We spent two days in the Lake District during my trip to England. The first day we went hiking near the little town of Buttermere. We followed the advice of the guy manning the parking lot who said we should walk around Lake Buttermere since the hills were draped in fog and perhaps rain. We walked to the town and then found a lake, but the longer we walked the larger it seemed. We finally met with another hiker who told us that it was Crummock Water. Who knew there were two lakes! We promptly abandoned the goal of walking around the lake and hiked up a hill instead.
I wanted to see the blue lakes reflecting the hills like in the photos I had seen. Instead we got clouds, cold wind and rain that threatened us, spit at us, blew past us over the hill across the lake, but never actually drenched us. Moody weather is what we got. We pulled our hats down over our ears and tightened our scarves and hiked through it. And it was marvelous. Waves whipped up across the lake and challenged some intrepid kayakers. We found that the British people and their sturdy dogs did not let weather keep them at home.
We finished the day at a high plateau with an ancient stone circle created in 6,000 BC. The stones were rough; they made me think of the remains of a mamoth skeleton sinking into the earth. But they were arranged precisely in a circle and in tune with the heavens. We lingered there hoping for a sunset behind the hills. As I walked around I pondered the age of this circle put in place during the time of my hero, Abraham. The clouds remained.
On our second day we visited Dove Cottage, William Wordsworth's house. You duck your head to enter the warm cozy living room and then wait a few minutes for your eyes to adjust to the low light of a fireplace and candles. There was a portrait of the family dog, a border terrier, just like the ones we saw the night before in a pub in Keswick. It was a charming little house.
As we hiked and drove through the Lake District I thought about the contrast with the American West. We had hiked in the Rocky Mountains where the scope of the landscape is breathtaking. I almost feel like an alien as I walked panting in the thin air up to the tree line. I was clearly a visitor in such a place. Wildlife was plentiful: moose, elk, coyotes--this was their home. It was wilderness.
The Lake District by contrast melds the beauty of landscape with the softening touch of domestication. Like a good marriage they go hand in hand over the years deepening their bond until it only seems natural for rock walls and foot paths to stitch across the hills. Sheep with spray paint tatoos nestle at home in the bracken with amazing views of the lakes below. Inhabited and visited for generations. Poets have done the work here of absorbing and translating for us the voice of this place in every season.
Is it a poetic place because their words sound in our heads or did the poets come here because it is a poetic place- a good spot to mine verse.