I’m reading a book right now that I am struggling to get through. I am struggling to finish it before it is deleted from my e-reader in three days’ time (argh!) – no chance of late fees on an e-book from the library – not because it is dull or poorly written, but because every couple of pages there is a sentence or a paragraph that is so utterly beautiful, thoughtful, and well-crafted that I want to memorise it, absorb it, and I yearn to be able to recreate it. I can’t, but it is inspiring.
The last paragraph I adored was a discussion of driving on rural roads in Ireland, and it took me immediately to the road behind our farm that led down to the stony, wild Hook beach. It was what is called a metal road, but there’s actually no metal. Only gravel, dirt and stones, sometimes with a green strip along the middle of the road where weeds spring up, and only one lane, with wide green overgrown verges. It made me think how utterly foreign this would seem to children who grow up in cities, travel on multi-lane highways, and are surrounded by concrete and brick and artificial sounds. My nephew in Qatar used to cross a six lane highway to get to his school just ten minutes walk away (provided of course it wasn’t summer and 50 degrees C and therefore travelling to and from school by air-conditioned car), an utterly hostile environment compared to the gentleness of the nature in which I spent my childhood.
The only concrete at our house was the path through the archway in the hedge, past the clothesline, and onto a small patch at the entrance to the house. Otherwise, I was surrounded by lush, green fields. At our small two-room primary school, the only concrete was the tennis/netball court, and the path from the gate to the school. For much of the year (except the cold winter months), we would throw off our shoes and run and play on the large lawn in front of the school, the freedom of bare feet and the soft lush grass bringing us back to our basic, natural lives. Even in September and October, in the new school term, we’d begin practising for the annual school sports every morning, at the sports field and running track behind the school. If there wasn’t a frost, we’d once again run our races, or practise our relays, in bare feet, cold in the early mornings, often wet with dew. If the grass had recently been cut, grass clippings would stick like glue to our wet feet, but the dampness or cold never seemed to bother us.
There was more concrete at our secondary school, but we still had expansive sports fields, and gardens and lawns between the various classroom blocks. Whilst we went barefoot less often here, we would still occasionally eat our lunches on the soft lawns sheltering under the shade of the big old trees there.
I remember my shock, on arriving in Thailand, to find that the few lawns there – in parks, or at the house of my host family – were made of something entirely different from the fine-bladed grass I knew. These lawns weren’t really made for bare feet, and I missed that.
I think of students all over the world who don’t have the joy of feeling soft green grass under their feet and between their toes. I was appalled at the public parks in French towns and villages, large open spaces, but mostly covered in dirt and pebbles, which is a step up from concrete, but not the luscious green grass I love. Even in the suburbs of Amsterdam, where there were picturesque green spaces alongside rivers and canals, the grass that looked so appealing to me to walk on as an adult, or play on as a child, or to lie on (as either) with a book under a tree, was off limits, defiled by dog droppings and completely unusable.
This trip down memory lane is a good reminder not to take the little things for granted. Though in the interests of full disclosure, perhaps I should mention that a few years ago we built a deck over the tiny patch of lawn at my house.
Image: Google Earth