Rushing out in the early morning to ride my stationary bike before the rains arrived, I was pleased to see that the sun’s rays peeked between the horizon of Lake Norman and the dark, massive cloud that covered the sky above me. Mounting the bike, I saw a golden hue that hugged the pine trees, the far horizon, and even the wall of my work shed. Beginning my ride I remembered a summer eve on Foxcombe Hill, southwest of Oxford, England.
I don’t recall the year, but it was in the late 1990’s, and I was the Dean of Students for OxBridge Academics at St. Peter’s College, Oxford. The head porter, a fine chap named Doug, knew I liked to run and take long walks, so he told me about Boars Hill, a hamlet about four miles southwest of Oxford. During the month of July, I began to explore Boars Hill and eventually found a public path that led to the group of houses composing the small village. The public path was much better than the road that climbed the hill from the Oxford Car Park; it passed a farm with a large, red barn and one walked through what I recall as Butterfly Valley, a fine, small area for, yes, butterflies. When I shared stories of my runs and walks about Boars Hill with Doug, he told me of a fine pub he had been to years before. He recollected that it was named something like “The Fox”, but he was not certain about its name or location. My friend Druin, who was a student at Oxford, and I took runs and walks to Boars Hill, and on one walk, a kind lady, after we inquired, directed us to The Fox. Oh, what a treasure it was. That afternoon we sat on the patio overlooking the Vale of the White Horse where golden grain grew. We shared a few pints of good, English ale, and a meal. But, then, like always, it was getting late, and we wanted to walk the public path back to Oxford before it was too dark. Our waitress told us of a path we could take that avoided the road to Boars Hill, so we began walking it, but I turned when Druin said, “Look!” Turning to face to the south and west, into that lovely vale, I saw the most perfect mixed hue of golden grain, waning sunlight, and peaceful English countryside. Both of us stood for minutes, silently absorbing the gift we were being given. It was a moment during the first of many walks to The Fox, but like all “first times” in life, it remains the most memorable and perhaps the most important.
Continuing to ride my stationary bike, I remembered that moment of magical colors and quiet, and I realized that as beautiful as this morning’s hue of color is, it pales in comparison to that summer eve on Foxcombe Hill. I realized then why Thomas Hardy wrote of that vale and its people.