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.