Oxford

In Stone

The interior perimeter of the Oxford Museum of Natural History is guarded by the stone effigies of various “men of Science”, from Aristotle to Darwin. These pedestaled figures serve as charming company to the casual wanderer, and there is nothing I like so much about them as their hands – folded, gesticulating, or holding the tools of their art or the objects by which they are recognized (Newton, for instance, bears an apple in his palm). A brief tour:

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Oxford

Something of the Winter

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“there is something of the Winter that is primal, mysterious and utterly irreplaceable, something both bleak and profoundly beautiful, something essential to this myth of ourselves, to the story of our humanity, as if we somehow need the darkness of the winter months to replenish our inner spirits as much as we need the light, energy and warmth of the summer…Winter, more than any other, was the season of the imagination, of transformed magical landscapes and the eerie silence of the snow.” – Sting, from ‘If on a Winter’s Night…”

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Literature, Oxford

Ode to a Library

Bodleian Library, Oxford, England www.bluemesablog.com

As part of my ongoing autumnal nostalgia, I’ve been dwelling in particularly vivid memories of Oxford libraries, and none more so than the Old Bodleian. I spent the better part of my Oxford time in the Upper Reading Room, looking out over the Radcliffe Camera while reflecting over The Exeter Book of Old English poems, or cloistered in a glowing corner of Duke Humphrey’s writing about Sea Voyages in ancient literature. I remember piles of dusty volumes, and the way the blue Camera dome looked in every light. I remember watching mist roll over the Exeter College gardens and Radcliffe square, and the particular echo of footsteps up the lonely, turning stairway. I remember looking out over the library as the sky turned deep blue in evening and the windows glowed golden, gazing at the spires dusted in snow, and wandering beneath the vaults of the Divinity Schools. I remember the smell and texture of vellum, the feeling of drawing my coat close against the cold inside, the way the shadows gathered between book stacks as night fell early in winter, and how every corner seemed to hold some secret enchantment, and every moment within was transformed into the beautiful, mysterious realm of the fairy tale.

Bodleian Library, Oxford, England www.bluemesablog.com

Bodleian Library, Oxford, England www.bluemesablog.com

Bodleian Library, Oxford, England www.bluemesablog.com

Bodleian Library, Oxford, England www.bluemesablog.com

Bodleian Library, Oxford, England www.bluemesablog.com

Bodleian Library, Oxford, England www.bluemesablog.com

Bodleian Library, Oxford, England www.bluemesablog.com

Bodleian Library, Oxford, England www.bluemesablog.com

Bodleian Library, Oxford, England www.bluemesablog.com

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Oxford

Flora and Fauna

Flora and Fauna in Medieval Medical Manuscripts, Oxford www.bluemesablog.com

I spent the better part of one year down in Oxford’s Special Collections room reading medieval medical manuscripts. Most of the herbals, lapidaries and bestiaries were simple household guides, dashed off with ongoing notes, marginalia and things crossed out. But every once in a while I came upon something truly spectacular—rare and richly illustrated manuscripts, carefully crafted and copied, and far from practical. All manner of fantastic flora and fauna brightly graced the velum pages. Amidst the poppies and yarrow were mandrakes and monsters, prowling beasts and imaginatively rendered plants. Nary a leech was seen.

Flora and Fauna in Medieval Medical Manuscripts, Oxford www.bluemesablog.com

Flora and Fauna in Medieval Medical Manuscripts, Oxford www.bluemesablog.com

Flora and Fauna in Medieval Medical Manuscripts, Oxford www.bluemesablog.com

Flora and Fauna in Medieval Medical Manuscripts, Oxford www.bluemesablog.com

Flora and Fauna in Medieval Medical Manuscripts, Oxford www.bluemesablog.com

Flora and Fauna in Medieval Medical Manuscripts, Oxford www.bluemesablog.com

Flora and Fauna in Medieval Medical Manuscripts, Oxford www.bluemesablog.com

Flora and Fauna in Medieval Medical Manuscripts, Oxford www.bluemesablog.com

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Oxford

Botanical

The Oxford Botanical Gardens, England www.bluemesablog.com

With all the vibrant colours of spring around, I find myself turning back to these golden winter flowers and grasses. I saw these in the Oxford Botanical Gardens on a day not long before Christmas, when the ground was frosty and the gardens empty. There was a low winter sun in the sky, and the muted December palette seemed every bit as lovely as a verdant spring meadow. Just something to think about as you weave daisy chains in the sun this May Day (which you should be doing right now, by the way)…

The Oxford Botanical Gardens, England www.bluemesablog.com

The Oxford Botanical Gardens, England www.bluemesablog.com

The Oxford Botanical Gardens, England www.bluemesablog.com

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Oxford

The Ruin

The Ruin, Godstow Nunnery, Oxford www.bluemesablog.com

When in Oxford, pick a day with nothing planned, a day that’s overcast, but not raining. The moodier the sky, the better. Walk North through the city and meander through Jericho, over the canal and train tracks, out into the other world that is Port Meadow. Make your way down the path, past the cows and horses and the flooded meadow, over the Isis River, and beyond the boatyard. Walk for an hour two by the riverside, over the paths and through the mud, past the lane that curves towards the charming town of Binsey, and the enchanted little winding way that leads to the Perch pub, with its willows and fairy lights. Enjoy the muted silence of the heavy atmosphere, or the distant sound of walkers or rowers. Come upon the ruin of Godstow Nunnery near dusk, and linger there in the old walls, exploring the room of the ceilingless chapel, or the underside of the ancient bridge. Reconstruct it in your mind by the remnants of doorways and windows. Sit beneath the ivy as the light fades and the ruin is rendered a shadow on the darkening plain.

The Ruin, Godstow Nunnery, Oxford www.bluemesablog.com

The Ruin, Godstow Nunnery, Oxford www.bluemesablog.com

The Ruin, Godstow Nunnery, Oxford www.bluemesablog.com

The Ruin, Godstow Nunnery, Oxford www.bluemesablog.com

The Ruin, Godstow Nunnery, Oxford www.bluemesablog.com

The Ruin, Godstow Nunnery, Oxford www.bluemesablog.com

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