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.

Friday, 17 February 2017

Footsteps to Spring

The first day of spring is
one thing, and the first
spring day is another.
The difference between
them is sometimes
as great as a month.
~Henry Van Dyke, 
'Fisherman's Luck'

April daffodils in
Christ Church meadow.

When I first moved to Britain permanently nine years ago, the only month I hadn't ever experienced in England was February. During my first, full winter in Oxford I would get so excited when a day dawned bright and warm. Then, when daffodils started growing from the end of January, I was beside myself and would think, "this is it! Spring is just around the corner." As that first February wore on (and on, and on), it didn't take long to realise just how fickle spring is in Britain, how much it teases--and how long it takes to finally arrive. It begins with fits and starts in February and then often drags on lasts until early June, when you're more than ready for summer and cute sundresses. 

I almost used to jump and down when pink
blossoms appeared in January, thinking
spring would arrive any minute. I quickly
learned it wasn't even around the corner. It's
still a marvel to see pink in January, but I know
that buckets of rain, chilly mistand many
bad hair days lie between January and May.

When the February winds blow cold, it seems
to take forever for scenes like this to arrive. Lilac
season is never, ever long enough. Every time we
walk by these lilacs on our walks, I automatically
bury my face in them. It never gets old.

Lilacs bloom along
Mansfield Road in May.
The force of Spring - 
mysterious, fecund, 
 powerful beyond measure.
~Michael Garofalo, Cuttings

Spring starts with tiny footsteps
of snowdrops in early February......

....leaving white and green
footprints in the muddy earth.

Sometimes the snowdrops share the
space with bright, yellow aconites.

It doesn't take long before the
snowdrops become a carpet of white.

More than any other season, spring has to
fight a battle just to be born, so every step
of it is a marvel. Everything green and growing
in spring has to push its way up through not only
ice, mud, puddles, and frost, but also has to push
past its dead ancestors. That's perseverance.

If a healthy soil is full of death,
it is also full of life: worms,
fungi, microorganisms of all kinds ...
Given only the health of the soil,
Nothing that dies is dead very long.
~Wendell Berry, 
 The Unsettling of America, 1977

Right after the snowdrops bloom, the
crocus are right behind. They're scattered
here and there-- first the braver yellows,
followed by purple & white.

Nature likes nothing better
than variety and diversity.

Crocus are a marvel--
delicate yet stalwart.
Brave soldiers in a 
sometimes cruel wind.

The desert shall rejoice and blossom;
like the crocus it shall blossom abundantly,
and rejoice with joy and singing.
~ Isaiah 35: 1-2

By early February, daffodil shoots
and buds have already begun to
break through the frosty turf in
the University Parks. It puts an
extra spring in our step as we walk,
bundled up from head to toe
against the cold and wind. 

We check their progress
daily, and cheer them on.

The most hearty of the daffodils begin
to open their yellow faces one by one,
one small step for February and one
giant leap for springtime.

With every little moment of sun,
more of the yellow trumpets open--
the brightest thing on the landscape.

The lesser spotted and rare 'Jack of Oxford'.
We catch glimpses of him as daffodils bloom.
(He can be hard to spot since he's known for
his speed and ability to elude capture.)

February brings many misty mornings in
shades of grey and blue. The mist hangs low
over the river and the mornings are quiet.
It's a pregnant pause before the chorus of
of birds begins in earnest in late February
& early March, as they get busy building
nests and laying eggs.

Spring would not be
spring without bird songs.
~Francis M. Chapman

The Cherwell River, University Parks, Oxford
We can get little surprise snowfalls,
even as late as April. The snow doesn't
stick around for very long--usually
just long enough for a quick photo.

Through the mist, snow, sun, warm and
chilly winds, the birds charm the air
with their songs, while their attention is
on feathering their spring nests.

It doesn't take much sunshine
to get people out in the park
with picnics or their guitar.

Everybody needs beauty as well as bread,
places to play in and pray in, where
Nature may heal and cheer and give
strength to body and soul alike.
~John Muir

Soon the ponds and rivers
reflect a deep blue sky.

You can't help but smile with
a sky this blue overhead.

Blue skies smilin' at me,
Nothin' but blue skies do I see,
Blue days all of them gone,
Nothin' but blue skies
from now on..........

Bunches of bright daffodils and tulips from the
south of England fill the shops. They're quickly
scooped up and brought home for spring cheer.

Even if we can't be happy,
we must always be cheerful.
~Irving Cristol

Oxford's Covered Market,
between the High and Market Street.

The colour green--calming yet
invigorating. The colour of life.

Oh the green things growing,
The green things growing,
The faint sweet smell of
The green things growing.
~Dinah MM Craik

With the shops overflowing with spring blooms
it's easy to bring a bundle of spring home,
starting with our front door.

Then into the kitchen.

A posy gathered from our own garden.

Perfect daffodils greet guests
as they come down to breakfast.

