Blea Tarn, Cumbria, England

Leaving England, weighing up its bewildering mix of the beguiling and the off-putting.

On the beguiling side of the scales: Family. Winding lanes and cobbled alleys. Array of language and nationality. Bridleways and footpaths ubiquitous across fields and fens and fells. Green (a cliché, I know, but still startlingly true). Sheep. Stone cottages and stone walls. Elegant, evocative ruins littering the countryside. Pubs and pub suppers. Villages and village greens.

On the off-putting side: Crowds. Traffic.

So the beguiling seem to outweigh the off-putting.

Except that the crowdedness is overwhelming, a reminder of the original impetus to leave. Simply – seeking space.

Snapshots of England: Rain. Dykes snaking across bleak, hypnotic Norfolk marshes. Stone walls winding through greens and browns of Lakeland fells. Rain slick slate. Fish and chips. Traffic moving in stately, frustrating procession. Walkers in the Lake District uniform in rain jackets, gaiters, boots, backpacks. Small town specialist shops – butchers, greengrocers, fishmongers, bakers. Pedestrians huddled in shop doorways, sheltering from rain. Pedestrians striding determinedly, carelessly through rain. Small, busy independent cafes and coffee shops. Winding, car wide roads, stone walls, hedgerows crowding each side. Motorways. Trees arching over country roads. Buzzards hovering over fallow fields. Pubs. Beer. Pub lunches and suppers. Farm shops selling designer clothes. Footpaths and bridleways. Mud. Rain.   

Heading to England, I told a friend, I’m going home.

Then thought – How many years do you have to be away from somewhere before you stop calling it ‘home’ (if you ever do)? And how many years do you have to stay somewhere before you call it ‘home’?

Maybe ‘home’ is just another place in the parade of places your life takes you through, and although some may accumulate the baggage of regret at leaving, you know that regret will pass before you get to the next place.

Not to deny the sentimental, self-indulgent, and self-centred power of nostalgia, but there have been times I’ve decided, so debilitating is the wrench of leaving, that I don’t want to ‘go home’ again.

But I’m here.

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Snapshots from Ethiopia: Waking at 5:30 to the summons to prayer from the mosque next door. Exotic, lush gardens of the Ghion Hotel in Addis Ababa, their air of neglect, their faded glory, only adding to their charm. Manchester United decals on taxis (that really hurts; why not Newcastle United?) Solitary boy squatting by a rain filled, muddy hole, hand poised to catch – frogs? On the road – old trucks belching exhaust, ancient single decker buses, minivan taxis, 3-wheel taxis (always blue), teeming crowds, gorgeous children, colourful robes of women, mud, potholes, cows, goats, donkeys.

Running between reading and keyboard last night at ‘Words and Wine’ in Saint John’s Fog Lit Festival, in the distinguished company of writers Ian LeTourneau, Clyde Wray, and Eric Kennedy, with Riel Nason as gracious host. I read The Last Dog, an essay from a few years back that appeared in the Globe and Mail as Doggone Memories. (I think I prefer my title). There was art by Manami Fukuda to bid on, and wine to sip, while the Stepping Out Trio, one of which is me, provided background music (my favourite type to play). Great evening, Fog Lit – thank you! (Btw – Remind me to blog an excerpt from The Last Dog some time.)