ideas we can all carry with us on our daily rounds to help make our world a better place.

  7. Fawzia Assaad on October 20, 2018 at 4:20 am

    It made me feel my time in London and Oxford, when I was a young student. Nature in the middle of a hectic city. A miracle

  8. Beverly campbell on October 20, 2018 at 1:31 pm

    Beautifully written as always and a reminder to all to appreciate nature and humanity!

  9. Kathy on October 20, 2018 at 8:47 pm

    I agree that Kensington Gardens is a very special place to spend a peaceful hour. Thanks for sharing your insights and experiences.

  10. Ciel F Lagumen on October 22, 2018 at 5:07 pm

    Joanne you have found the Kensington Gardens a perfect place to stretching the panorama of world events, so spread out around us, that we could only collect the events, equate with our senses and still found no solution at that moment in time, this problem
    we face will often becomes a solution in disguise. Thank you for sharing your found a place for peaceful hour.

    I always find your blog so interesting and looking forward for more.

    from San Diego this is Ciel

  11. Christine Samuel on November 29, 2018 at 5:42 pm

    Dear Joanne,
    I breathed deeply while reading this article! Thanks for a beautiful moment of peace in the midst of the global turmoil that surrounds us on a daily basis. Lovely writing.

    • Joanne Leedom-Ackerman on December 2, 2018 at 5:41 pm

      Thank you, Christine!

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