—for Beccy, she knows why
The train on the rails is surprisingly smooth and quiet, a small periodic squeak and the regular, inadvertent woggle in my seat the only things that betray the fact that we are moving. It is a far cry from the clickity-clack of Old West movies or the soot-filled Victorian journeys that marked the dawn of “progress” across England. And while I am drinking Starbucks and using wifi on the climate-controlled train, we are nonetheless passing whole villages of tile-roofed houses and fields thick with damp and redolent of prior ages. Deeply green, the grasses have a lushness that reflects how wet even an English summer is. It is as if all the color drained from the sky—which remains a dull gray day-in and day-out—and pooled in the fields and hedgerows instead. One begins to feel, after ten days in England, that a blue sky would be almost too much. Too dazzling. That the tints of green ought to be enough.
Especially when a dappled white horse kicks up its feet and trots along a fence. They are almost impossibly picturesque, these glimpses of a landscape that could have come straight from a Thomas Hardy novel. Of course, such snatched views punctuate the far less lovely—council houses built after WWII, an oversized box of a commercial distillery, power lines strung across the verdant fields and held up by towers like metal giants on iron girder legs. But as we move further from London and deeper into the Midlands, green fields dotted with white sheep and criss-crossed by wood fences and ageless stone-and-tile structures become the norm; the eye-sores are an occasional punctuation, an exclamation mark of surprised interruption to the soothing flow of rolling countryside.
It is hard to understand this green if you have never been to England or Scotland or Ireland. “It looks as if the whole country were irrigated,” says the man across from me, in a soft South African accent. I can tell that he, too, is unused to the unrelenting green. It is something of a marvel. Even in Michigan, which has four good seasons, the grass suffers patches of brown. Here, the shades of green are multiple, but none of them tend to brown, only to deep green and deeper still. Emerald and kelley and chartreuse and pine. Silver-greens and yellow-greens. Clear, fresh greens, and deep, nearly black greens. Greens piled upon greens as if there were so much water in the world that each green thing sought to outdo its neighbor for sheer green-ness.
I am headed to Edinburgh for two days of research in archives.
Yes, I know how lucky I am.
I also suspect that when I arrive, my friend Jodie will take one look and mock me for coming to Scotland without socks. (When packing in the heat of a Michigan May, it is hard to register summer as a time for cardigans and water-tight shoes.)
I should be working on my notes from all the research I’ve already done, making lists of the people to whom I must write follow-up emails, starting the syllabus for the fall course that will be based on these explorations. In short, I should be working. But the arched railway bridges, the flowering hedges, the church spires in the distance, surrounded by weathered stone hamlets and black-faced sheep, draw my eye away from page and screen. I can type while looking out the window. And so, for now, I take a pause in my work to stare at the landscape. To be reminded of the day—so many years ago—when a friend took me home with him for the weekend from college in Canterbury, and he drove at reckless speeds down single-lane country roads lined with high hawthorne hedges. To see, in my mind’s eye, the fields Tess walked through to gather the milk cows in her happy days.
To realize, for a moment, that not every minute of every day must be filled with obligation. And to smile at the pair of swans, placid in their tiny pond. . . a thick-set draft horse with shaggy ankles. . . an ancient stacked-stone wall with an unfamiliarly beautiful black-and-white bird sailing over it. . . smalls ferns, bright starbursts against the grey stone of a Victorian train shed. . .remnants of Hadrian’s wall plunging down a hill towards the River Tweed—picture postcards flitting past the window of seat 69, carriage E.
Tuesday, June 12, 2012
—for Beccy, she knows why