A Surprise And A Story

I had plans.

I was going to get a job in London and never leave the UK again. (Except for visits to family and occasional adventures, obviously, because I love to travel. And I love adventures.)

And then my student visa expired without any job offers on the horizon, which meant that I had to leave the country. But I wasn’t ready to return to the US because that felt like giving up my dream of living in the UK.

So I made new plans. These plans involved six weeks of travelling across Europe, and essentially staying on this side of the Atlantic for as long as I thought I could reasonably afford it. They were exciting plans, adventurous plans, and when the time came to actually leave the UK, I got on a bus and headed to Paris to visit a friend for a few days as the start of my six week adventure. So far, so good.

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And then things got interesting.

You see, it only took 36 hours in Paris for me to realise a few things about myself and my life. They say that sometimes you have to step out of a situation in order to get a clearer perspective on it. In my case, it turned out that all I needed to do was step across to Paris for a few days.

I wandered around the city. I spoke French (sort of). I met French friends of my friend, met a new friend from my old life in California, and talked about expat life with fellow Americans.

And the more we talked, the more I didn’t want to travel for six weeks.

The more we talked, the more I knew that my home is in London.

And the more we talked, the more I realised that what I really wanted to do was apply for jobs in London, even if that meant I had to return to the US for a time. And even if that meant I would miss out on seeing some of the beautiful locations I had planned to visit, or hanging out with the people I had planned to see on my six week adventure. Because, to paraphrase Billy Crystal, when you realise what you want to do with the rest of your life, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible.

But I had made plans. Sure, I hadn’t actually booked most of my tickets, but I had talked to people, and I had made plans. I couldn’t just give all that up after only four days in Paris! What would people think of me?!

So I flew to Sicily, off the southern tip of Italy. And spent several hours almost completely unable to hear because of the combination of plugged sinuses from a cold and the changes in air pressure on my flights. And spent several hours worried that one – or perhaps both – of my eardrums would rupture. (Don’t worry – they didn’t.)

I had made plans, but the ear thing, mixed with my own increasing uneasiness with the idea of continuing with those plans, forced me to make some changes. I rearranged my schedule so that I would not have to fly again for several weeks, and I booked a flight back to the US for an earlier date than originally planned because I realised that job searching was probably not going to happen while I was gallivanting around Europe – and ultimately, what I really wanted to do was focus on officially moving to London.

 

So I spent a few days in Sicily with a friend, and they were beautiful days involving Mediterranean sunshine, sea air, and all three seasons of Miranda (plus the final Christmas special). And I decided to visit Florence next, mostly to break up an extremely long period of travel due to my refusal to fly again (and because my uncle had recommended it).

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At the end of my time in Sicily, I said goodbye to my friend and embarked on a twelve hour day of train travel. On my arrival in Florence, I checked into my hostel and tried to make some plans for my continuing journey . . . but I couldn’t bring myself to actually book any of the available options for further travel. I couldn’t stop thinking about how all I really wanted to do was apply for jobs in London. And I couldn’t escape the feeling that pushing forward with my trip was just wrong. But I had made plans, and I was determined to follow through with those plans.

And the next day, my body physically refused to go any further.

I don’t think I will ever forget that moment. I sat on a stool in a tiny cafe in Florence for more than an hour, picking at a sandwich that I couldn’t actually eat and staring out the window at the tourists passing by. And I faced the idea of throwing in the travel towel and going back to England on a tourist visa until my flight to the US. Of admitting that maybe I had gotten it wrong, and that maybe all God wanted from me was a willingness to leave the UK. That perhaps He had been trying to tell me in various ways that the six weeks of travelling was not a good idea, but that I had been too stubborn to listen until He was forced to physically stop me in order to get my attention.

And when I made my way back to the hostel and booked the first next-day flight to London, I started to feel a bit better – even though I was still a bit nervous about the ear thing.

