With change comes uncertainty. Uncertainty churns up fear and distress. Walking through Rose Lane into Christchurch Meadow, writer Yang-May Ooi discovers how the enchantment of nature can give us a moment of calm and personal power in times of anxiety and upheaval.
The Enchantment of Christchurch Meadow ¦ Oxford Moments
Previously, on Oxford Moments, I walked along Rose Lane in a dark mood, contemplating change and letting go of the past [see my last essay, Rose Lane, Pathway to Enchantment] – and then I passed through a set of tall, iron gates into Christchurch Meadow…
Now, read on…
At the Rose Lane Gates, the tarmac-ed road ended and a rusty grit and stone path led me onward into an unexpected rural landscape.
On my left were the cultivated beds of the Botanical Gardens, giving way to water and views of playing fields and a cricket pavilion. On my right, Merton Field opened up into a long vista across football pitches and a medieval skyline of a chapel and college buildings.
The sound of traffic on the High Street faded. The anxiety of a world in crisis fell away. It was a relief to leave behind that mood of fear and frustration that had pervaded so many of our interactions, public and private, since the pandemic had taken hold.
An Idyllic Scene
I was right in the heart of Oxford and yet I was in an enchanted bucolic idyll. A sense of the timeless past lay in the stones of Merton College and Christchurch in the distance. An ancient wall flowed along the northern edge of Deadman’s Walk. I looked up at the crinkled sky and wandered through glades of winter trees. Christchurch Meadow stretched south, a low pastureland sprinkled here and there with island clusters of trees. At its far edge, a line of trees brushed up towards the clouds.
Schoolboys in the iconic red sweatshirts of nearby Magdalen College School ran past me in race formation. Two friends strolled along one of the paths, coffee cups in hand. A jogger trotted by. There were some dog walkers, a handful of other people taking the air.
I had an odd sense that we had all stepped out of our regular lives in 2020 into a landscape painting by Constable. At any moment, a shepherd in a 18th century smock might herd his sheep across the meadow. Or a farmer might trundle by on a hay-laden wagon drawn by shire horses.
A Timeless Moment
Time was suspended here like a skylark in song-flight hovering above the fields before she swoops back down to earth.
This caesura in time, lasting a heartbeat or perhaps a lifetime or even for generations, gave me a feeling of breadth – and perhaps also, of breath.
I could not go back to the past life I had had. But it would always be with me – I had made memories in my house in Dulwich and I had made a good life in London with my then-partner and my friends and family there. They lived in me and in the stories I would tell about them. That life and those memories were with me in the enchantment of Christchurch Meadow this bright winter morning – and could be with me at any moment and at any time I might choose to conjure them.
I could choose, too, to calm my harried thoughts like a sorceror casting stillness over churning waters with the sweep of a hand. Here in this enchanted moment, I could choose to set free my fears about a world in crisis and the uncertainties wrought by the ongoing pandemic, letting them flutter away like birds from a magician’s cape. I could choose instead to be nourished by the beauty around me, to notice the friendships of the people passing by, the youthful energy of the schoolboys, the vigour of the runners, to enjoy the playfulness of the dogs bouncing down the paths.
I realised that it was I who had chosen to stop the time and I who had chosen to suspend us in this present moment. I could end it now or sustain it for as long as I wanted. It was in my gift. I was the enchantress.
I could not magic away the pandemic. But I could choose how I responded to. I did not want to trivialise it but neither did I want to be paralysed by fear. I could not spirit away pain, anxiety and loss but I was not going to let them define my life.
It struck me that it was my choice how I would live the story of my life. Would it be a tale of storm and fury, or one of happiness and hope? Would it be a tragedy of misunderstanding, or a romance of ordinary contentment? Would I be defeated by my circumstances or would I find a way through? I could conjure it all towards any trajectory with the snap of my fingers – all I had to do was choose.
I let the moment go. Time flew onwards. Movement and sound rolled on around me. Beyond the Meadow was Oxford and the wider world, and also my little suburb and my new house. I realised I was hungry. Morning had moved on to midday. I crunched my way along the paths and out through Merton Gate. Walking back down the High Street, I smiled. It was time for lunch and in my airy kitchen, I would have lemon chicken with noodles and fresh veg. Life was not so bad.
Oxford Moments is a multimedia blog by author Yang-May Ooi, exploring the city of Oxford, its people and places. “Oxford inspired me as a student and infused much of my life over the last few decades. I have now moved back here and this project is my multi-faceted rediscovery of a city that I have always loved.” Follow Oxford Moments at bit.ly/OxfordMoments
Author: Yang-May Ooi
Yang-May Ooi is a writer & podcaster. Her creative work includes The Flame Tree and Mindgame (novels), Bound Feet Blues (theatre) and Creative Conversations (podcast). ¦ www.TigerSpirit.co.uk