There is an emanation from the heart

which cannot be described,

but is immediately felt and puts

the stranger at his ease.

~Washington Irving


Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life.
It turns what we have into enough...

.........and more.

It turns denial into acceptance,
chaos to order, confusion to clarity.

It can turn a meal into a feast,

a house into a home,

a stranger into a friend.

~Melody Beattie


Don't be satisfied with stories,

how things have gone with others.

Unfold your own myth.
~Rumi

Saturday, 15 March 2014

Christ Church Meadow



If you've been following along, you'll have noticed that I mention Christ Church meadow throughout the posts. I've never written about the meadow specifically and people have been asking about it. and since it figures so prominently in my life here, I'll try and paint a picture of it .

The meadow itself is triangular, surrounded by the River Cherwell, and the Thames, or the Isis as the stretch that runs through Oxford is known. Christ Church College stands at the top of the triangle, and dominates the skyline as you look across the meadow toward the city.  A gravel walking path borders the meadow on all three sides, so for most of the walk, you have a river on one side and the meadow on the other.

During warmer months, the river is dotted punters drifting slowly down the river.  A punt is a long, narrow, and flat boat that is propelled and steered by a long pole at the back of the boat.  If someone is a pro at punting like Stuart it's very romantic, but if you are new to punting, you may spend a lot of time in the shrubs and trees that overhang the river.

As you walk into the gates leading to the meadow, you're greeted by the War Memorial Garden, which as a quintessential English border, has something in bloom at all times of the year. The garden is beautifully framed by the backdrop of Christ Church's Tom Tower and dining hall.

Walk on and you'll come to the Poplar Walk leading down to the Thames.  There are benches along the way for people to enjoy the view and a broad lawn for picnics and friends to gather.  Cows graze peacefully to your left and you truly feel as though you've left the city behind.  From early spring until late autumn, the trees provide a green canopy as well as a home for many, many squirrels--or as Max likes to think of them, moving targets.

At the end of the Lime Walk lies the Thames on it's homestretch into London.  College crews practice up and down the river and in all kinds of weather.  A good time to catch them is in February during 'Torpids Week', which is one of two 'bumping' races held during the year.  Bumping evolved here because the river is too narrow to race side by side, so the goal is to 'bump' the boat in front of you.  The winner is the "Head of the River", which is also the name of a great pub at the end of the Lime Walk.

Autumn along the Cherwell,
Christ Church Meadow
As you pass the Thames, you come to the River Cherwell, a small tributary that lazily meanders to the Thames, lined with large maple, ash, and plane trees, and also home to ducks, swans and geese.  It's my favorite part of the meadow walk, with it's quiet serenity, the trees gracefully reaching out over the river.

From this vantage point, I can usually spot deer grazing in the meadow and sometimes a fox darting into the undergrowth.  Mostly though it's cows munching nonchalantly, with the spires of Oxford as their backdrop, completely unaware of the lovely scene they are a part of.

As the walk leaves the meadow, heads for the High Street and back to the busy city, the Oxford Botanic Garden is on your right.  From here the path follows along to Rose Lane and then suddenly, to the High Street.  Back to the buses, the bicycles, the tourists and the students that make up the bustling scene of Oxford's High Street.  Christ Church Meadow is a perfect quiet respite any time of year and can be accessed off the High Street through Rose Lane, through Grove Walk off Merton Street, or through the main gates on St. Aldate's.




Saturday, 8 March 2014

St. Jude's Winter

"I SEE US GIVING LOVE TO EACH OTHER 
IN A TIME OF QUIET BETWEEN STORMS.
IT'S WHAT WE WERE MEANT TO DO."
~Frank Herbert, Dune

The Dorset Coast, St. Jude's Storm, October 2013

In my previous post I wrote about Britain's wet and especially brutal winter this year.  The Met Office says that the winter of 2013-14 has been the wettest throughout the UK since national records began in 1910.  In England and Wales, it's the wettest winter since records began in 1766.  Winds and tidal surges ripped through the western and southern coasts of Britain and Ireland, and record setting flooding inland began in November.

It all began on October 27/28th, 2013 when a storm with hurricane force winds swept through England and Wales.  Before the storm even had landed, it was named The St. Jude Storm, after the patron saint of lost causes.  As it turned out, this winter could be called The Winter of St. Jude, because the storms kept coming, until the last one on the Atlantic storm conveyor belt hit at the end of February.

Prime farmland, homes, and villages submerged in the Somerset Levels.
Somerset has been one of the counties hardest hit, and an area known as the Somerset Levels has been submerged since late November and early December. People are just now able to return to what's left of their homes and farms, and have been met with the painful realization that the recovery of their livelihoods and homes will be a long time in coming.  You can donate and aid the flood recovery at the Somerset Emergency Flood Relief Fund.


Glastonbury Tor Before and After


Somerset Before the Winter of 2013-14


"There are some things you learn best in calm,
and some in storm."   ~Willa Cather



So as day follows night, spring will come. Those bright daffodils springing up all over Britain have never looked so good, and for now at least, the sun and the flow of seasons have sent St. Jude packing.                                                                          
"BEHOLD MY FRIENDS THE SPRING IS COME, THE EARTH GLADLY RECEIVED THE EMBRACES OF THE SUN, AND WE SHALL SOON SEE THE RESULTS OF THEIR LOVE."                                               ~Sitting Bull





Friday, 7 March 2014

Finding Spring in Oxford


"It is spring again.  The earth is like a 
child that knows poems by heart."    
                                     ~Rainer Maria Rilke

Merton College along Grove Walk
After a very long and soggy winter, filled with a conveyor belt of storms that brought endless wind and rain to the UK, I think I can speak for an entire nation when I say we've been watching for any sign of spring, no matter how small.

One of the first signs was the snowdrops bravely pushing their way through last summer's grasses and autumn weeds, which were cruelly battered down and flattened by months of wind and rain.  They're not as delicate as they look, these little snowdrops.


"She turned to the sunlight and shook her yellow head,
And whispered to her neighbour, winter is dead."  ~A.A. Milne


As the snowdrops start to fade, the daffodils come out in force.  First in little nooks and crannies that are protected and warmed by the weak February sun, until finally by mid March there's a full chorus of yellow heads, waving along paths and side walks and roads, cheering on the warmth of the sun well into April.




Flowers return to our back terrace, in our window boxes and our bicycle out in front, along with dirt under my fingernails.

"In the spring, at the end of the
day, you should smell like dirt."
                     ~Margaret Atwood



One of the best places to mark the bloom of spring is 
in the college gardens.

Merton College

Merton College at Grove Lane

Spring even spills out onto the streets.
Radcliffe Square and the High Street at the University Church of St Mary.


















But best of all is being able to step out my back door again after a long and especially cruel winter, and see the daffodils nodding in the breeze and the cheerful faces of purple pansies. The storms have finally passed, the moss is starting to fade, and soggy soddeness is being replaced by sun and freshness.  And finally in Oxford and in the countryside, we don't have to look far for spring.



Oxford University Parks
Balliol College








Christ Church Meadow along the River Cherwell

"Spring grew on..........and greenness grew over those 
brown beds, which freshening daily, suggested the thought 
that hope traversed them at night and left each morning 
brighter traces of her steps."  
                                                     ~Charlotte Bronte, Jane Eyre