And the next day, when the British immigration officer stamped that tourist visa into my passport and I walked out into the bright London sunshine, I could have cried with relief.

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I had plans. But the whole time that I was trying to live out those plans, words that were prayed over me on the night that I left the UK kept ringing in my head – words that spoke to me of following God’s plans for me, and of being open to wherever He might want to lead me. And no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t reconcile those words with my own plans . . . until the moment I admitted defeat and decided to go home (even if I can only call it home for another week or two).

And that is why I write this from my room on the outskirts of London and not from whatever country I was supposed to be in today. I am officially back in the UK (although I have to say that I’m not “back” in the sense of picking up life where I left off – because I do have to leave again soon, and because my focus for these next few weeks is on applying for jobs in London and temporary ones in Minnesota, where I’ll be headed until further notice – but I am back in the sense of coming home for a short time).

I’m glad that I saw Paris and Sicily. I’m glad to have spent time with those friends. I’m even glad to know that I can navigate Italian transportation on my own without speaking the language. But I am also glad that I was eventually willing to give up my own plans in favour of the seemingly less glamorous option which God is currently offering. It may not be as temporarily exciting as traveling across Europe, but the long-term view is thrilling.

And that is why – surprise! – I’m in England today.

Girl Meets World

Down to Gehenna or up to the Throne, he travels the fastest who travels alone.”

Betsy was chanting it under her breath to give her courage, as laden with camera, handbag, umbrella, and Complete Pocket Guide to Europe, she started up the gangplank to the deck of the S.S. Columbic. (Betsy and the Great World, by Maud Hart Lovelace)

Betsy Ray has long been one of my literary heroines, a young American would-be writer who sets off in early 1914 to spend a year traveling in Europe in order to improve her writing by experiencing other cultures. And although it is difficult to compare an overnight coach ride underneath the English Channel to sailing the high seas in the golden age of steamer travel, she and I are not so different these days.

One week ago, I was living just outside of London and searching for a job that would include visa sponsorship. And one week ago, I looked at the expiration date of 21 January 2016 on my student visa and knew that I had run out of time. The only question was what to do next, because my practical career goals require me to be able to live and work in this beautiful island of Great Britain – and I was about to be kicked out.

So I sat down, had a cup of tea, and decided to do what on the surface seemed to be the least sensible thing I could choose to do. I decided to chase my (slightly less practical) dreams.

Like Betsy, I am a storyteller at heart, and also like her, my favorite medium is the written word. Words are my best friends, my own personal Hammer of Thor.

Or they could be, if I make the effort to learn.

And that is why today I am sitting on a sofa in the Paris apartment of a friend from California. I watched the sun rise from the platform of a frosty railway station this morning, and tonight I will attend a pub quiz at an Irish pub here in Paris, because this is the life I have chosen to live for the next six weeks. Visiting friends both old and new in an adventure from Italy to Ireland to Sweden and many places in between, seeing life in as many cultures as I can, exploring the history that shaped so much of the world that I know . . . and writing about it.

This American would-be writer is off to see the Great World. I can’t guarantee anything, but I promise that it will be an adventure.

One Year in England

I’ve lived in the UK for a year and three weeks now, and according to my friends, I’m getting more and more English with every passing day.

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I am still American, and sometimes very obviously American, but I had to laugh when I realised the other day that British accents now sound so natural to me that I don’t even always notice the difference between them and the occasional North American accent which comes across my path.

I thought it would be interesting to see what I currently miss about the U.S. of A., now that I’m practically English.  Because there must be some things, right?

Okay, maybe it will be easier to make a list of things I used to miss, but which I no longer do.

