On Looking Out the Window
That made me think of another window in particular: the big window of the bedroom I stayed in a couple of years ago, at the B & B on Grange Close in Goring-on-Thames. The view through that window stayed with me, because when I looked out on an incredibly rainy morning, there were three kids walking in the street below. Two girls and a boy, they were wearing school uniforms, laughing as they took turns leaning into a match in cupped hands, lighting their illicit smokes and blowing clouds into the miserable air. The sound of their laughter, overlaid on the hush of the steady rain, was what hung with me, long after they’d rounded the corner and were gone from sight.
I am an easily-frightened person. That morning, I had planned to do something really frightening: I was going into Goring proper, over the railway bridge and to a cafe on the banks of the river, to meet a group of seasoned walkers for a trek to Nettlebed. I knew none of them. I had seen their leader, John Jones, onstage with Oysterband, but that was as close as I had come. They had all walked with him before. I was a stranger in a strange town–hell, in a strange country–planning to go wandering across Oxfordshire with people I didn’t know. In the rain. Standing there in the B & B window, clutching the draperies in my sweaty palms, I was terrified.
I gave myself the coward’s way out. You don’t have to do this. After all, no one knew me, no one knew I was coming…so if I just didn’t, no one would be the wiser. Right? Right? So I stood there, listening to the pouring rain, watching the water run along the road where only the phantoms of the laughing kids remained. Because I didn’t dare. Because I was easily frightened.
Then I thought through all the plans I’d made for this particular England adventure. I’d been in London with friends. I’d been in Bromyard with friends. Then I’d made two nights’ reservation here in Goring, so I could do one day of this week-long walk with the Reluctant Ramblers before flying home. I could have backed out easily at this point, but how stupid would that have been?
So I left the window, and sat on the bed to tie up my walking shoes–new that summer, broken in for just this adventure. I threw on my rain jacket–my hat was missing–grabbed up my pack, and went out into the rain. Still frightened, but still going.
I was already soaked by the time I got to the meet-up point. So was everyone else, from their walk from the train station. They were cheery and especially welcoming: Steve and Lesley, Anne and Paul, the other Lesley, Tom, Colin, Lauren, Tim, Al, Stephen and Trish, Else, Kay, Jane, Helen, John–the lot of them. We turned left and headed up toward the Thames Path, and I had succeeded before the first muddy mile had been walked. I was there, and I was going. And it was good.
I’ve since walked with them again, last summer. I will join the Ramblers at every available opportunity from now on, because my heart follows them.
Even getting lost with these people was fun. At one point, we came out on a road, and the map indicated that the path ran through a briar patch. Anyone bring a machete? Paul asked. I told him the TSA wouldn’t allow me to bring mine on the plane. Then we thrashed straight through.