16 November 2008

Nine Miles to Churchill's on a Mean Green Bike

This post inaugurates a bit of backlogged blogging which I have needed to get off my chest and onto the world wide web for some time now. Journey back with me, friends, to Sunday, 12 October 2008. This was the day I ran my first international 10k.

I had this race on my race-dar (that’s race-radar) for some time, but it wasn’t until the night before, around 11:00pm, that I decided to go for it. I had been training to run a marathon on my birthday the following week – a marathon which, it turns out, I could not register for – so I was feeling pretty strong. I thought, I can tackle 6.2 miles. No sweat. But sweat there would be.

The race was run (get it? Run?) by the Rotary Club of Blenheim Palace, Woodstock, Oxfordshire, England. The palace itself is a stunning country house built in the early 18th century. Among its many claims to fame, Blenheim Palace has been featured in such films as Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (the site of the Nazi book burning) and Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (during Snape’s flashback), and is the birthplace and childhood home of the original Original Maverick, Sir Winston Churchill. Surrounded by gently rolling hills and what Wikipedia calls a “large undulating park,” the Palace stands an impressive, imposing monument to the past – and on the sidelines of my impending 10k.

There was, however, one teensy problem with this race: how to get to the starting line. Sure, Blenheim was a mere nine miles from my Crick Road home…but as there was no coach (bus) running early enough to have me there by 10:00am on that Sunday morning, I would have to find alternate transportation. And at the last minute. After deciding that I probably should not RUN the nine miles there, only to race another six and round off the day with a grand total of 24 miles, Jonathan Kirkpatrick, JD extraordinaire, suggested I borrow a bike.

The bike I decided to use was a seafoam green affair with a rusted wire basket attached to plastic handlebars and a seat patched together with duct tape. I gave it a rickety test ride down Crick Road around midnight, pumped some air into the tires, and deemed it my best option.

Dawn broke cold and foggy, and I left the house in my racing clothes, with keys and the ten-pound entry fee in the teeny pocket of my running shorts. Although I had a vague idea where this Palace was, I had never been there before – but I began my bumpy nine mile journey with a heart full of hope and a belly full of complex carbohydrates. 45 minutes and two wrong turns later, I found myself at the gates of Blenheim Palace, a full hour-and-a-half early. Which, it turns out, was a blessing – it gave me a chance to rest my tingling quads before the hilly race to come. I proudly handed my crumpled ten pounds to the kindly old women taking entrees, and chained my bike to an old wooden fence where other racers were parking their cars.

Perhaps it was my pre-race nine-mile bike ride, combined with my breakfast of Scottish porridge oats, that helped me get a 10k P.R. of 49 minutes. Or maybe the English cheat on their kilometer measurements. Either way, my beautiful run through the fog and the hills over crunchy red leaves up the path to the Palace was one of the most exhilarating experiences of my time in Oxford thus far. Flying high on endorphins and independence, I proudly gulped down some water, wiped the frosty sweat off my brow, and climbed aboard my seafoam beauty for the return home – the soreness in my body dulled by a feeling of invincibility, and the promise of a long nap that afternoon. Which, incidentally, was the best nap of my life.

06 November 2008

Notes on Gratitude

This week I learned from my close personal friend, J.M Coetzee
(the Nobel-Prize winning South African novelist),
that Gratitude and Pomegranate are
Sister Words.

Sharing hairbrushes and sleeping in bunk beds
and making up secret hand signals that only the other one knows:
touch nose
tuck hair behind ear
tug lobe twice

Somehow I’m not surprised.
I see the ruby-red orbs
ripe from sun and round with summer juice
weighing down the branch with impatience,
waiting to unzip the skin, the peel, and burst
with thankfulness.

My own heart-rind can barely contain the love-sown seeds inside,
stacked on pulpy bunk beds.

Dearest friends, I am so blessed to be the daily recipient of your love, prayers, cards, notes, letters, emails, blog comments, Facebook posts, and chocolate. Thank you for making my adventure abroad an experiment in gratitude! I am swallowed up in it. Your encouragement lines my heart and, as you can see, my walls. Words don’t do justice to how indebted I am to your kindness.

Special thanks go out to Stephen, Bonnie (+ Mystery Baby) and Miss Charlotte; the Green House Girlz; Laurie and Grandma Jan; Michael Dallas; Theodore the III; and, of course, the original mavericks: Mom-Dad-Hope-Paden-Grandma-Granddad-and-Auntie-Marta.