  • Hamburgers.  I’ve said before that Five Guys in the UK makes a darn good American-style burger, and I still hold to that statement.
  • American peanut butter.  I can get it if I need it, but I’m starting to be okay with not having it, strangely enough.
  • Autumn-themed decorations everywhere.  Last year, I missed seeing pumpkins at front doors and in cutesy shop displays for the entire month of October, but this year, I’ve realised that the pumpkins are still here if I look for them.
  • Autumn drinks at Starbucks.  I drink tea now.
  • Disneyland.  To be honest, I do still miss Disneyland . . . but more for the memories I made there with friends than for the actual location.  As for that sense of having fallen into a fantasy world, I still get it here when I’m surrounded by old and beautiful buildings everywhere I go.
  • American-style bacon.  I love British bacon.  And when you can get baconnaise for your fries chips at Gourmet Burger Kitchen, who needs American bacon, anyway?
  • How I Met Your Mother.  Did you know that HIMYM plays in the UK?  You just have to be able to watch live TV!
  • American football.  Yes, of course I miss watching American football games on television three times a week.  But it does exist here, if I just put in a bit more effort.  And someday I’ll get to watch a Husker game live again instead of merely listening to it via internet radio.
  • Cheesy made-for-TV Christmas movies.  Granted, I can rent or buy some of the fabulous Lifetime and Hallmark Channel Christmas films via Amazon Instant Video, but not all of them.  And I can’t look forward to having cheesy Christmas films at my fingertips every time I turn on the TV for the entire month of December, which does make me a bit sad, because I love cheesy films at Christmas.  But I’ve come to realise that I probably don’t need to watch every single one that airs, so if I can ever manage to get a copy of ABC Family’s “12 Dates of Christmas” (starring Amy Smart and Zack Morris Mark-Paul Gosselaar), I’ll be more than satisfied.

There are probably several things I still miss about life in America and which I’ll remember at three o’clock in the morning, when it’s too late to turn on my computer and edit this post, but in general, I’ve found that the things which decorate our lives and seem so important to our happiness don’t actually matter all that much.  While I do miss the people from my life in America – and that will never change – I can honestly say that in general, I don’t miss American things.

At this rate, I could be fully English by Christmas…

Almost Eight Months in England

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(image via here)

Earlier this week, my friend Rosie and I met for a late dinner at an Italian restaurant halfway between our two homes.  Neither of us had eaten there before, even though we both live a short walk from it, and what was supposed to be a Girls’ Night dinner at Rosie’s house had shrunk down during the course of the day until it was just the two of us, so naturally we decided to have a night out.

We sat outside on the front terrace because it was still light enough to feel the warmth of the sun.  We split a pizza – which was almost New York-style in its artful floppiness – and a salad with avocados – which I must point out because avocados! – and we decided to splurge on cocktails.  And when the light finally faded out of the sky (which doesn’t happen until nearly 10pm these days), we moved into the warm restaurant and dawdled over coffee.

(I have to put in a quick plug for the restaurant because the food was divine, the servers were gracious and attentive without being too prominent, and they even hung little lanterns from the awning for us once twilight fell.  If you live in the Egham area and have a craving for Italian food, go to Caspari!)

When we were finally ready to leave, I walked the roughly half of a mile with Rosie to her flat so that she could then drive me back past the restaurant and about half of a mile in the opposite direction to my flat.  You see, to get to Rosie’s flat, we had to walk past the green.  (For my American readers, a green is essentially a park.  Or sometimes more like a town square.)  This particular green is lovely:  flat, wide and open enough to play cricket or host an autumn fayre with fireworks.

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In the daylight, neither of us would think twice about walking alone down the road past the green, and we would have gone our separate ways at the restaurant.  But after dark, the empty green becomes thick with shadows, surrounded on three sides by wooded patches just dense enough to hide the many houses in the area.  There are no streetlights on the green, and for a girl alone at night, the long walk from one end to the other can easily feel darker and darker with each step.  So – by mutual agreement – I walked home with Rosie and then let her drive me to mine.

At the far end of the green, a little roundabout – so small that an American driver might think it was just an oddly shaped speed bump and drive right over it without knowing what it really was – creates a hub for several roads under a solitary streetlight.  Most of them tunnel deeper into the trees, but one – the one we had just walked up – runs back along the green towards the friendly lights of the houses at the other end.  From that roundabout, you can see the entire green, as well as a good distance along each of the wooded roads.