Adopt the pace of nature:
her secret is patience.
~Ralph Waldo Emerson

All through February and then March,
it takes patience to get from this.....(mudville) this,
daffodils bloom in the warm sun,
Magdalen College, Oxford.

Spring flowers blooming along
Addison's Walk, Magdalen College; one
of C.S. Lewis' favourite walks in Oxford.

Sometimes we have to wear our warm coats
and wellies, right up until late May or early June.

But just about when we're ready to give
up and live in eternal chilliness, we get to what can only be called verdant.

I love to think of nature as an
unlimited broadcasting station,
through which God speaks to
us every hour, if we will only tune in.
~George Washington Carver

If you have a mind at peace,
A heart that cannot harden;
Go find a door that opens wide
Upon a lovely garden.

Soon the cold March winds and April
downpours become a distant memory,
and spring melds into a warm and
daisy-filled summer day.

'Jack of Oxford' in his natural
habitat of daisies, sunshine and joy.
Never lose an opportunity of seeing anything that
is beautiful, for beauty is God's handwriting--a
wayside sacrament. Welcome it in every fair face,
in every fair sky, in every flower, and thank
God for it as a cup of blessing.
~Ralph Waldo Emerson

All photos ©CarrieGordonHolloway, Oxford

Thursday, 9 February 2017

The Road Less Travelled

Half the fun of the travel
is the esthetic of lostness. 
 ~Ray Bradbury

My dad and I on a rickety bridege in
the Great Smoky Mountains--that we
then drove over.
My dad was a great back-road adventurer when we were growing up. He never met a shortcut or a dirt road he didn't like; maybe because he grew up in the north woods of Michigan, when most of the roads were back roads. He also loved a good, old 'Sunday drive', something I don't think anyone younger than a baby-boomer would know the meaning of. After church, and our Sunday roast chicken and mashed potatoes, we'd all pile in the station wagon and head for the winding roads of Wisconsin or Michigan. The hillier, the bumpier, the windier, the better.

With an adventurous dad, we've been lost on a short-cut to Ten-Sleep, Wyoming, driven over rickety bridges in the Great Smoky Mountains, and wound our way up a Quebec mountainside while a violent thunderstorm shook around us. And every, single second of it was fun and felt like an adventure; I don't ever remember feeling afraid. Life lesson learned? Fearlessness. And the ability to turn down the road less traveled and just keep going, knowing that you'll get to Ten-Sleep or the mountaintop eventually.

Courage is the power to
let go of the familiar.
~Raymond Lindquist

Lo and behold, and no big surprise, I married someone very much like my dad in some ways. There's nothing Stuart likes better than back roads and short-cuts, even if the short-cut is a dirt road, chock full of pot-holes, with a few cows standing in the middle.......and takes three times longer, it's still a short-cut. One of Stuart's favourite short-cuts is near Hidcote Gardens NT, in Gloucester. I'm sure it's given me kidney damage from all of the pot-holes. Every time we're nearly to Hidcote, Stuart swerves to the left onto a pock-marked dirt track saying, "this cuts the whole corner off!!" And we get to Hidcote just about 5 minutes later than we would have, with my teeth still rattling.

But then.............
it's hard to get views like
this by taking the motorway
or the direct route. These are
back-road views in Wales.

Not until we are lost do we
begin to understand ourselves.
~Henry David Thoreau

'You don't even know
where I'm going.'
'I don't care.
I'd like to go anywhere.'
~John Steinbeck,
Travels with Charley
{a long-time favourite book}

Stuart's prowess at back-road driving and finding shortcuts was put to good use during his 'Spires & Shires' days. After becoming an Oxford tour guide in his early 20s, Stuart branched out into doing tours of the Cotswolds and the shires surrounding Oxford--Oxfordshire, Gloucestershire, Berkshire and Wiltshire.  He combined the Oxford spires with the surrounding rolling hills of the Cotswolds and formed a tour company he called Spires & Shires.

Stuart and his
Spires & Shires vans.
{he's the young chap on the left.}

People saw the real Cotswolds from Stuart's vans, driving down tiny single-track roads, cutting across hilltops, and stopping in tiny villages only accessible by narrow tracks that are barely on a map, much less have a name or a number.

The other thing Stuart loves is a good 'ford', where a road through a village crosses over a stream--without the benefit of a bridge. If there are two routes through a village and one of them is through a ford, the road we travel is always through the ford.

Sometimes the ford is shallow enough
for even a puppy to paddle in. This is
5 month old Jack, wading in the ford
in the village of Upper Slaughter.

Most small villages in Britain were built around some kind of water source--a spring, a well, a small stream or a river, so it isn't unusual for a stream to still run through the middle of a village, or a river through a town like in Bath, Worcester, London and even Oxford. In fact Oxford's name derives from the Saxons and means an 'oxen' 'ford'. Ox-ford. Born and bred here, no wonder Stuart loves a good ford.
A perfectly clear stream
runs through the middle of
Swinbrook (swine-brook),

The river Eye meanders through
the middle of the Cotswold village
of Lower Slaughter. Not just
cars ford the river, horses do too.

