Sunday, July 29, 2012

"Let There Be Wetness and Wilderness Yet..."

La Professoressa after a hard day's work, resting by the Isis, Oxford, 2012

As a summer heat falls over Oxford, for the first time in our four week stay here, the canal waters have fallen below the level of the weir, the overflow into its companion river now a gentle surge. Every day and sometimes two times a day, I make the walk along our canal road, emerge into Lower Fisherman Walk, meet the Hythe Bridge and join the foot traffic into the heart of the town. Traveling with La Professoressa has taught me the art of settling down for a month or two and sometimes six in new territories, where as the days go by, I find my own markers of daily life. The walk to the News Agency in Gloucester Green to get my daily Guardian, sitting in the square reading, thinking, watching the transit traffic. I have discovered I like the unpretentiousness of bus and coach stations, the open space of the "Green" where on Wednesdays and Thursdays, market stalls spring up, I join the students and old women who do their vegetable and bread shopping here and then on Thursdays, the old stuff market where Ross, a new old friend sells old tin toys, amidst his stock of tin soldiers I find his tray of solid tiny tin horses, cows, sheep, chooks, a few of which will come home with us, for my own imagined farm when we get home.

When La Professoressa gets home from work, puts down her satchel heavy with journal articles, our favorite place to go is to the watery wonders of Port Meadow which truly is a common green bordered by the Thames-Ises, a gentle clean river here, just beginning its life as a major world waterway. We park the car, and sometimes the cows, huge black and white animals that roam freely over the green, have chosen to take the shade under the full trees just a few steps away, some rubbing their massive heads on the handles of the bikes left leaning against the parking areas fence. We pass through the old weighted wooden gate, and there we are on the same green sward as the herd, as the huge flocks of geese and ducks, horses roaming free and walkers making their way to their favorite swimming paths into the old Ises. Halfway across the green, I just stand and take in the landscape, the big sky, the tree lines, the grazing animals, the river a shining border and feel as if I have entered a 17th century painted landscape. My favorite place in Oxford, Port Meadow, with its students, now free of the stone citadels of  learning, lounging in their bathing suits on small blankets or shouting their joy from the cold flow of the river, all up and down this side of Port Meadow, the river becomes a friend, still needing care as Nature's creations do, its currents flowing inexorably to the great city of the South. The freshness of it all, the comraderie of youth some freed for a short while from their burdens of fully adult life, others, workers from the town freed from their toil, the nearness of the free roaming animals, the swans quietly, the ducks and geese more loudly, proclaiming their final ownership of this shared green wet world.

Like so many others before us, we make our way over the green on its well worn walker's footpath, cross steeply rising wooden bridges, through two old styles and end up in the Perch, a much loved pub tucked away from the waters, a small wooden sign attached to the final gate, a local saying, "first the church, then the Perch."

Our New York friend Leni is staying with us and while La Professoressa leads her New College students through the thickets of gender, sex and human rights, I show her my Oxford. To the south, the roar of the Olympics peters out as it reaches the narrow stone streets of the University town, but I who love the leap, the jump, the run of atheletes watch what I can. They two are moments of green. Most moved I was to see Castor, the South African runner who suffered so much for her suspected gender difference, leading the South African team into the Olympic arena. And now always, I am thinking of the book, of 13A and your voices, all needed.

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