I didn’t grow up in a city as such, but it was definitely something like town-based suburbia. There wasn’t much in the way of nature on our doorstep. But as a teenager, a kid even, I had a thing about getting outside into something that felt like an escape. In my town there was a particular road I liked to ride my bike along. It wasn’t much, a lane that lead away from an industrial area, that on one side was nothing but hedgerows. Berries grew in it, and if I looked down I could imagine I was somewhere else. There was no curb, no traffic. Just a few lucky houses. One of my most vivid memories as a child was a spring or summer day. I might have been six, maybe seven. A hazy sky that seemed golden as I looked up, alive with bugs and pollen, and in the distance a tree near a river that might have been a willow. Dragonflies landing on Cow Parsley taller than me, and I think, perhaps, a picnic. I asked my brother, and he might remember that day too, although neither of us are sure where or when it was.
Nature, and being in the countryside always felt like a big breath in for me. Anxieties I didn’t know I was carrying would fall away, and I would return to life feeling recharged. Or perhaps more like I had just experienced it. As an adult not long would go by before I was returning to the wild, river walks, or mountains climbs. To weather that wasn’t my friend, but whose company I enjoyed. In moving to Cyprus there was a whole different type of nature to discover. Mountains were much larger, and yet the wildness was lost. Most rivers needed a sign so that you wouldn’t miss them. Fields were not in short supply, yet they were brown, dusty, and the plants looked different. The mud wasn’t dark. So much about the world around us tells us that we are home. In a new country, there is more than new one language to learn.
Yet there are places here that I have discovered now, that feel like something I know. Something maybe, that I knew all along. And only this week I have discovered a new escape, a Venetian bridge, hidden in a small valley, accessed via roads that almost nobody would bother to drive down. There was no curb, and when we reached our destination, no route going forward. The road became the river, and to leave we would have to turn around in its flow. In arriving there, we sealed that place off from the rest of the world for a little while, and if anybody else were to try to find it, they would have instead found us, blocking the way.
The bridge itself was a beautiful hodgepodge of stones, impressive in its continued perseverance. The top of it was I suspect long overgrown with grass and plants. The river itself which ran over a weir to track beneath, seemed to come from almost nowhere, the source hidden in deep thorny undergrowth. And as it flowed away from us, it carved a route through a rocky terrain, over fallen trees and through rotting roots, to a rockface covered in moss. It was darker as I waded through, following its path, cooler and damp. The earth of the riverbank might have been brown, saturated in ground water, had I have been able to see it for the fallen leaves. Around me all was quiet, nothing but the flow of water over polished rocks and the crunch of my feet through the brown autumnal carpet. I wanted to go on, deeper still, but something called me back. Time restraints, probably. A lunch reservation. The thing we define as life.
But for a moment, we stopped. I felt nourished by the time in nature, and took the chance to relax, something I rarely seem to do. We hung back as the kids threw rocks, splashing each other with ice cold water, the knees of their trousers grey with dirt as they tried to build a dam. For a while, nobody worried about time. Even me. We picked flowers, felt the rush of water against our fingers, picked seed heads from trees, then more from those that had fallen to the ground. For two hours without phone signal, we did nothing. We watched. Chatted. Planned a trip. Craved a Starbucks, like we had been lost for hours. Maybe in truth, we had been.
But I think, for a little while at least, that was what we wanted.