24 October 2008


On Monday, 6 October 2008, six cohorts and I climbed the third-highest peak in England: Helvellyn. Easily the most breathtaking hike I’ve ever done (in both senses of the word), the jagged beauty of this landscape sharpened my soul anew. Here are some photos:

Jonathan, my Junior Dean and the only man I know to hike in a leather jacket, takes a photo of me taking a photo of him standing atop Striding Edge, a razor-sharp rock scramble that necessitated all four limbs and complete concentration to negotiate.

Striding Edge: a study in chiaroscuro.

Looking across to Swirral Edge (which sounds like a toothpaste to me).

The Lake District

A journal entry, dated 3 October 2008:

I have officially completed my first course at Oxford. Late last night (well, early this morning), I delivered my last two 8-page papers to Frewin Court, bringing our British Landscapes course to a gentle, though somewhat anticipated, end. Last night I slept a total of two hours before waking up at 5:00am to walk Ashley Wells to the coach stop at Gloucester Green (she is now en route to her family’s ancestral German home for the break). The night before, I got a whopping four hours of sleep. An average of five was last week’s theme. In fact, I don’t believe I’ve gotten a full eight hours’ sleep undisturbed since I came to England. The past few weeks have been a blur, a very stressful and quick-moving sequence of events. Just trying to keep up with the research workload and stay healthy (physically, spiritually, emotionally) has been a definite challenge. But so far it has not affected my bright-eyed enchantment of Oxford, of England, of Crick, of studying abroad, independent from SPU and everything I know.

The stress hasn’t blinded me to the beauty of being here, but it has kept my eyes focused solely on the goal of finishing my school work. And so now—on a monstrously uncomfortable 15-passenger van, almost to the Lake District for midterm break—I feel as if scales have been removed from my eyes. Almost as if I’m seeing the glories of this place—both visually and metaphorically—again, for the first time. I’m so excited to be here, in the hard window seat, with cold toes and cracked fingers and my friends. I never got the chance to finish reading Pride & Prejudice for my final case study, so I brought it along—and I too, like Elizabeth Bennett, will tour the Lake District and revel in the soul-cleansing clarity of nature in pure communion with God.

I look out the window, face pressed to cold glass, and open my eyes wide as they’ll go to take in every ray of October light. Hills as smooth and broad as rolling ocean waves are dotted with sheep, grazing, waiting to be herded out of the golden dusk. Every shade of green contained in fields and patchwork leas is a different note, sweetly sung in the melody of my memory. The sun assaults my skin between the poplars. A single hawk sits on a wire fence. Clouds—ever more yellow-violet by the minute—rim the edges of the foothills in a shadowy embrace, the arms of a lover around his darling, folding her into his chest. How prose yields itself to poesy when confronted with the fearsome beauty of the landscape. A natural surrender, second-nature to the pen. God contained in every slanting ray of sunset; every leaf of autumn, gold-infused; every remembered, treasured promise: I will never leave you, nor forsake you.

07 October 2008

Fifteen Miles and a Burberry Scarf

Every morning, when I roll out of my salmon-duveted bed, I lace up my Mizunos and head out to the Oxford University Parks, a whopping two blocks from my home on Crick Road.

One particularly fine morning, not too long ago, I headed out for a 10-lap, 15-mile training run (with a marathon on my mind). I ran around and around and, yes, around the Parks on a Sunday, passing well-dressed families headed back from church, couples eating ice cream and speaking French to one another, gaggles of neon-clad tweens gossiping about boys while sitting cross-legged, clumped together on the golden-green lawn. And I also passed a scarf.

It was grey. It was plaid. It was hanging over a fence, neatly folded, by the small lake where the white swans swim. Abandoned. Lonely. It was an ordinary scarf, nothing to write home about (even though that is precisely what I'm doing now), but it was beautiful. It looked like something left by a white-haired septuagenarian who carries a handkerchief in his breast pocket and a walking stick in his right hand. I fell in love - as much with the scarf as with its imagined owner. He was tall, with a deeply-lined face and sky blue eyes, and he walked his aging Jack Russell every morning twice around the Parks. He had a loyal wife, Eleanor, his Oxford sweetheart, who cooked him trout every Friday and talked about the Romantic poets with him over tea. He was softspoken. He was strong. He was a man of letters and a creature of habit. I could almost see him. And lap after lap I became more and more enchanted with this teeny plaid piece of my friend's life. So I decided: if the scarf was still there after 9 laps, solitary and desolate, I was going...to take it.

