Some years ago, when visiting my family in England, I took a long, solitary afternoon walk down the rustic, unpaved Callow Lane, which led to the little village of Much Dewchurch, and its Black Swan pub. The sun, partnered with a freshening breeze, intensified the scent of meadows and wet earth, as it had just rained. Baa-ing, grazing sheep and lots of birdsong completed the idyllic picture.
After a bit, I came upon a lively little stream about two feet wide, bisected by a clump of trees that grew amid a tangle of briars next to the lane. Close by, partly camouflaged by lush greenery, was a sturdy pup tent that framed a medium-sized, gray-muzzled, curly-coated mutt. He barked once to announce my arrival before settling next to an elderly, slim man in worn corduroys, who was adding twigs to a small fire. Preparing for lunch and tea, I thought.
His smile was gentle. I smiled back, and commented on the rainbow forming in the field above him. He nodded. “Nature’s optimistic, by nature.” I laughed. The guy sounded educated. I immediately wondered about his background. He read my mind.
“I tutor physics students in London. Every summer Bert and I like to trade our fancier digs for long, joint-oiling walkabouts, including tent living. Friends have gotten used to my prolonged summer absences to nonspecific locations. I never know where I’ll be. We both love living rough for a few weeks each year. I move when I please, and try to keep a diary.
Bert loves that every village, shrub and tree is full of news for his nose.
Living this simply, with no phone, no deadlines and no worries, is marvelous. We please only ourselves. I wasn’t sleeping much before starting these annual rambles; now that’s not a problem.”
I learned that his wife of forty-one years had died, and rather than succumbing to grief and loneliness he’d decided to explore “our green and pleasant land” on foot.
“After Helen died, each minute that passed was an hour. Out here, though, each hour seems a minute. I’ve abandoned my wristwatch, and love the freedom, the unpredictability, and the release of scaling way down. I’ve rediscovered my usual optimism—and simple pleasures—little things, like a bar of chocolate, or a local ale.” He sighed. “Summer always ends too soon.”
Bert’s slim, curly tail thumped agreement.
A shredding sticker on his half-filled knapsack read, ‘I Stop For No Particular Reason.’ Inside the tent’s flap was a trio of well-thumbed paperback books by Thoreau, Twain, and Wodehouse. He noticed. “Old friends. Should I die in my sleep, it’ll be with a smile.”
I shook hands with a contented man. Rounding a bend I looked back to wave, and heard laughter as he called out, “I just remembered another perk—most nights I sleep with the most gorgeous stars!”