And on that night, as we reached the little roundabout, we realized that we were completely alone.  There were no cars on any of the roads.  There were no sounds of cars coming up through the trees or muted hum of traffic on the not-too-distant motorway.  There were not even any planes soaring far overhead on their way to or from Heathrow.

It was just us.  And the trees.  And the green.  And the quietness of a world momentarily at rest.

We laughed and ran to stand on top of the hump in the road, turning circles to look down each branch and talking about the scene in The Notebook when Noah and Allie lie down in the middle of a deserted street in the middle of the night.

Notebook

(image from film via unknown)

Technically, we stood on safe ground, as the cars were meant to go around the hump and not over it, but the daredevil feeling of stopping in the middle of a normally busy road was still there.  (And not everyone goes around these mini roundabouts.)

And from the top of that little bump in the road, looking out across the shadowy green from under the glow of the only streetlight on that side of the world and listening to the peace of the night around us, I felt my perspective shift a little.

Sometimes you have to stand on top of a desk if you want to see the world in a different way.  Sometimes you have to cry, “O captain my captain”, and walk out of step.  And other times all you need is dinner with a friend and a quiet moment “at the still point of the turning world” (to quote my old friend T.S. Eliot).  Because in that quiet moment, standing in the middle of a road in which I should not have been able to stand, listening to nothing at all but the sigh of the breeze in the trees above me, with my friend beside me, I realized all over again that God knew exactly what he was doing when he sent me to this place.

Because once upon a time, this city girl was a country girl.  And a soul raised in the wild winds and fields of the prairie sometimes needs a little more than the noise and bustle of the city.  Such a soul sometimes needs green spaces.  And quiet moments.  And roads lined with so many trees that they could be called wooded.  And stars – so many stars.

I will always love the city, but that moment in which the world seemed to stop while we laughed on top of the roundabout reminded me that it is okay to love the small towns and countryside, too.

And I may be halfway around the world from my family and friends of years, but I also have friends here in this new place who are sharing their lives with me and making me one of them.  Friends who laugh with me and challenge me and sometimes even see more in me than I see in myself.

This life I’ve chosen is sometimes quieter than what I’ve been accustomed to.  (Being a full time student and living in a rather sleepy town on the outskirts of London will do that.)  But this life is also so, so good.  As T.S. Eliot said, “at the still point, there the dance is.”  And on top of that roundabout, I found a quiet moment to take in the dance I’m currently living.  And it. is. good.

8 Things I Learned in March

Today I’m joining Emily over at Chatting at the Sky in listing some of the things I learned during the month of March.  She does this every month, sharing everything from the deep and profound to the small and ridiculous in an effort to pause and look back before pressing on into the new month.  I’ve never joined in before, but today, in the interest of procrastination, I thought, “Why not?!”

So, for your entertainment, here are 8 things I learned in March.  (Full disclosure:  This list is not guaranteed to change your life.)


1.  One of my purest joys in life is eating a really good burger.

A photo posted by RED Head!! (@jadeykins_13) on Mar 18, 2015 at 11:29am PDT

Don’t get me wrong, I generally enjoy burgers in any form.  But my idea of a really good burger is a little too American to find easily here in England, so when I do stumble across one, I rejoice.  For several days.

This particular lesson was learned courtesy of the Five Guys in Wimbledon, in case anyone was wondering.  They really do offer heaven in a brown paper bag.


2.  You are never too old to enjoy a toy shop.

Taking Life Seriously

(Via Pinterest)

I don’t have to avoid toy shops just because people seem to think that I’m an adult.  And few things are as fun as dragging a reluctant friend – who thinks that we’re too old to look at toys – into said toy shop and watching her succumb to the joy of Lego® sets and plush stuffed animals.

