Yesterday I drove slowly down the Serpentine Road in Warren, and then found a spot to pull my car off the road and walk a bit. I pretended I was back in England. Wind and a light misty rain blew through trees blazing orange and crimson, sending leaves swirling and the strands of my hair blowing against my cheeks. To my left, in wide open fields edged with old stone walls, roamed brown cows and horses, their tails occasionally flickering and their heads lowering to browse. To my right flowed the grey green river, dotted with swans. My friend Arte and I used to call this the magic road and tell our children that depending upon whether one saw cows, sheep or horses, one would magically be transported to Scotland, England or Ireland in the blink of an eye, only to emerge moments later back in Rhode Island. Being generally arbitrary, I added that one could never tell how much time had passed. We could emerge moments later, but as with all fae trips, could have in actuality spent days or even weeks in a completely different country. Eventually they took this with a grain of salt, perhaps because that day’s homework was still asked for with consistency and friends and father hadn’t noticed they’d been gone.
The weather, that mix of darkened sky and snappy wind, reminded me of walks I have taken in the north of England when I was a student, right by the Scottish border. I used to follow the line of Hadrian’s Wall, imagining what it was like for the soldiers of the Roman legions, far from the warmth and welcome of their native land. And when I was older and living and working in London, I would set out for walks through Hyde’s Park, stepping off the paths to let my feet rustle the carpets of leaves. I used to imagine that the only thing missing from the experience was a dog. Fall leaves can only be truly appreciated, I think, when they are walked through with a dog or a child, either intent on scattering them, on hearing the satisfying crunch of them, on smelling the sharp deliciousness of sun-warmed dirt and decaying leaves. The walk must be meandering, with no particular destination in mind and only brought to an end when one’s nose is tingling with cold and beginning to drip a little, and when one’s cheeks have become ruddy and just the tiniest bit numb.
And only then could the walk end someplace warmed with a fireplace or rumbling Aga and a pot of strong tea, sweetened with rich English milk and lots of sugar and augmented with crumbly scones dotted with sweet sultana raisins and topped with a ridiculous amount of clotted cream and blackcurrant jam. The imaginary dog would settle then on his imaginary old tartan blanket, threaded through with dog hairs from the hundreds of naps taken on its wooly surface. It took me twenty years to get that dog, a stout ginger coloured Corgi who is perhaps fonder of naps than walks and has never met a leaf she couldn’t ignore. Still, she makes a lovely foot rest to warm my toes while I drink my tea. lol