Oxford

In Stone

The interior perimeter of the Oxford Museum of Natural History is guarded by the stone effigies of various “men of Science”, from Aristotle to Darwin. These pedestaled figures serve as charming company to the casual wanderer, and there is nothing I like so much about them as their hands – folded, gesticulating, or holding the tools of their art or the objects by which they are recognized (Newton, for instance, bears an apple in his palm). A brief tour:

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Afar, From the Archives, Home

Notes from a Wild Childhood

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My sister and I were feral throughout much of our childhood. My most vivid memories are of cooking food over a campfire by a tepee out in a far, often-frightening, wooded corner of our land; of running through the dappled forests around our house wearing a billowing, homemade gown; of climbing up to the roof by a precarious route that involved an old stone wall and electrical wires to read up in the treetops; of dancing barefoot in the summer rains; of falling asleep on the screen porch to the sound of cicadas; and of hours upon hours spent drawing, painting and writing.

I was, at times, a little careless regarding personal safety in my unguarded activities—I broke my arm, stepped on scorpions, and once jumped off a roof—but I shied away from the truly dangerous, and generally erred on the side of safety. I was rarely bored; I relished every moment of free time I had. I resented school immensely and loved nothing so much as the potential of early Saturday morning. My imagination ran even more wild than I did, and around the age of perhaps six I began to experience the endless flow of words and stories that has yet to abate.

When I was eleven, I somehow argued my way into home schooling. My weeks lost whatever structure school imposed. In addition to the usual subjects, I read voraciously, took art classes, and wrote my first full-length novel (a charming little tale of revenge and friendship). I worked, even then, with the sort of self-motivation that would have never been possible if my time had been entirely accounted for, and with the kind of imagination that can only come of rampant freedom, physical and mental. It was the same impulse that led me to Oxford and into freelance writing, and I believe the same native drive to create (born out of a similarly wild childhood) that drew me to my husband, who spent his youth fashioning exceptionally accurate period weapons and woodland forts.

Of course, we needn’t confine our free roaming to childhood. Plane tickets and passports are all very well, but yards and parks, not to mention blanket forts, suited our purposes then—so why not now?

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Literature, Oxford

Ode to a Library

Bodleian Library, Oxford, England www.bluemesablog.com

As part of my ongoing autumnal nostalgia, I’ve been dwelling in particularly vivid memories of Oxford libraries, and none more so than the Old Bodleian. I spent the better part of my Oxford time in the Upper Reading Room, looking out over the Radcliffe Camera while reflecting over The Exeter Book of Old English poems, or cloistered in a glowing corner of Duke Humphrey’s writing about Sea Voyages in ancient literature. I remember piles of dusty volumes, and the way the blue Camera dome looked in every light. I remember watching mist roll over the Exeter College gardens and Radcliffe square, and the particular echo of footsteps up the lonely, turning stairway. I remember looking out over the library as the sky turned deep blue in evening and the windows glowed golden, gazing at the spires dusted in snow, and wandering beneath the vaults of the Divinity Schools. I remember the smell and texture of vellum, the feeling of drawing my coat close against the cold inside, the way the shadows gathered between book stacks as night fell early in winter, and how every corner seemed to hold some secret enchantment, and every moment within was transformed into the beautiful, mysterious realm of the fairy tale.

Bodleian Library, Oxford, England www.bluemesablog.com

Bodleian Library, Oxford, England www.bluemesablog.com

Bodleian Library, Oxford, England www.bluemesablog.com

Bodleian Library, Oxford, England www.bluemesablog.com

Bodleian Library, Oxford, England www.bluemesablog.com

Bodleian Library, Oxford, England www.bluemesablog.com

Bodleian Library, Oxford, England www.bluemesablog.com

Bodleian Library, Oxford, England www.bluemesablog.com

Bodleian Library, Oxford, England www.bluemesablog.com

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Afar, France, From the Archives, Home

Nostalgia

Nostalgia, Rennes, France www.bluemesablog.com

I always catch a bad bout of nostalgia at this time each year. There’s something about the cooling air and changing winds that stirs up memories—not just images and words, but scents and feelings as strong as they were the first time around. It’s a beautiful, moving and troublesome sensation that never fails to leave me restless. It’s not exactly a yearning for times past, but rather the slightly overwhelming feeling of so many recollections arising at once. As my memories become more potent, my dreams become more vivid, and I find myself yearning for some intangible quality that falls somewhere between wanted to experience again and wanting to experience anew.

Nostalgia, Rennes, France www.bluemesablog.com

This morning alone I’ve been back at my childhood home as warm sunlight comes through the windows, I’ve been putting on my school uniform, and pouring cream into my coffee. I’ve been wandering the cloisters of Mont St Michel, and exploring the standing stones at Carnac, walking through the gardens in Rennes, swimming in a chateau moat, rolling in the fallen leaves in Central Park, wandering the ruins at Tintern Abbey, and the climbing the stairs of Broadway tower.

Nostalgia, Rennes, France www.bluemesablog.com

I’ve met a variety of old lovers and forgotten friends, I’ve wandered the quiet streets of Oxford and the ruins of Godstow Nunnery, walked along Aldeburgh beach, fled from a herd of charging buffalo, rested by the fire at Barnsley House, and even revisited old dreams in new ones. I’ve nodded to a variety of past selves, and feel content that they’ve more or less resolved into who I am now (with a few inevitable outliers).

Nostalgia, Rennes, France www.bluemesablog.com

But then, this morning I’ve also woken up next to my husband, ground coffee, written a letter or two, and watched a misty sunrise over the California hills. I image these moments will also flavour future memories when they arise unbidden decades hence.Nostalgia, Rennes, France www.bluemesablog.com

Nostalgia, Rennes, France www.bluemesablog.com

Nostalgia, Rennes, France www.bluemesablog.com

Nostalgia, Rennes, France www.bluemesablog.com

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Oxford

Flora and Fauna

Flora and Fauna in Medieval Medical Manuscripts, Oxford www.bluemesablog.com

I spent the better part of one year down in Oxford’s Special Collections room reading medieval medical manuscripts. Most of the herbals, lapidaries and bestiaries were simple household guides, dashed off with ongoing notes, marginalia and things crossed out. But every once in a while I came upon something truly spectacular—rare and richly illustrated manuscripts, carefully crafted and copied, and far from practical. All manner of fantastic flora and fauna brightly graced the velum pages. Amidst the poppies and yarrow were mandrakes and monsters, prowling beasts and imaginatively rendered plants. Nary a leech was seen.

Flora and Fauna in Medieval Medical Manuscripts, Oxford www.bluemesablog.com

Flora and Fauna in Medieval Medical Manuscripts, Oxford www.bluemesablog.com

Flora and Fauna in Medieval Medical Manuscripts, Oxford www.bluemesablog.com

Flora and Fauna in Medieval Medical Manuscripts, Oxford www.bluemesablog.com

Flora and Fauna in Medieval Medical Manuscripts, Oxford www.bluemesablog.com

Flora and Fauna in Medieval Medical Manuscripts, Oxford www.bluemesablog.com

Flora and Fauna in Medieval Medical Manuscripts, Oxford www.bluemesablog.com

Flora and Fauna in Medieval Medical Manuscripts, Oxford www.bluemesablog.com

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