Also, boys have better toys than girls.  For real.  The boy section was all Star Wars and The Hobbit and Doctor Who and Avengers and Minecraft, while the girl section was basically pink and Barbie-ish.  I think it’s obvious which section we preferred.


3.  I may never be able to speak in an English accent.

Grace:  “Harry Potter.”

Me:  “Hair-y Pawt-terr.”

Abby:  “Potter.”

Me:  “Pawt-tuh.”

Grace:  “Potter.”

Me:  “Pot-tuh.”

Abby:  “Pot.  Say pot.”

Me:  “Pot.”

Abby:  “Now add the rest.”

Me:  “Pot-tuh-er.”

Just trust me when I say it ain’t working…


4.  I generally prefer a Devon cream tea.

Devon cream tea

(Via this website)

Cream teas are not always well known to the average American, but in England, they come in either Devon or Cornwall varieties, and your chosen style just might be a dealbreaker.

Me?  I prefer Devon, meaning that I put the cream on the scone first, and then top it with jam . . . as long as the cream is clotted.  If someone has the audacity to offer me whipped cream instead of clotted cream, I will follow the Cornwall method and put the jam first, cream last.

It’s all about which item makes the best peanut butter in the PB&J method, folks.  (Yes, I did just compare a cream tea to a PB&J sandwich.  This is American-ing at its best.)


5.  If I can’t have a party with kid party games, then I prefer to spend my birthday laughing with just a few good friends.

It’s even better if the night of laughing involves four renditions of the birthday song, classic American rock and roll music, and balloons on sticks.

Also, receiving a homemade medieval castle cake from one of said friends is the icing on the . . . well, cake.


6.  Sometimes it’s okay to hermit like a boss.  Especially if books are involved.

Library

(via Pinterest)

Life can be a whirlwind, even as a student without a full time job.  And sometimes, once the term ends and the campus quiets, I need to spend a few days in my pajamas.  Only leaving my room to forage for food or make a cup of tea.  Not really talking to anyone except over text or social media.  And reading for fun, not for essay research.

Even those of us who are mostly extroverted still occasionally need our alone time to rest and recharge and breathe deep while we listen to the wind try to tear out the trees by their roots outside.  But it’s easy to forget – as a mostly extrovert – that I do need these times.  And in this last month, maybe what I had to learn (or remember) was not so much that I need them, but that it’s okay to take them.  And it isn’t always just another form of procrastination.


7.  To have friends, I need to be a friend.

Or more accurately, to stay in contact with long-distance friends, I can’t sit back and wait for them to contact me.  As the saying goes, relationships are a two-way street.  Also, it turns out that when you move to another country, sometimes your friends from the old one are afraid of making you homesick or getting in the way of your new life if they contact you too often.  And for as many pen pals as I had growing up, apparently I’m not very good anymore at writing letters.  Or emails.

(If you’re reading this and you think I might be talking about you, I probably am.  Please know that I’m sorry for not reaching out to you in some way, shape, or form more often in the last six months, and that I always welcome hearing from you, no matter how long it has been.  And I may not change my non-letter-or-email-writing habits all at once, but I am working on not disappearing entirely into the land of tea and scones.)


And last but certainly not least…

8.  It is perfectly acceptable to buy a Star Wars novel in Oxford.

Oxford with Patty - 23 Oct 14

(Photo courtesy of Patty Yu)

In other words, it’s okay for me to be me, even if that means buying a Star Wars novel from a bookshop in a city famous for academics, instead of something deep and intelligent and Oxfordish.

Because sometimes a girl just needs to spend some time fighting the forces of the remnants of the Empire with one of the best X-wing squadrons in the galaxy.   Ya know what I mean?


… And that’s it.  Thanks for joining me in my look back at the last month of my life, y’all, and happy April!

Anatomy of an English Walk (Part 2)

You can read Part 1 here, but don’t worry if you don’t have the time.  This isn’t a continuing story where you need to know all the episodes to understand the end.  It’s more like an American expat’s ode to the recently discovered joys of an English country walk, broken down into several parts so as not to overwhelm the reader with one ridiculously long post.


