Countryside. It’s a good word that reminds us all of those childhood trips we took through the farm fields of Virginia or the Adirondacks of New York or the swamplands of the Carolinas. It reminds me of getting out of school for a long weekend and putting all of the stress of achieving excellence behind me, and instead of focusing on grades and popularity I would turn my thoughts to the sailboat at my friend’s river house or to the strange smells in the mom and pop stores along the way. We all have our own countrysides and we all remember the freshness of childhood that came with exploring new countrysides. I feel that that exact freshness was what I had been missing for a few years, and bearing in mind Emerson’s warning about travel, I came over to England for more reasons than to find the freshness again. I have had disappointing travel experience in the past, so I understood that travel does not solve all of a person’s problems or provide the novelty of experience for which a person thirsts. The freshness is ephemeral and has more to do with people, I think, than places.
But it is here.
Last week I took a trip to the Isle of Purbeck, which is on the southern coast of Dorset near the towns of Bournemouth and Poole. We passed Corfe Castle, enormous ruins of a medieval castle and its quaint castle town full of pubs and shops. We walked up and down the bronze-age farming foothills and explored the cliffs of the coast that dove into the English channel. We picked wild blackberries. We had pints of cider and meat pies on stone tables overlooking the sea. My cross country team periodically runs through farm fields and up and down the hillsides surrounding the school. In many places the view down into the surrounding valley is almost as good as from airplanes. I’ve been kayaking up and down the local river and stopping on sunday mornings to enjoy the clouds and the fog and whatever else it is that cathes my eye. Huge fat pigeons land on my windows and coo. The horses in the fields outside my window gallop around and swish their tails in the sunset. I can’t say anything special happens when I observe these things, in fact I wish that I had an even larger capacity to appreciate beauty than I do, but always sometime later in the day when I am sitting down to work I begin to feel those first inclinations of something, something like freshness.
One may ask, why would someone focus on things like blackberries in the countryside at such a tumultuous time for politics and economies and war and religion etc. I have been notorious for having my head in the clouds before, and sometimes that’s not good. Sometimes everyone needs a good dose of down-to-earth reality. But I feel that we neglect the countryside all too often. If we neglect the English Countrysides of our lives and focus solely on city-life: our fashion, achievement, social and global opinions, because we of all people certainly must be right, we are likely to become nothing more than ants in a long historical line of ants who add nothing to the ant hill except more busyness. If we don’t stop to pick blackberries or look at the sun coming through the tree mist in that certain way, when are we ever going to stop? Will our entire lives be complaints without ever arriving at moments of refreshment? It’s as if the exit to the mental mazes we run in all our lives is right in front of our faces, but we choose to go on and overthink more crises, essentially saying “No, I’ll come to that point of rest later.” It bothers me that people often cannot see the reality that their opinions are conditioned by their surroundings, and besides never expanding those horizons, they never even bother to take a look at one. If you are burned or weary from the rat maze of society, really the only answer for you is Christ. “Come to me all you labor and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.” But I believe we find a special remedy and aid, only through the lens of Christ, in the countryside and in the blackberries as well.