Monday, October 19, 2009

Wales, Lake District, and Ireland

“It is good to realize that if love and peace can prevail on earth, and if we can teach our children to honor nature's gifts, the joys and beauties of the outdoors will be here forever.”
Jimmy Carter

Last weekend I joined a group from the University to go camping in Northern Wales. The trip was oriented around learning survival skills. We hiked down to the beach where we found large cliffs and a rocky beach area. We learned to make water potable and to find food on the beach. Several members of the group and I were responsible for building a shelter in which our group would reside. We built a stone wall to block the wind and then tied our tarp to an abandoned boat to shelter us from rain. Sleeping directly on the rocks was not nearly as bad as I had imagined. I met a lot of really interesting people on the trip including Roni and Guy, a brother sister duo who spent gap years working in communes in Israel. Also interesting was Lawrence who has spent summers working in camps for imprisoned youth in the United States. Lawrence has a keen interest in the outdoors but also gender issues and politics; I didn’t know that people like that existed! I’m going skiing with Roni over part of Halloween weekend.

Having grown up in a land-locked state, I continue to be impressed by sights of the sea. There is nothing in the world as calming or as beautiful as the crash of water against the beach and the view of an orange sunset. The outdoors is therapeutic and rejuvenating. When I am outdoors I serve as witness to something so much greater than humanity; I see a world with many component parts that function together in equality. Nature is everything that I wish society could be.

I joined the kayak team for a canal session wherein we learned a bit more about paddling and entering/exiting the boats in a beautiful (though polluted) canal in Preston. In the canal we had relay races wherein we had to launch ourselves in the water, paddle across the canal, and then get out of the water. We also played tag with wet sponges. Kayaking is so different from canoeing but I think I really like it. I’m looking forward to the Tyne Tour that the team is attending in early November.

Swimming practices continue to motivate and to challenge me, it has only been two weeks and I can already feel myself getting stronger. One of my swim friends was explaining to me her study of sign language. I noticed that some of the signs that she used were different from the signs that I have learned. She explained to me that every country has a very different form of sign language. Though American Sign Language (ASL) is popular, many countries find that ASL cannot describe the world as they know it and accordingly create their own sign language. As more and more of the world converts to English and ASL I fear that we are losing so many of the terms that previous cultures used to describe their world. I’ve heard that Inuits have many different words to describe snow: as the Inuit language dies off do those explanations of snow also die? I’m so afraid of globalization and it bothers me that so many countries are turning away from their previous languages to favour English. Many of the people that I met in Ireland did not even know how to speak Irish. Some people explained to me that Irish is taught only in the countryside.

For the first part of the weekend I went to visit a girl that I met in Liverpool on my way home from Paris a few weekends ago. Carlie is Canadian and works in a hotel in the lake district. On Thursday night she introduced me to all of her fellow employees and we went dancing. Sitting in the employee lounge was like a mini-United Nations. The lounge saw representation of Canada, USA, Jamaica, Spain, Brazil, Poland, Romania, Latvia, and others that I don’t remember. On Friday we visited the Beatrix Potter sights and took a ferry across the lake to a nearby village where we hiked around a bit and saw some wonderful views of Lake Windermere. The superimposition of the mountains and the lake was wonderful and reminded me of Lake Tahoe.

On Saturday morning I flew to Dublin for a three-day visit. I went on a walking tour of the city, saw much of the historical monuments from the 1916 Revolution, learned about the potato famine, went to the National Gallery to see an exhibit on Edward Munch, saw the Dublin Castle and gardens, saw the tomb of Saint Valentine, toured the James Joyce Centre, and went to the Chester Beatty library. Some of the most interesting things I saw included original letters from Paul to the Romans, and ancient illuminated manuscripts. I also attended services at Christ Church which is home to the Cathedral Choir which first performed Handel’s Messiah. As the choir processed during Saturday evensong I was overwhelmed with the beautiful music. I didn’t recognize any of the hymns that were song, but the service was an amazing experience. I went back to the Cathedral for services on Sunday and was once again impressed. I was invited to the coffee fellowship and was surprised to find that the coffee fellowship was held in the old dungeons of the church. The coffee fellowship is to me such a mundane part of fellowship, it was so interesting to experience coffee fellowship in the midst of one of the most lovely places in the world. The dungeons held a lot of the artifacts of the church including communion sets that had been provided by kings and queens of England. The church was absolutely lovely. I love the intersection of Protestant and Catholic tradition within the Anglican Church. I do not consider myself a Catholic, but I find repeating the Nicene Creed and various Catholic prayers to be a very important part of my prayer life. Some of the people I met at the coffee fellowship told me a bit more about the Anglican faith, explaining that the term “Catholic” means “unity” and that in Europe the Catholic church is much more of an umbrella than it is in the U.S. The members of Christ Church also told me a lot about religious struggled between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland in which Christ Church had played a role. The man ended by saying, “you know, there seems to be a lot of religion but not a lot of Christianity going on around Ireland.” Interesting.

My study of Edmund Burke’s “Reflections on the Revolution in France” has raised many questions for me about the role of revolution and independence in the international community. Spending a weekend in the midst of a relatively newly independent state helped me to better contextualize those questions. In Ireland I witnessed a political protest to Spanish control of the Basque. I also chatted with a Filipino womyn about independence movements of the Muslim population of the Philippines. Is the search for independence a mechanism through which we refuse to negotiate with a dominant government or is independence necessary for the development of different political interests? How do we justify the American Revolution while also denying a right for the Confederate States to secede in 1861? I’m going to continue studying these questions and maybe allow them to become my senior thesis.

I am happy to be back home and to face a brand new week.

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