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The thing about country walks in February is that your wellies are going to get muddy.  And if you don’t wash them immediately, the mud dries into dirt.  (That’s your science lesson for today, kids.)  After the walk described in my last post, I didn’t clean my wellies right away, so they looked like the photo above four days later when I arrived in Teignmouth – a fishing port and former Georgian resort town on the south coast of the county of Devon – with a couple of friends as part of a mini-break for reading week (‘spring break’ for you Americans).

Teignmouth

We were not staying overnight in Teignmouth, but we went there from the home of my friend’s parents on the day that we drove down from London.  As Rosie said, you’re not really in Devon until you’ve gotten yourself outside and walking either by the sea or on the moor, so we went straight to the coast after lunch.

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It was a wet day, wet and cold, but I don’t think any of us cared.  I know I didn’t.  Just to be by the sea, smelling the salt and hearing the waves on the sand, was more than enough for me.

The town felt nearly deserted in the way that resort towns do in the off season.  Small shops that were obviously intended to lure tourists were boarded up for the winter, and the pavements and streets were quiet.  Locals were out in parkas and wellies of their own, letting dogs frolic on the beach or pushing small children in prams.

It felt like a proper fishing village.  It had that atmosphere of a place ruled by the sea.

I loved it.

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We walked down the beach and let the waves wash the mud off of our wellies.  (And once we let the waves splash right inside of our wellies, but that was an accident, and Rosie’s wellies dried.  Eventually.)

Our ultimate destination was a more private beach on the far side of the harbor – on the other side of the headland in the photo above.  To cross the harbor, we paid 1.50 each to ride a small ferry from one side to the other.

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You can see the ferry in the photo above, in the top right corner.  It’s the small boat next to the long blue one.  From this distance, it looks a bit like a large rowboat.  It was bigger than it looks, but sat just as low in the water as a rowboat might.

The beach on the far side was covered in pebbles of all shapes and colours.  I wanted to watch the waves rolling in as we walked, but I kept getting distracted by the pretty colours at my feet.

Getting to the beach required a bit of a trek, as we had to climb giant’s stairs up to the road, then make our way through a surprisingly long tunnel (which may or may not have originated as a smugglers’ tunnel in the days of tall ships), then descend one last slippery staircase to the sand.

The view was worth it, though.

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A rain shower had just passed through, and as we wandered the beach, we could watch the sun breaking through the clouds behind the cliffs.  Once we had breathed in our fill of the green grass, red sandstone cliffs, and grey churning waves, we headed home by way of hot chocolate at a gorgeous pub looking out over the harbor.

The next day, we drove north to go for a coastal walk with a local friend of Rosie’s at a National Trust property called Baggy Point.  While our wellies were definitely necessary in Teignmouth to fend off the wet sand, rain, and waves, I discovered that they were also a welcome addition to our dry walk at Baggy Point.  My feet stayed warm, and they turned out to be much better for walking than any of my regular shoes would have been.  Who knew wellies could work like that?!

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Baggy Point is another headland, but this side of the county has grey craggy cliffs rather than soft red sandstone.  The wind blew the clouds away soon after we arrived, and the sun lit up the grass and sea and sky to late winter brilliance for us.

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We walked out to the very edge, where we stood in the wind and looked out at the unending horizon line.  Someone pointed out the direction of America, and we squinted against the light to pose for photos, and talked about nothing and everything.

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On the walk back across the top of the headland, Sarah and I discussed the differences in distance on the North American continent compared to the United Kingdom.

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The village where we had parked slowly revealed itself over the hill as we walked, and I marveled again at the beauty of this land where I’ve found myself.

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As the sun eased toward the horizon, the light grew sharper and more perfect.  Other walkers passed us, and Sarah pointed out one couple with matching red socks.

