In Pembrokeshire

My blog posts from our travels will not be chronological. I’m going through my journal in a random way looking for the things I want to write about, and today I came upon a passage about our trip to Wales, and it’s the kind of lazy meander I can use right now. I want to return in my head to that peaceful green place with its picturesque coves and dazzling skies. I want to eat a scone and look at flowers and not make any sense.

After several days in Oxford, we rented a car and drove about four hours to Pembrokeshire, in southwestern Wales, where we met up with our friends Nick and Hilary at a rented cottage in a place called Stackpole Quay. The property is part of the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park, over two hundred square miles of cliffs and hills, marshes and estuaries, beaches and forests.

The cottage was dim-lit and dreary, not nearly as charming as it sounded. But our days were all about the walks, and the weather was glorious. There are miles and miles of coastal paths in this region, and beautiful bluffs and beaches, and we sauntered for hours, then lay down on the grass, as people our age like to do, being idle and dreamy.  Of course the men were always venturing too far to the edges of cliffs, leaning over to investigate the geological whimsy, which made us very nervous, but there were no catastrophes. And at the end of the day, Monte went for a swim.

It was a verdant and fragrant world, layered and textured and filled with secrets. Nick and Hilary know the names of plants, which become a kind of poetry: hart’s tongue, sea mouse-ear, vetch, stonecrop, wild thyme, bittersweet…

But what Nick intends to see on this trip is an otter. “You have to look hard,” he says. “You have to believe you will see one. And if you look hard and believe, you inevitably will.”

He’s quick to clarify that this is not like a unicorn quest…now that would be delusional. If you are going to spot an animal, you first need to know that it’s a factual possibility, and there is indeed an otter reserve at the Upper Mill Pond here in Pembrokeshire. Otters are elusive, but numerous sightings have been reported.

He gazes outward, watching for movement, asking walkers if they’ve seen any, and no one has, nor ever does he. But he’s happy just to be here, and he doesn’t seem disappointed, and it occurs to me that having a quest, whether or not it is fulfilled, is simply part of the fun. Enthusiasms provide a way of sorting the random input of reality. I have a few myself.

In the evenings we have hearty dinners around the table in the front room of the cottage and there is a lot of talk about things I never want to talk about. Politics, for example, a topic I am here to get away from. Also, elder care and end-of-life, which seems to be the subject people our age go to immediately after addressing the inventory of their own aches, physical ailments, and various signs of decline.

One night I fall out of my narrow bed, no damage done, but I can’t go back to sleep, and I get up to pee and pour myself a bit of milk to wash an Advil down, stumbling around in the unfamiliar space, trying not to trip on the odd step into the kitchen, trying not to disturb the others. I’ve grabbed my phone, but there’s no wi-fi or cell signal here, and maybe that’s a blessing; we all know no good comes of those middle-of-the-night news updates. Instead I read my book, which has come to a dull place, and I brood and feel a little blue for a while, restlessly awaiting daylight in a cottage in coastal Wales at the edge of a national park.

Morning comes, and it starts out tentative and misty so we grab our umbrellas to make sure it doesn’t rain, but the day soon blossoms into blue sky brightness, and we walk to the lily pond and hear a robin singing, and find our way to the gardens of a castle, and then to a little town where there’s a pub that serves fish and chips, and we sit outside seeing clouds and country and an old stone church, and I can’t shake the feeling that we’re getting away with something, but while the day is happening, it’s the best day in the world.

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