Now I know what you're thinking - this is straight-up thievery, Christye - but honestly: that scarf was there for TWO WHOLE HOURS, and no one was coming back for it. This kindly old man, probably named Nolan or Oliver, probably wearing a white linen suit and self-shined shoes, left it there FOR ME! I just know it. And when I trudged passed on my tenth and final lap (and trudge is an apt word for it, trust me) I reached out my hand and grabbed it.

It wasn't until I had jogged all the way home, showered and dressed and eaten enough hummus to refuel my tired body, that I realized: the scarf was Burberry. BURBERRY. And it retails for 185-250 pounds. That's nearly half-a-grand in U.S. dollars. So pretty much, I went for a 15-mile run, and ended up with a $500 scarf. Lesson learned, all: it pays to run.

Nolan-Oliver, if you're out there, surfing the net and reading my blog, I'm sorry that I stole your expensive scarf from a fence in the Parks. If you'd like it back, and would perhaps enjoy a cuppa while you're at it, jaunt on over to 8 Crick Road. I will be the one with the warm neck and sore knees.

30 September 2008

In the Hamptons

Hey-hi-hello! Let's all just pretend that I am really, really great at keeping up my blog! Here are some photos from a field trip I took two weeks ago to Hampton Court Palace, former residence of Henry VIII (that wife-lovin' son-of-a-gun, immortalized by Eric Bana in the recent "The Other Boleyn Girl"). The palace itself was pretty fly (for a white guy), since it was architecturally half-Tudor, half-Baroque. Tudor for Henry, Baroque for William and Mary (the III and II, respectively). The trellis in the photo on the left was very picturesque, so, naturally, I took a picture of it. On the right, we see an imposing Tudor facade. Just like Henry liked it - imposing.

Before we went to Hampton Court Palace, I asked my Junior Dean, Jonathan Kirkpatrick, if it would be anything like the hotel chain in the United States of the same name. He said no.

You may recognize the next photo of this rotund Gothic-looking structure from my pilfered Google photo in the upper right-hand corner of my blog. This is the Radcliffe Camera, part of the Bodleian library, and where I spend a good deal of my time these days. Right now I am finishing up a paper on the role of religion in shaping British national identity in the 18th century, and starting a paper on film adaptations of Jane Austen's novels (focusing specifically on Pride and Prejudice). Needless to say, I have been doing as much research as possible. My life is a fairy tale.

I have many more adventures to tell, and many more blessings to relate, but right now - homework calls (and it is a sweet, sweet sound). More from the City of Boots and Brollies asap!

15 September 2008

Cheers from London!

In my opinion, there is nothing optional about an "optional fieldtrip" to London. Quite the reverse, in fact. London—home of Shakespeare, Jack the Ripper, and even, for a brief time, Jimi Hendrix—is a sprawling, vibrant city, as impressive as it is expensive. Taking a coach (yessir, another double-decker) from Oxford at 8:30am, we arrived in London early enough to do some serious damage to our feet, traipsing around town from 10 in the morning till 10 at night. Minus the time spent on the tube, of course.

A List of Important, Entertaining, and/or Famous Things I Saw in London:

- Buckingham Palace
- Tower of London
- Globe Theatre
- Big Ben
- Westminster Abbey
- Tower Bridge (known mistakenly to tourists as London Bridge)
- St Paul’s Cathedral
- the National Gallery
- Millennium Bridge
- Thames River
- A homeless man feeding a baby squirrel with baby formula from a syringe in Trafalgar Square

I attended evensong and listened to the angelic overtones of their world-renowned boys’ choir echo off the gold-emblazoned ceilings of St Paul’s. I saw Rubens, Michelangelo, Da Vinci, and Caravaggio up close in the National Gallery. I stood outside the gates of Buckingham Palace and wished the Queen were at home to greet me. I ate pizza off the street in Leicester Square for a

pound-seventy. I took the underground and saw where the fire of London started and walked on the same streets as did Samuel Pepys and the Beatles.

And then I caught the coach back home to Oxford, stopping at G&D’s for homemade Bailey’s (flavored) ice cream before crashing into bed at midnight. What a lucky girl am I!