Thursday, June 07, 2007
Of this place ...
The foxgloves are everywhere in the hedgerows now and the sweet scent of honeysuckle is in the air. I love June in the English countryside. Well as a matter of fact I love the other eleven months of the year in the English countryside also. But it is in the Spring and early summer that the scenery here is at its most beautiful. Especially down here in Devon where we have, as most people would agree, some of the most beautiful areas of countryside in all of Britain.
I cannot claim to be 'of' this village, since we have lived here only a little over eight years. But I certainly can claim to be 'of' Devon, since it is where I come from and my ancestors have lived in one part of of this county or another for the last however-many hundreds of years.
As a child, I assumed that all countryside, everywhere, was like this – green and lush, with woods and fields, moors and streams, pretty villages with thatched houses and hedgerows thick with wildflowers.
It is not, of course. As I found out when I was older. There are lots of beautiful places, but to me the Westcountry is extra special. So every time I leave, coming back is a homecoming for my heart.
Like salmon, who swim back up the river at spawning time to find that one, particular patch of pebbles that is special to them, many people have a tendency to form a special bond with a place. Not just a place they like or admire, but whatever place it is that they feel 'of'. For many – perhaps most – that is the place of their birth or their childhood. For others, it is a place they have found which for some unknown reason feels more like home than home ever was.
It may not be anything as specific as a village or a town or even a county or state. It may not even be a country – though it often is. But it is a certain feeling. The smell of the air, a certain sort of vegetation, the shape of the terrrain. The atmosphere. My partner, though he has the adaptability to live contentedly anywhere – and nowadays lives a full and contented life in England – has a special affinity with the Southwest of the USA. It doesn't matter much whether he is in New Mexico, Arizona, Utah or wherever. The place where he feels the most alive is the place of deserts and mountains, red rocks, dry air, the scent of sagebrush and piñon pine, the big sky, the feeling … the indefinable something that he cannot even name. He is not 'of' the Southwest (he was born and raised in Indiana) and yet, somehow, he is. Maybe in a past life he was a cliff-dweller. That certainly feels right.
I love that area too. I also love the redwood forests of California, the chaparral, the misty, rocky coast of Maine, the mountains and olive groves of Italy, the sparkling blue of the Mediterranean, the whitewashed villages of the Spanish Alpujarra and the unspoiled southern coast of Crete. All these places are special to me. I love to go there, to drink them in, to revel in their beauty and enjoy their sights and sounds and smells and the taste of the local food.
But here, where the foxgloves bloom in early summer and honeysuckle twines in the hedgrows, where little streams run through small, wooded valleys to the pebbly shore of the ocean and a day of full sunshine is like a special blessing … this little piece of the funny, patchwork island called England is not only where I am 'from', it is also where I am 'of'.
If I didn't live here (and for many, many years I didn't) I would have to come here from time to time to take a sip from it. Just as the Italians, wherever they are in the world, feel the need to return to Italy once in a while per rinfrescare lo spirito – 'to refresh the spirit' – so do we all need to do that if we possibly can. Some can't, of course. And even though they accept their lot, somewhere deep inside, they pine for the place they are 'of'.
I would, too, I know. So today I give thanks for being alive, here, now, with the foxgloves blooming and the scent of honeysuckle in the air.