Mills were placed along streams and
rivers and often villages grew up 
around them, like the one in
Lower Slaughter. ('Slaughter' is an old
English word for marshy, or wet place.)

Who so comth first to mille (mill), 
first grynt (grant).  
~Chaucer-Canterbury Tales
The origin of 'first come, first serve'.

'Oh, it's the same old grind.'
'Back to the old grind' .......
as in 'mill grind.'

'Keep your nose to the grindstone.'

'As still as a mill pond.'

Swinbrook, near Burford, Oxfordshire
has a wonderful ford that we never {ever}
miss. It makes Stuart very happy when I get
out to take a photo of him fording the ford.
{It's the little things, right?}

The world is full of magic things,
{and places} patiently waiting for
our senses to grow sharper.
~William Butler Yeats

Which brings us to the granddaddy of all fords, the ford in the village of Shilton, between Lechlade and Burford, west of Oxford. It's a small village, very quiet and picturesque with its stone cottages, and it circles around a large, peaceful pond. There are thinking-benches scattered around the pond, ducks for feeding, trees for shade, and it's perfect for swimming on the elusive warm summer days. It also has a ford--which is why we drove through it last week on our way back to Oxford from the Burford Garden Centre.

The pond at Shilton last week,
looking very wintry but no less lovely.

The ford in Shilton is a paved road and is
actually on a map. There's a fairy-tale
Cotswold stone bridge for walkers and dogs,
and it's crystal clear water with a solid
surface for driving on. But, if I hadn't grown
up with brothers whose first response to a
snowstorm was, "let's go drive donuts in the
snow!", as well as a father who was a fearless
driver of the roads less travelled, I probably
would be a bit hesitant about this ford.
It's a ford on steroids.

Here we go!

I ended up getting out of the car so I could
photograph the intrepid ford-master in action.

Alas! it is not the child but the boy
that generally survives in the man. 
~Arthur Helps, 
Thoughts in the Cloister & the Crowd, 1835

Luckily a Land Rover is made for
the sometimes rugged British countryside.
Slip it into four wheel drive and off you go.
{And then test your brakes!!!}

Two other cars crossed the ford right after
we did. It's a daily/hourly occurrence in
Shilton--people calmly driving headlong
into the water without batting an eye.

To live with fear and not be
afraid is the final test of maturity.
~Edward Weeks 

Stuart and I have been driving back roads and fording fords together for 19 years. We've driven from Land's End in Cornwall to John O'Groats and Orkney in Scotland; from Lindisfarne, Northumberland to St. David's in Wales; from the coastline of Kent up to the northwest tip of Scotland; from Ballycastle, Northern Ireland down to the Dingle Peninsula in Ireland; and all points in between. You might say we travel well together, both in the car, but also in life. We may fight in the car sometimes, which reminds me, if you're ever around us both, don't mention Salisbury where Stuart we get lost nearly every time we drive through it. But even with the occasional fights and map disagreements, we get to wherever it is we're going eventually, every disagreement long forgotten.

Courage is being scared to death....
and saddling up anyway.
~John Wayne

When we chose to move to Oxford nine years ago, for me it felt like a hard right turn, up over a mountain top, back down into a steeply sloping valley, and then through the deepest ford. It's most surely a road less travelled to divest of a life and a career, sell a house, ship all of our worldly goods over an ocean, and give away our cat. Kissing loved ones goodbye felt like turning onto a road that led into a deep, dark forest. But as I learned from my dad, you just keep going and eventually you'll get to Ten-Sleep, Wyoming--or wherever it is you're headed. And luckily I have a great partner who isn't afraid of the deep fords, the winding curves or the dirt paths either. No matter what, we just keep going and enjoy the view along the way.

A deep, green valley in Wales where
Llewellyn the Great lies buried. It's not
easy to find, but so worth the journey.

The courage of life is often a less
dramatic spectacle than the courage
of a final moment; but it is no less
a magnificent mixture of triumph
and tragedy.
~John F. Kennedy

My sister and I travel well together too,
and we stumbled upon this ancient church

 in the Welsh marches founded in 520AD.
To this day we don't know how we found it,
taking random turns on tiny Welsh roads.
It was a thrill to come upon something so
ancient, from a time between the Romans
and the Saxons that's cloaked in mystery.

I love British and Irish road signs
and have 22 years worth of them
in photographs.

When you're travelling the back-roads, 
the roads less travelled, watching road
signs is a must. But, you have to be
going slowly enough to notice them.

Life is one big road with lots of signs.
So when you riding through the ruts,
don't complicate your mind.
Flee from hate, mischief and jealousy.
Don't bury your thoughts, put your
vision to reality. Wake Up and Live!
~Bob Marley

Every one of us has in him a
continent of undiscovered character.
Blessed are they who act as the
Columbus to their own soul. 
~Author Unknown

I may not be there yet,
but I'm closer than I was yesterday.

......Two roads diverged in a wood,
and I— 
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
~Robert Frost