The account that follows is a true story about two young girls living in the lovely town of Oxford.
There once were two girls named Justice and Claire, here after referred to simply as J and C. One was tall (in comparison) and blonde, the other short(er) and brunette. They both hailed from the exotic state of California, the blonde from the colorful land of San Francisco and the brunette from the southern area of LA. There came a time when they both decided they needed a little more adventure in their lives and thus ventured into the very intimidating and stressful realm of "Oxford University"–a land where everyone seems to be able to maintain perfect lives of dressing well, partying every night, engaging in intellectually conversation, rowing, playing rugby, watching rugby, breaking the rule of "keep off the lawn" by playing croquet, all while still keeping up with their classes at one of the top ranking universities in the world. After nearly six weeks of being in this foreign country, they found that the brits must drink magic juice every morning in order to maintain this life style because for normal people it simply IS NOT POSSIBLE. Yes my dear readers, the stress finally got to the pretty little heads of J and C and they almost exploded while sitting in their flat near the train station while trying to finish essays (while simultaneously working out rowing schedules, a cappella group practices, and the minds of the british men). So, in order to avoid the mess of exploded brains, J and C went for a run. What a wise decision that was for our two heroines. After running for 2.5 miles along the towpath besides the thames they came upon the ruins of a castle, long abandoned. After a quick yoga session, they turned around and began the 2.5 miles back home.
It was then that they encountered Stephen. An old man wearing a bright yellow vest in a little run down sail boat attempting to sort out his tangled ropes. C turned to J and said, "oh look sailing! that looks lovely", to which Stephen called out "would you like to try?!". Thinking that he was probably offering simply in jest, C replied "oh yes we would love to, when?", "How about now?". That took J and C a bit off guard, but after exchanging a few furtive glances, they agreed and hopped on board. After a quick lesson as to the names of the the different sails, what rope to pull and when, and a firm instruction to not fall out of the boat because he didn't have anymore life vests, Stephen cast us off and we began to sail down the Thames.
(A quick intersting note as to the setting of this tale, this particular section of the Thames is actually a man made section, diverting the river from it's original path. It is conjectured that it was dug during probably the age of the saxons. It runs through the "port meadow", an area of open land in Oxford that has remained an open field, no buildings, structures, roads etc, for over 1000 years. Every year they bring in a new team of horses to roam this land, wild and free. It is quite nice.)
Immediately the girls felt that Stephen was a kindred spirit. While on this cold and windy adventure he told them many a tale, often while imitating a pirate captain or viking leader. He told of a St. Bernard going on an adventure through Europe wearing a suit and tie (a story for "grown ups who never did a good job at growing up"), stories of his friend sea gull to whom he used to feed pork fat. He shows us how he had made his sail boat, which has a fascinating name that sadly this author has now forgotten, and pointed out how each sail is actually multiple found pieces of fabric stitched together. Twice on this venture a loud snap was heard, at which the girls turned around to find Stephen holding a broken rudder. And twice he fixed it using found pieces of broken oars. At one point J looked down at her feet, inch deep in water, to see a little coventry mouse, named Hubert, sticking its nose out of a hole in the stern. Once discerning whether it was safe to come out, he scampered to the back of the boat, ran around Stephen, who worned his little "passenger" not to fall in the water, and then ran back into his safe and, presumably, much warmer home. As they continued on, the odd trio surrounded by billowing sails passed a clump of trees. Upon looking upon the leafs falling to the ground Stephen began to recite these words:
My aspens dear, whose airy cages quelled,
Quelled or quenched in leaves the leaping sun,
All felled, felled, are all felled;
Of a fresh and following folded rank
Not spared, not one
That dandled a sandalled
Shadow that swam or sank
On meadow & river & wind-wandering weed-winding bank.
O if we but knew what we do
When we delve or hew —
Hack and rack the growing green!
Since country is so tender
To touch, her being só slender,
That, like this sleek and seeing ball
But a prick will make no eye at all,
Where we, even where we mean
To mend her we end her,
When we hew or delve:
After-comers cannot guess the beauty been.
Ten or twelve, only ten or twelve
Strokes of havoc unselve
The sweet especial scene,
Rural scene, a rural scene,
Sweet especial rural scene.
These beautiful lines were written by the catholic priest Gerard Manley Hopkins in the year 1879 whilst sitting under the trees the two girls were passing by in a funny little boat with a funny little man. At the sound of his voice, usually laughing a jovial, turned low and somber, an odd, almost religious feeling hit the girls. It was a moment that is to last in their memories forever, a moment of suspended time. A moment of living history and beauty incarnate.
However, all moments must come to an end and eventually the two girls had to bid their new companion farewell. Frozen to the bone but enlivened to the core they raced home (quite literally, they had a jog to finish after all) to wrap up in blankets and enjoy a nice cuppa.