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Marie is an instructor of English at Sacred Heart University and recently completed her MFA in Creative Writing at Fairfield University. She lives in Connecticut with her husband and two children and her faithful English Springer Spaniel, "the artful" Dodger.
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Journey to the Sea

Those moments, tasted once and never done,

Of long surf breaking in the mid-day sun. 

-          John Betjeman

An Irish girl, with a streak of Nordic blood in her, moving to London from the Connecticut harbor town of Southport via the island of Manhattan, will always seek out the sea. So it was inevitable that Cornwall called to me; it is, after all, part of what is known as the “Celtic fringe” and the closest thing to Ireland as England has to offer. I leave London early one morning and set out across the country almost as far West as one could go.

Radio Four, is my only companion, but it is a good one. The station that approaches its erudite and original programming back home is NPR, but it is only a poor cousin to the BBC gold standard for intelligent radio. Desert Island Discs, a show which asks guests to imagine themselves as a castaway on a desert island and to choose eight pieces of music to have along, puts me in the frame of mind of being far away from all I know. It’s a liberating state. No baggage, just discs. The guests, who run the gamut from politicians to rock stars, are also allowed one book and one luxury item.  What’s even more interesting than the choices themselves is often the reasoning behind them – the show is a mosaic of mixed musical genres and compelling, often surprisingly revealing interviews. Although the show lasts only a half hour, my wandering thoughts about what I would choose to bring along with me to a desert island keep me amused for much longer. There would have to be some Baroque and some Beatles, but which ones? Vivaldi’s Four Seasons and Lennon and McCartney’s Let it Be? The Vivaldi would allow me to imagine the splendor of the seasonal changes I so love; I would be transported from the bleak desert landscape to the blazing Autumnal beauty that is expressed in every shade of red, orange and yellow in the New England Fall; I would imagine the emerging lilac and forsythia blooms, the daffodils and crocus popping up as harbingers of Spring; I could place myself in the verdant, full, lushness of a summer’s day and I will hear the quiet, starkness of a Winter’s bleak early nightfall. Yes, with Vivaldi I will be able to experience them all. Surely, on a desert island, no other Beatles ballad might console my longings as one that counsels to let it be. That’s a start. Shubert’s Ave Maria to lift my soul, is a must. Then I would  want to hear some Jazz, of course -  Miles Davis or something by John Coltrane -  and maybe a familiar childhood lullaby – yes, the one that my Norwegian grandmother used to sing to me - to soothe any homesickness or loneliness I might feel during my island exile. The luxury is easy – beautiful pens and paper – but, the book is more problematic. I’ll have to drive across America to decide on that one. It’s a Wonderful World by Louis Armstrong might have to round out my music collection, because as I drive through Thomas Hardy’s county of Dorset, the world is looking rather wonderful to me. These will all change over time to be sure. I couldn’t know, as I drove across the expansive green of the Dorset countryside contemplating my appearance on Desert Island Discs,  that one day the sound of my children’s laughter would be my first choice and a recording of my son’s guitar and my daughter’s  soprano voice lifted in song the only other sounds I would want to hear.

All I need now is the Radio Four show – there is one - that has some dulcet toned actor reading a novel for hours, preferably Tess of the D’Urbervilles or Jude the Obscure. I decide I must return one day to Hardy country – to its pastoral and peaceful beauty, seemingly unchanged for centuries. But today, my destination is the wild Western coast of Cornwall and I arrive at my cottage overlooking the sea just before four o’clock.

The National Trust is a charity which protects hundreds of historic houses, gardens, coastlines, and monuments across England from the threats of development and decay. It offers a number of properties out for rent (or, “to let”) and they are always well cared for and representative of the area they are in. I have “let” my cottage through this wonderful, and important, organization. It has preserved for me, and for everyone, the unique charms of the settings of every piece of English literature I have ever loved. The cottage is much larger than I expected from the brochure, with a grand Victorian tiled entrance hall, a large sitting room with comfortable overstuffed sofa and side chairs, a dining room, a large kitchen, two bedrooms and a good sized bath with a window overlooking the harbor below. But not even its considerable appeal, and my weary state, can hold me back from setting out to explore the beckoning coast.

The little Cornish fishing village of Cadgewith, on a peninsula called “The Lizard”, is perched on the southernmost tip of England and is seemingly untouched by commercial exploitation. I sit watching the local fisherman bringing in their daily catch from a vantage point high above the charming little harbor laced with wooden fishing and sailing boats. Nearby, a tiny pink, thatched roof cottage sits on the bluff providing some lucky local with a view rivaling any other in the world. The water below is a true deep blue and I am hypnotized by the motion of the beautiful water against the rocky Cornish cliffs and the sight of children playing nearby. There is something universally familiar about children at the seashore. Bright colored pails carry water back from the sea to the sand and a host of plastic shovels race furiously towards middle-earth with a frenzied effort; long, excited strides to the water’s edge are followed by fitful splashes and hurried skips back in retreat to the safety of the shore. It’s a wonderful scene and one in which I, myself, played a role many times, many years before, when spending summer vacations at the ocean beaches on Long Island. I am transported back to a simpler time when the sound of the waves meeting the shore, challenged only by an occasional high pitched squeal – of delight or fear – defined my happiest days.  

There is a place, on the West coast of “The Lizard” peninsula of such outstanding beauty that it is one of the areas of Cornwall that The National Trust owns and preserves. I follow a path recorded as taken by tourists since the 18th century, and one imagines, undocumented by many more before, down a steep descent to a flat landing on a Cliff side some hundred or so feet from the beach below. I sit for a long time taking in the stunningly beautiful rock formations reaching out into the sea and creating a mystical, one might even say mythical view. I imagine Arthur’s Merlin tucked away in one of the cave like openings scattered about in the crevices of the cliffs. If I were a child, I would not be able to resist exploring them.  As it is, I find it difficult to remain sensible in this improbable landscape which seemingly has remained unchanged in its stark, stunning appeal for thousands of years. This is Kynance Cove. The cove is smaller than some here in Cornwall, perhaps only about 300 yards wide, but the sea within it is an exquisite shade of turquoise and I am struck at how nature surpasses even the most vivid artist’s imagination for what is possible in the juxtaposition of color and texture.  The rock formations take on a pre-historic countenance. They are red in places, belying their metamorphic nature, formed millions of years ago. It is impossible to remain within the confines of time, of modern day living; this is primal...(continued)