So, I Went to England Last Fall

These are unedited excerpts from journal entries written on my November 2009 trip to Great Britain.

11-20-09 (En Route)

In flight.  Feet swollen and hands tight.  After two plus hours of awkward teenagers on broomsticks in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, I’m beginning to relax.  For the first time in months, my shoulders fall and I can inhale without anxiety.  It’s been eight years since I’ve stepped onto this soil.  Eight years since I’ve dreamt this hazy light and breathed history like autumn.  I wonder if the part of me that used to live in London is still there, captured in stone and cloud, or if those forests of memory are now barren and burnt, branches and roots nothing more than ash, seeds that try to dream green forever straining for light.

I guess I’m searching for a balance between.  I hope that the green and the stones and the clouds still hold part of me left here last decade.  I hope that if I open my skull and veins that I’ll be able to meet the stranger in my skin, say hello and begin.

The plane is about to descend.

11-21-09 (Chepstow and Tintern)

Rain.  Rain.  Um . . . more water falling from the sky.  A few scattered frogs.  Rain.  More rain fell today than in 1,000 years.

Chepstow is a gathering of hills that mysteriously do not descend.  The rain never let up.  A wet but rewarding day.

It’s been ten years since I’ve been in Chepstow castle.  It was cool today, though, this time my goal was to document, to take pictures for my students.  Seeing through the lens, framing history and stone as though they might actually continue digitally—it erased the moment for me.  That grey and green might have held the stranger I had hoped to meet, but I didn’t get to see him today.  Now, sitting inside an inn across from Tintern Abbey, by the fire, glancing at the photos I took, they do seem brighter, deeper than what my eyes took in.  Perhaps this 8 gig memory card captured what my too-soaked brain couldn’t.  Maybe I’ll be able to break time through image.

Random quote: “Bodies mutilated for cosmetic industry.  Lured victims into Peruvian jungle to cut off heads and limbs.”—this from a story in “The Times.”

11-22-09 (Tintern by Midnight Moonlight)

The gate clangs behind me and I look through where stained glass once filtered sunlight.  The dreaming stones of Tintern Abbey stretch from the earth and frame stars.  Jagged cosmos of hewn dark pointing at the big dipper.  Centuries of prayer and starlight here.  Oxygen lights to spirit.

11-23-09 (Oxford)

Today, I added to my store of time.  Began by hunting Alice (and a snark) at the Alice Shop in Oxford, but mostly Christ Church, its angles and meadow.  Bulls in the meadow, almost too much for the eye—spires and branches reaching through clouds.

Cathedral shared with a gaggle of tourists complete with requisite cameras.  Pale, stained glass windows of see-through saints posing for places in scrapbooks.  Beautiful, though.  Peaceful except for the constant click of heels on stone.

Also, got my “drink me” video—simulating little Alice swaying through this Oxford universe, stretching and shrinking, falling through a small walkway to a sweeping sky.

* * *

Tolkien’s Pinus Nigra tree in Botanical Garden looks like a stone troll, arms and nose bulging through bark.

* * *

Radcliffe Camera seems too pretty too bright to be Sauron’s monument to Morgoth, but the doors, studded and black, seem to make sense.

* * *

Magdelen College made me deeply, profoundly jealous.  Watching a young girl step to a huge oak door, unlock it with an old iron key, and swing it open—knowing that this is her dorm—filled me with a sense of awe and envy.  To be surrounded by this on a daily basis, to live and study in a world of oak and stone and large iron keys—it must create a larger cultural space for education.

* * *

Addison’s walk, where Tolkien and Lewis walked by midnight moonlight . . . the place slows time.  Lothlorien slow.  Sunlight pauses the cloudflow.  Water moves quickly, but the rest—the roots and needles, the squirrels and wind—take their time.  The sky relaxes here, takes a break from the business of spinning gravity, lets itself graze the grass like cattle.

* * *

Now, after an impotent and long walk to Wolvercote Cemetery, back at the Bird and Baby, sitting where the Inklings sat and read, listening to Euro-shit dance music.  I wonder what Jack and John would think about this endless digital nonsense dropping through the air.  Would they tap their walking sticks to the endless 4/4, or would they simply read more loudly.  Maybe they’d just leave . . . this pub, this city . . . leave it all and search for Aslan singing the world awake or the light dying in the west.

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One Response to “So, I Went to England Last Fall”

  1. I loved your poetic descriptions on my most favorite of towns. Did you make it to Lewis’ residence in the Kilns or were you able to see Tolkien’s bust in Executer (sp)? I did a play in Magdalen college at the local chapel (a adaptation of Dracula). What an incredible town. I lived at the top of the Headington Hill (the same hill Lewis rode up everyday to return to his home at the Kilns) and was a student with Wycliffe Hall. If you ever want to chat with someone about Oxford or England my door is always open…

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