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Back in the village, we walked out into the bay, across jagged rocks to the smooth sand beyond.  My wellies saved me more than once from wet feet as I kept forgetting to watch where I was walking, engrossed in the sunlight sparkling on the water nearby.

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We didn’t stay on the beach long because the tide was coming in, and each new wave chased us further back towards the sand dunes rolling away behind us.  The sand had been carved into patterns by the water, which glittered in the late afternoon sun as we hopped across them, moving away from the frothing waves.

A short trek through the village, followed by a cream tea in a small cafe, and our sea adventures in Devon were over.

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I must down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide

Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;

And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,

And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.

(John Masefield, ‘Sea-Fever’)

Anatomy of an English Walk (Part 1)

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I owned a pair of wellies in Los Angeles.  Black with white polka dots, they were on sale at Target one year, and I bought them so that I could splash in puddles during the (sometimes infrequent) rainy seasons.  They were not a necessity in any way, although they were extremely useful on the days when the parking lot at work flooded.

I called them wellies, but sometimes the people around me called them my ‘rain boots’.  Because that’s all they were:  Boots to keep my feet dry when it rained.  Until they didn’t anymore, and then I had to throw them out.

I’ve known for most of this last winter that it would be helpful for me to own a pair of wellies here in England.  It rains regularly, and while I’ve managed to keep my feet mostly dry, a good pair of wellies would have made it easier.

A little over a week ago, I wondered if it was almost too late in the season to bother with buying wellies.  Yes, winter is still here, and we still have weeks of cold ahead of us, but spring is on the way, and I thought that maybe the ‘Wellie Season’ was over.

Fortunately for me, I decided to buy them anyway.

And then the very next day, I went on a Sunday walk as part of a friend’s birthday party.  And discovered why nearly everyone around here owns a pair of wellies.

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I didn’t take any pictures of the mud directly, but perhaps you can imagine how the mud squished under our steps as we wandered through the quiet fields.  It had rained the day before – rained quite hard – and the sun had not yet had a chance to dry things out.  Around the fences and gates, the mud spread out in pools and natural slip-n-slides, and even in the middle of green grass, water still puddled in the dips and lowlands.

And this was where I learned about wellies.  And how vital they are to walking in the country in England at this time of year.

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You see, even when the grass is brilliantly green in defiance of winter, and even when the sky is a breathtaking blue, you can’t get out to properly enjoy them without a good pair of wellies.  Because it rains in England – sometimes even on sunny days.  And because the ground in this part of the country does not actually freeze.  And so the mud is everywhere, even if you can’t see it in a photograph.

Some of you may be wondering why we even bothered walking if the mud was so bad.  What’s the point?  Well, I don’t know why my friends choose to walk in wellies through cold and wet countryside, but I know why I do.

I walk because it’s fun.  Wellies make you feel impervious to things like mud, and there is something childlike and delightful about slogging straight through a muddy patch without concern for your shoes.

I walk because it’s quiet.  Sure, the airplanes still fly overhead on their way in and out of Heathrow, and sometimes you can hear the traffic from the nearby roads, but something about a field and a river and a woody hill makes all the other sounds fade a bit so that you hear instead the sigh of the wind through the branches and the song of the birds overhead.

I walk because it’s green.  The tree branches are stripped of leaves, but the grass is still as bright as summer.  And green spaces are good for my soul.

I walk because it’s windy.  You can take a girl out of Nebraska, but you can never take away her love of feeling the wind in her face and hair, even when that wind is cold enough to take her breath away.

I walk because it feels good.  Walking across fields, climbing over fences, reaching the summit of hills, and wearing rubber boots are all their own forms of exercise, and as Elle Woods says, “Exercise gives you endorphins.  Endorphins make you happy.”

And last but not least, I walk because it is beautiful.  It is nature.  It is fresh and green and blue and wind and sun and all these things.  It is good.

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If you look the right way, you can see that the whole world is a garden.

(Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden)