Thursday, January 3, 2008

Port Meadow Frost

“What do you miss the most about home?” asked an American friend visiting Oxford. It was a rainy December day.

“Snow!” My children replied before I could answer.

Brunswick, Maine on New Year’s Day 2008 (by Stephanie Foster)

I had been missing snow until a deep frost settled over Port Meadow. My dog and I set off for our morning walk in mist so thick that it was hard to find the horizon. Bike ruts in the frozen grass looked like ski trails in snow. The meadow is a flood bank for the River Thames (called the Isis only in Oxford) and communal grazing grounds.

At this time of year, the cattle are gone and only a couple dozen horses are left to forage. Their warm breath melted the frost into green grass as the sun was struggling to burn through the clouds. Could this be England? I felt inside the pages of an Annie Proulx story, home on the western range. Or maybe a late Rothko painting?

A Shetland pony, not much bigger than my dog, watched us with curiosity. She looked warm in her shaggy coat, even dripping frost. My dog wanted to play, but the pony lost interest once she realized that Stella’s tennis ball was not a green apple. Seeing us every day, the herd barely twitch an ear at my bouncing golden retriever.

Despite the chill, Stella was eager to get to the river. She swims in the ocean year round back in Maine. Seagulls, geese and swans eyed my swimming retriever nervously, but Stella kept her eye on the ball. The Greylag Geese were once domesticated but now have gone wild, interbreeding with Canada geese. The Queen owns the swans. No one can explain what seagulls are doing here this far inland.

As we headed down the river past the lock, the water became a mirror. Another walker and his dogs were dots along the bank. Despite the beauty of dawn, we were otherwise alone. Even the wind had slept in.

The only sound was the honking gaggle of geese. The meadow teams with myriads of migrating water fowl and attending bird watchers during the fall. My son and I once surprised some black and white birds that took off with a startled “Eeek!”

Port Meadow is dog heaven for a retriever. Every writer should have a dog. I do some of my best thinking for my novels on our walks. I’m sure Port Meadow will feature in work in progress. Not so sure about the wet dog . . . .

Happy New Year! We spent ours in Cambridge.

Did other bloggers have trouble up-loading images or publishing? I fear everyone made a blog-more-often New Year's resolution.


rpkelly said...

I, personally, was gleefully awaiting the 2 cm of snow predicted for today in Oxford, only to have my mitten-clasping hopes dashed by the "storm's" slight change in direction. On the plus side, we enjoyed dinner at Brown's on New Year's Eve, and enjoyed sleeping in the next day even more. (But more to the point - was "snow" YOUR answer to your friend?!)

Anonymous said...

The shetland pony is so cute!♡ Wow!! They have that much snow in Maine? Lucky!! Snow is the best part of Winter (besides Christmas!) It looks like Stella is ready to pounce on a goose in the water!

~your daughter! ☀

Sarah Laurence said...

I don't miss shoveling, but I do miss skiing in the woods, my skis cutting fresh tracks in the snow. The countryside is so cultivated in England. I miss friends and family although we do have good new friends and the other side of our family here. A NYC bagel would be nice too!

rpkelly said...

Ah, bagels. That was one of the unexpected culinary highlights of our trip to Prague - yes, the Eastern Europeans truly know how to make a fabulous bagel! (Also enjoyed their street sausages - now we know where the NYC hot dog stand got its start) and the trdlo pastries (roll pastry around a tube; cook over open flame; roll in rum? and sugar - mm, good!)

Sarah Laurence said...

You may be looking at an old version of my blog if you entered through a keyword search or images.

On Jan 6, 2008 my blog address has changed to:

Click on that link to see my latest posting. All the old archives are there too. You can copy the link to your favorites/bookmark

Suburban Correspondent said...

Thanks for stopping by my blog. And thanks for the tip-off about hyperlinking in comments on Blogger - I'll have to check that out.

But, remember, as far as I am concerned, you are talking to a computer idiot. FTP? Custom domain publishing? Way above my head...

Sarah Laurence said...

Welcome! Consider yourself lucky not to have to worry about all of that. It's for people like me who want to have a blog attached to her website. Publishing delays meant I had to change my blog's address.

Now all the problems are gone since I switched from publishing by FTP to custom domain publishing. I'm only figuring out this blogging stuff as I go along. Still, it's fun!

How to add a hot link to a comment:

Here's more on basic HTML:

The blue words are all hot links. It's not too hard to do. Enjoy!

Anonymous said...

Happy New Year!
Good luck with the new address

Unknown said...

Thanks for the walk on Port Meadow, Sarah. I've just returned (rather sweaty as usual) from my evening walk with my dog in the rainforest in Singapore, and was feeling homesick for cold crispness and wondering if ponies still graze on Port Meadow. A google search led me to your wonderful photographs, which were just what I wanted to see. It's 15 years since I was a student at Oxford, but I swear that Shetland looks familiar . . .

Sarah Laurence said...

Wow, Singapore! Talk about a global community on the internet. I love that a visitor, such as I, could bring you home.

That sweet pony’s name is Nina. Could be the same mare or perhaps her daughter?

You just reminded me it’s time to take a break from novel writing and walk my dog before it rains. Other than that one deep frost, the winter has been mild even for England. The daffs are already blooming.

Unknown said...

Wow. These photographs are really extraordinary. Oxford looks a lot like what Boston, MA USA looks like today. It's really quite beautiful, but what a mess. The pony looks like he doesn't know what hit him. Keep the blog going. I really love it.

Anonymous said...

Hello, I am also from Maine, living in Oxford and attending the University. I was touched to see the photo of Brunswick, I so miss home! Even the massive amounts of snow!
I was curious if you knew anything about who owned the horses that graze Port Meadow?

Sarah Laurence said...

Thanks, Jennifer!
Make a snowball for me.

Hi Eliza,
We should get together for coffee/tea and reminisce. I’d love to hear your impressions as the protagonist of my latest novel is a Mainer who spends her junior year at Oxford.

You can contact me from my website:
or post your e-mail in another comment.

The horses are privately owned. Locals get the right to graze animals on the common. Many are old ones put out to pasture. One elderly woman had adopted several ponies. When she died, a group of women offered to look after them so they wouldn’t have to be put down.

michellebelcher said...

We just love walking through Port Meadow. We are in Oxford for a year and this wonderful treasure is something we are drinking in!

We are wondering if there are rules against petting the horses, brushing them or giving them a carrot? ANyone know the answer?

Sarah Laurence said...

Michelle, welcome to my blog! Port Meadow is a public land for grazing with rights to residents. The horses and ponies are privately owned. I would wound not advise feeding or brushing them without permission. Animals in a herd can be unpredictable and aggressive, especially where food in concerned. Enjoy your walks- anyone is welcome. I miss Port Meadow!