I feel like the next part of this tale doesn’t exactly warrant telling, but it was a near-spiritual experience for me, so… I’ll try to make it quick. On our way out of Cambridge to the wilds of northern England, we stopped by a Tesco Extra. Tesco, I was already familiar with from our grocery trips in Ireland. The Extra, however, was new to me; it wasn’t until I was standing in the store’s entryway with my jaw somewhere under the cart that I realized it stood for Everything That Can Be Sold Inside a Building And Then Some. Over the past three years, I’ve grown accustomed to small specialized stores that don’t worry themselves unnecessarily with options. I don’t mind the Italian way of shopping, really; once you learn where to go, when, and for what, it’s a simple process. But stepping into that multi-story metropolis with its book store and baking aisles (multiple!!) and 24-hour pharmacy made me want simultaneously to cry and to start groping the merchandise. I went with the latter. It took us an hour to get the four grocery items on our list and twenty not on our list (we’re lucky your dad forbade me from so much as peeking into the baking section), and back in the car, you girls fell promptly to sleep.
If I had not felt the need to ask your dad important questions like, “Did you see the blueberry muffins, did you? The big ones? With blueberries in them? And individual packaging? Next to that other brand of blueberry muffins? Weren’t they beautiful?” steadily for the next three hours, I would have passed out too.
Had we realized that Cambridge would be our last brush with civilization for almost a week, we could have spent our time at Tesco stocking up on salt pork and hardtack, but we were too excited about hitting the trail… and I do mean “trail” literally. Our next stop was a section of Hadrian’s Wall with little around besides wind-whipped skies and a vague path shoeprinted into the grass. That is our absolute favorite kind of place to end up—enough remaining history to fuel our imaginations and enough nature to let us off our leashes. You girls didn’t need instructions. While your dad and I goofed off in Milecastle 42 pretending to be the ancient Roman IRS faced with unruly Scotsmen, you skipped off together toward the rolling green.
You were the height of adorable, holding hands and racing away on your own little adventure. Just before you left earshot, your dad and I saw you point to the obviously bovine creatures in the distance and exclaim, “What could those be? Cows? Horses? Wolves? We don’t know!” So adorable. Your dad and I were still chuckling about it when we realized you girls were much faster than we gave you credit for… and that you had gotten alarmingly close to the cows/horses/wolves/wedon’tknow while we were preoccupied with your adorableness. Parents of the year! We caught up just as you, Natalie, were remarking, “Yep, they’re cows.” It would have been hard not to identify them, seeing as how several had planted themselves squarely in your path.
The black cow in front had a decidedly unfriendly gleam in her eyes. The other cows shifted their hooves, glanced at her, and muttered to each other in moo, but the black one stood as rigidly as a block of ice freezing us with her glare. Apparently, we didn’t take the hint. With no warning (other than the daggers shooting from her eyes, of course), she sounded the charge. Her posse began advancing on us. We began backing away. They stepped up the pace. We began to run. A few seconds later, we looked back to discover that cows are more agile creatures than we knew. They were galloping full-throttle at our backs, and the black one may or may not have been shooting flames from her muzzle. We scooped up you girls and bolted for the far end of the field, shrieking with laughter. There was something absurdly funny about escaping from a bovine lynch mob, and once we made it through the safety gate, we collapsed more from the hilarity of it all than from exhaustion. Well, three of us did. You, Natalie, surprised us by bursting into tears. “I’m scared of the cows,” you cried. “What did they want?” Your dad quickly tried to comfort you. “It’s okay, honey; the cows probably just wanted to eat.” Your cry immediately grew into a full-fledged wail. “THEY WANTED TO EAT MEEEEEEEEEEE?”
Plenty of hugs (and a few parental giggling fits) later, we headed back to the campground. This one didn’t have a playground, but what it lacked in plastic slides it made up for in wildlife. We socialized with the resident puppies, made fascinating discoveries about chicken’s sense of hygiene (as in, they don’t have one), and followed a rather important looking mallard giving his two ducktweens a tour of the grounds. Your favorite part, though, was the pond. Safe in a circle of bullrushes, a mama duck clucked soft goodnights to each of her dozen babies, caressed their fluffy heads, and tucked them underneath her feathers for the night. You watched spellbound, even as the daddy duck hissed ineffectual curses in our direction, and other campers gathered around to watch you. By the way, there’s something truly special about the little communities that form between people at campgrounds, even if it’s only during an overnight stay. Sleeping outdoors enhances one’s capacity for wonder, and our campground acquaintances tend to notice small joys—puddles ripe for splashing, pink-tinged clouds, little faces lit up over ducklings’ bedtime rituals. Just by being yourselves, you inspired joy and camaraderie… and it was perfectly natural for us to stay long past checkout time the next morning so you could fly kites with the girl-next-tent, Evi, while your dad and I swapped funny travel stories with her parents. It’s just what you do when small joys win over boring old farts like standoffishness and punctuality.