Knowledge of the Land

IMG_5042Jay Griffiths in her intriguing book Wild tells of an Inuit man who got lost in a blizzard and died.  The Inuit elders worry that young people  don’t know the land like they used to.  They are concerned that when knowledge of how the land lies and where they stand within it is lost, it can become a frightening wasteland.  Is New York my frightening wasteland?

On Monday my grandchildren went home to Germany.  The house is deathly quiet – and sticky.  But I found my snow scene of New York under the sofa when I was clearing up.  I’ve had it for many years and it still has twin towers.  I heard the news driving back from the dentist, put on the TV and saw the second plane hit.  How often mundane events pair with the momentous.

I saw New York once in the distance, driving from Boston to Bear Lake.  An unusual view across fields as I remember it.  Tantalisingly close, and extraordinary, standing proud above the fields, and somehow weird that it too had an edge, a place where city turns into countryside.

Boston I know, and my trip begins with a stay near there with one of my nephews. Marblehead looks to be a cute little town, clapboard houses and more than a whiff of the sea.  As my American ex once said, ‘the west coast is like England but moreso’. The summer more summery, the fall – well everyone knows about the hot palette of a New England fall. The winter is a certainty with a depth of snow worth having, and spring simply explodes.  I will be arriving in the extra season the Chinese call late summer, which in England carries the hint of all the other seasons.  One day you sniff the air and think, ‘oh it’s just like spring’, another you shiver and think ‘brrr, winter’s coming’, others shimmer like full summer.

We have had an exceptional summer here with melting roads, and warnings to old people (who nevertheless insist on wearing a vest and thick stockings and closing windows against drafts).   Wasps are buzzing around me (now that conjures up a bizarre image, I suppose I must say ‘leatherjackets’ though that here would conjure up bikers…so much room for misinterpretation).  English people tend not to pack light.  Why would we?  So often local travel requires clothes for all seasons.  I like to say our weather makes us flexible, but it has burdened me with fat suitcases most of my travelling life, even when the family lived in Thailand.  Sometimes it’s been hard to imagine what hot weather feels like.  This glowing summer should prepare me for a Boston fall.

My nephew is a  yachty kind of guy, and has a boat.  I hope for a repeat of an experience I once had sailing in Boston harbour under the flight path of a jumbo jets barely lifted off the end of tarmac.  Whilst I  dread to think the toxins I breathed as I begged over and over ‘do it again’ it remains one of the most thrilling experiences of my life.  I will also enjoy conjuring up images of crates of tea bobbing about in the harbour.  Spain and the UK are at it again upping the anti over a fake reef off Gibraltar, the need humans have to puff themselves up over territory proves memories are long.  Only the other day two elderly men, both 65, came to blows over a parking space at the supermarket car park in BIggleswade. One of them died.  I wonder if there is still a little edge to relationships with British people in Boston?

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