I thought I’d try to revive my blogging a bit using some of the writing prompts from The Daily Post. Today’s is “Oasis.” I’m afraid when I saw the title I thought first of the band (I was a big fan in the mid ’90s, the shame), and then of the green stuff you use in flower-arranging, and only then of the place of water and relief in the desert. The brief asks me to “write about the place you go to when everything is a bit too much.”
We’re all introverts now. My Facebook feed constantly supplies handy quizzes with which to diagnose myself as a person whose shy creativity flourishes under low stimulation, and who, at a party, will prefer to talk to the cat. And indeed, I am that person, except clearly the stimulation hasn’t been low enough for my creativity recently (perhaps blogging prompts will do the trick). Much as I love people, much as I’m wrapped up in my family, I sometimes need quiet and solitude. But, perhaps even more, I need space. Literal space – space away from the buildings. Space where the sky opens up.
When I first lived in a city, it was only in Oxford, and I had a college room, in theory a quiet haven protected by high pale walls from the traffic and bustle of the town; but I’d lived all my life to that point in rural Norfolk, so every week I’d escape and go for a walk on Port Meadow. It reminded me of Norfolk because it was wide, flat and damp. There were cows, adding to the rural feel. I’m actually stupidly nervous around cows and I remember timorously retracing my steps one time when I’d gone all the way up the path almost to the head of the meadow only to find a knot of bullocks just over the final stile. Normally, however, I’d do a circular route and return through North Oxford as the light was fading, a little nervous walking in a strange part of town in the dark, so that when I got back to my awkwardly-shaped room it felt like a haven after all.
Years later, and I’m used to city living, but I still like to go somewhere open. My preferred place is Bull Island. I’ve mentioned it often on this blog, but just to explain what it is: Bull Island is a sand bar that built up behind the wall erected in the 1820s to create a scour at the entrance to Dublin Port that would prevent silting and protect ships from foundering. The Island is domesticated to some extent – there are two golf courses on it and even a few houses at the south-western end – but it is land in an elementary state, close to its formation. It has a simplicity I find cleansing: sand, marram grass, low thorn bushes. Birds half hidden in the grass. The bare beach with driftwood. At the northern end seals pull out on the sand to rest. Towards the southern end the land is more consolidated, but in the winter great pools form in the valleys between the dunes.
An oasis in the desert is a lush place enclosed by the desert, but Bull Island isn’t lush, though it is full of life, and it’s not a little patch of relief but a place on the edge. It looks out to the sea. It’s the place where, this year for the third time, we went for the first sunrise of the year, because if the sky is clear (it wasn’t) you can see the first finger of dawn slip over the horizon. It’s a place that reminds me that all the human bustle is a bubble you can get out of. Outside there are things breaking down and reforming. There are sands that shift. There is space.