It’s a dangerous business, going out your door…

It may be quite cliche to be making reference to Oxford’s greatest author (Fight me) upon arrival to this wonderful city, but there’s something I find deeply resonant about the pastoral Oxford setting and the works of J.R.R. Tolkien. There’s a deeply ingrained sense of Old World beauty as you wander the narrow streets and alleys of Oxford proper, and the ancient stones built into even the simplest houses give the city an established presence and persona. The buildings feel as much a part of the landscape as the river Thames.

You can take a trail from right outside our house that follows the river all the way east to the boat houses, or west to the pastoral green meadows that quickly remove you from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. Although I have tried countless times, the stunning beauty of the Oxford brier escapes all attempts to capture it in a photo. The landscapes are simply too ambient to be caught in a single moment. There’s an appreciation for nature present here that simply does not exist in the United States, even in Colorado, where we consider the outdoors our playground. In Oxford, and the United Kingdom in general, I am struck by how the use of space is so completely different from an American mindset. American culture is so founded upon the notion of conquest and industrialization of wild lands that we lack an understanding of how to balance the presence of urban life and the presence of nature in our lives. We have enough space that we can have spots reserved for nature, and plenty of room for urban sprawl. Here, there is a marriage between nature and industry that defies American sensibilities. Here, everything and everyone use space more efficiently. They only have so much room, and so they conserve it when at all possible. And yet, everyone has a garden. Whereas to be a proper American household you must have a large lawn, neatly cropped and used for sport, the British sensibility is turned toward aesthetic beauty and the simple pleasure of letting things grow. This marriage of community and nature is at the heart of Tolkien’s Shire, and his great gift is in sharing the beauty he sees in his world with the world at large. Although it may be difficult to put aside the hustle and bustle of our daily lives and forget the cynical and absurd nature of our modern world, Tolkien creates a space where this is possible, if just for a moment. So, I’ll have confidence that you’ll forgive me for closing now not with my own words, but with an excerpt from my favorite poem in The Hobbit, sung on the road back to the Shire- and I hope that as you read these lines you take the time to appreciate the ambient beauty of the natural world.

Roads go ever ever on,
Over rock and under tree,
By caves where never sun has shone,
By streams that never find the sea;
Over snow by winter sown,
And through the merry flowers of June,
Over grass and over stone,
And under mountains of the moon.


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