DAY THREE-WEDNESDAY, August 5
Have you read Lewis, studied him, and longed to visit his home-the womb of his creation? I have, and I am here at The Kilns for the 2009 Summer Seminars.
At the moment I am sitting in the upper garden surrounded by flowering trees, bushes, flowers-many of which I have not been introduced to-and bathed in sunlight. The sun has been stingy with its favors today so that it is now most welcome. Butterflies-Cabbage Whites-dance around the blooms dusted by a light flickering breeze. Butterflies are drawn to the buddleia tree with weeping branches and lavender drooping blossoms. Bees buzz, a crow calls, doves coo, a gray and white tiger cat flirts with me from behind the hedge.
It is still in the garden, but busy. Children’s cries waft in from time to time. The garden’s bouquet is intoxicating-scents combine in cacophony of luscious perfumes. I can hear the Kiln’s staff in the kitchen preparing our tea. It’s haft past one in the afternoon. A black cat dashes by without a “by your leave.” I sip my tea and drink in the delicious atmosphere. I am prompted to this description by a letter from Lewis to Arthur Greeves about appreciating the beauty of nature after just moving to The Kilns. One of many readings the night prior.
I promised a daily blog to the website but this is the very first moment I have had to compose. I’m not sure this will be chronological, but I hope to draw you in.
(Flashback) On Day One-Monday I arrived from Dallas, via Chicago, on Monday morning, landing at London’s Heathrow airport. A lovely smooth flight, a quick pass through customs. After a mighty walk to the Central Bus Station, I boarded a bus to Oxford and a taxi to The Kilns. Minutes after depositing my bags, I was off with the group in a van for a tour of C.S. Lewis’ Oxford with Peter Cousins, a retired taxi driver who has made Lewis his life’s vocation. I am reminded of the Cabby in The Magician’s Nephew whom Aslan made the first king of Narnia. Peter took a call from Priscilla Tolkien whilst we were touring the town. He frequently drives her about.
Actually, this won’t be strictly chronological since there is information I want to relate but will need to fact check before filling you in on some of the places, people, and bits and pieces of info. Right now I just want to get started and let y’all know what wonderful experiences abound here. Will I be able to tap into the muse who abides here?
The Kilns resides in Headington. Approaching Oxford had the feel of stepping through the wardrobe into Narnia as the first spires of the university rose above the trees. But return was swift to the real modern world as we made our way through the narrow streets teeming with people, cars, lorries, and bicycles. I started across a street and was nearly run down by a speeding bike. After two such near misses, I pay more attention. I didn’t come this far to be ushered into heaven via a bike collision.
We took lunch at The Eagle and Child – “The Bird & Baby” as the Inklings called the pub they frequented. Seated at their table, we nibbled at pies and pasties and enjoying tea as only the English can brew. Then there was the pilgrimage to Tolkien’s grave where he and his wife Edith were buried together-“Luthien and Beren.” A petite garden graces the grave, a rose bush taking center stage blush with blooms-a simple gold ring hangs from a branch. How long has it been there? Who put it there? To whom did it belong? Will it remain? I was told it appeared about two years ago. What story there? Humphrey Carpenter lies a short ways away. We paid respects to Hugo Dyson and Kenneth Tynan.(not sure of this name)
We visited Charles Williams’ grave in a graveyard that appeared forlorn and forsaken, only to be informed that the site was intentionally kept that way as a wildlife conservatory. Touring Magdelen College was an Alice in an Wonderland expedition. We gazed up at the windows of Lewis’ rooms and enjoyed tea next to the River Cherwell and watched the punts glide by. Then we ventured out on Addison’s Walk, that very journey that Lewis took with Hugo Dyson and Tolkien and then succumbed to the Hound of Heaven. We walked. We sat. We drank it in. Then a group of teens marched by chatting, followed by a single young person, bearing a bored expression, and playing loud blaring music-unfortunately splitting the spirit of the moment. But not for long, the atmosphere of Oxford prevails.
A russet, black, white, and brown “tortoise shell” butterfly lands on the copy of The Magician’s Nephew. “Who are you and why are you here?” it asks. Then a large black fly with white polka dots and red eyes chases Diggory and Polly across the page. When it buzzes off, a tiny spider dances forth and back across the pages. A chorus of doves joins the rustling of the trees. The sun is playing peek-a-boo.
I’ve just met three young women from Nebraska who are attending Jesus College this summer term. They are taking pictures of the Kilns, having just visited Lewis’ grave. They love all things Lewis and Tolkien. We enjoyed a lovely visit-the generation gap bridged.
We returned to The Kilns Wednesday afternoon, Ralph Wood from Baylor was visiting with Aidan Mackey in the library and joined us in the drive to St Margaret’s Church tucked away in the seclusion of the small village of Binsey. This was a trek into Alice’s wonderland and the site of “the treacle well” in Carroll’s book. St Frideswide’s treacle well and the church date from the 12th century and was reordered in the 19th century.
To whomever it was that remarked to me before I left Amarillo that I wouldn’t enjoy the food is grossly misinformed. But I knew that from previous visits. We enjoyed a delicious dinner at The Trout, a pub Lewis often dined with his friends. Back at the Kilns we partook of port as we listened to Aidan Mackey read from The Ballad of the White Horse. Mackey is one of the world’s leading experts on G.K. Chesterton and as fine a dramatic reader as they come.
That night I settled in Warnie’s study and cuddled into a comfy bed with down quilt.
It’s nearly midnight now. I sit at Warnie’s desk. The house is asleep and the stillness complete.