Monday, June 29, 2009

What summer means to me

My favorite thing to do in the summer is go back home to the tiny island of Guernsey in the British Channel islands. It's quite a trek to get there from Detroit, involving either three (or four) changes of planes, or two planes and one change of airport, and leaving Guernsey is even more complicated.

Guernsey can be fog-bound even in the height of summer. You never know when planning a trip whether you'll be trapped on the island, diverted to the boat, or what.

The sounds of my summers are a concerto of distant foghorns; the shushing of the sea on pebbles at high tide, the buzz of someone somewhere mowing a pocket handkerchief sized lawn, or trimming a hedge, the cackle of seagulls on the roof (where my mother tosses fish and meat scraps for recycling via gull digestion), and the drone of honeybees and flies in the honeysuckle that covers my mother's pergola. (Which hides the compost heap, which hides a den for the hedgehog.)

As for the sights, there's the ever changing sea, which redistributes beach sand around the scoured and weathered groynes on the local beach, creating and eradicating deep shore pools in which one could catch wrist-watch sized baby sole and halibut in ones hands. There are the rocks... I love the rocks... of pink "Cobo" granite, and the distinctive blue-grey granite from which many local homes are built. The sunsets aren't spectacular--the air is too clean--but the light quality can be breathtaking.

They claim that "the sun lingers longer" in Guernsey, and perhaps it does. The pace of life is much slower. The island speed limit is 35 mph, and one wouldn't have to be a Lance Armstrong to break the speed limit on a pushbike. Not on the steep Vauxquiedor in the parish of St. Andrews ("Valley that is of gold", by my translation) or on the Dos D' L'Ane. Most street names are in Guernseyaise, which is similar to French, but not French.

When an island is only nine miles long and six wide (and triangular) it never takes very long to get anywhere. No roads are straight. There are legends that the route a road should take was determined by the meanderings of a pig or donkey. It makes no less sense than Punxsutawney Phil (and his descendants) giving us a long range weather forecast.

Although the roads meander, and some are so narrow that if two cars meet, one has to back into a field, and others are designated "Ruette Tranquile" which means that cows and pedestrians have the right of way, if you keep going, eventually you will come to the coast road.

If you look up, apart from seagulls, and con trails in the sky, you might see strange ledges on the chimneys. They are seats for passing witches who might be sore from sitting too long astride a broom.

In fact--if I can say so without offending anyone--apart from the large hairy feet, Guernsey is very much like the Hobbits' idyll in the Shires in Lord Of The Rings. With internet cafes... in one of the biggest supermarkets.

We have an excellent library, the Guille Alles (it has internet, too) which is well stocked with John Grisham, Agatha Christie and Georgette Heyer novels, also Asimov and Heinlein, and when I am at home, I indulge in a positive orgy of re-reading my old favorites.

I've also been known to take a garden spade down to the beach, all the better to construct dragons and castles in the sand.... And if I do one this year, I'll be sure to take a photograph.

1 comment:

Susan Kelley said...

Sounds so lovely. Hope you have a wonderful, peaceful, restful vacation.