Along the Thames, February 1, 2009

Along the Thames, February 1, 2009 

A foot and bike path runs from the building I live in along the River Thames out to the hills and green fields of Oxfordshire north of the City.  This morning as I push my bike up to the entry of the path there are swans swimming in the cold winter currents of the river.  The sun, low in the southeast, cuts through the trees, glances off the water and touches a place of remembered warmth within my body – a child I held, a woman who held me.  Along this river royal yachts have coursed: oarsmen bringing Henry VIII to confront his Lord Chancellor for not granting his divorce; Elizabeth I traveling to Stratford, perhaps to visit Walter or William; James I and VI escaping the clamor of London, dreaming of his highland home he’d left in Scotland.  People of purpose.  Today it’s just me and my bike.

The wind behind me pushes my bike fast along beside the river.  On my right there are bridges crossing back to Oxford, and looking in their beckoning direction I see the spires of the churches and colleges of my beautiful, temporary city.  A crew – stroke, stroke, stroke – moves against the current going in my direction.  The mechanical sound of the coach’s bullhorn seems historically discordant to my sense of being in a 17th Century time warp.  I pedal hard, standing up over the pedals, to escape the present and course back in time.  And there are swans again, and ducks and birds in from the sea.  And me.

Have you had the feeling of returning to where you’ve never been before?  I hope the final transition is much like what I am feeling now.  There is sun!  And even an angler tempting trout to desert their winter hibernation and strike like it was May and hatches were swirling above the currents.  Have you been tempted like that?  To go for something that is so alluring, but totally out of sequence with your life?  I pedal harder and try to quit thinking of that.  I hope the fish stay in their dark, deep water places.  It’s not the season for getting caught.  

A couple with a jogging stroller approach from ahead on the path.  What a beautiful child they have!  Sparkling pink skin and blue eyes, covered in a sky blue blanket, he is the future waiting.  They have stopped along the river, and while their son sleeps, so tiny so fragile, they are kissing.  I look away.  Their joy!  Could it always last?  Couldn’t they forever feel what they are feeling now?  They have made a life, and it has made them, in this moment a Holy Trinity – three persons, one substance.  Christ, why did I ever study theology?  It is simply just human joy.  But I know as well that it is a sacrament.  In this moment, eternal, the body and blood of forever.

At the end of the bike path there is a small road leading to an old thatched roof tavern, The Perch. Smoke rises from a chimney.  Through the distortion of the ancient glass of the windows I can see people, young and old, dinning and drinking.  And I think of my Dad and the times we were so happy just sitting in a boat and waiting for a perch or a bass to strike, and being content in our time even if they never did.  It’s time to turn for home.  

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1 Response to “Along the Thames, February 1, 2009”


  1. 1 Linda McFadden February 1, 2009 at 7:30 pm

    This is wonderfully evocative. Sitting here in a chilly kitchen, my hands wrapped around a steaming mug of tea, I can see your surroundings there unreel through your words, like the bike down the path. There’s a wistful melancholy in the tone. (You haven’t by chance been reading Burton.)

    That sense of time travel is one of the things about England that catches me. Some part of me feels at home there in a way I can’t articulate. Viewing a country landscape or walking down a street in London where layer upon layer of history has unfolded my soul says “Yes!”

    I had always attributed that eerie familiarity to all the English lit. I’d read. However, when we lived in England I did some genealogical research for my mother. I discovered a pair of ancestors, father and son clergy, both named Rowland Jones, who attended Oxford in the 17th century. We traced down their home village (Swinbrook in Oxfordshire) and a couple of the places in Berks. where the elder served as vicar. The Civil War cut right through his active years, so I have no idea how he survived Disestablishment. The younger came of age about the time of the Restoration and he emigrated to Williamsburg, where he became the first rector of Bruton Parish. When I visited Swinbrook, I had that strange feeling of belonging in a place. It’s probably a romantic fantasy, but it made me wonder if there’s some sort of genetic memory at work.


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