So I’m reading Jan Morris’ Matter of Wales. Morris is a great writer. She captures the landscape of Wales so well, with all the stunted sessile oaks; the rivers with their ancient names; the skimble-skamble sheep sheltering in wet, dark caves; cobs and ponies and the dark pit frames lowering cage-loads of miners into the unforgiving earth; the hard, grey, bare and stony hills where stones wreak havoc; the smell of turf, bracken, water, and wind; the picaresque Owain Glyndwr and his wild and romantic resentment of the English who wanted to take away his land while he was a simple farmer and that made him a national hero; and those skeptical Saxon eyes half amused, half annoyed.
I’m tempted to write my own book about Wales. Go back and travel its 130 miles from tip to tip on a Welsh cob, following in the footsteps of Glyndwr, Dylan Thomas, and Myrddin. Create some kind of historical suggestion and modern disillusionment and contemporary fable. Reenact history with fiction and myth with living stories and legend with a contemporary voice. I can see myself doing this as an older man. My last journey, perhaps, before I settle down, or my last book before the great ending.
Truth is, I’m slowly trying to build up my connection to Wales again. It was severed when I left and the only way I know how to connect it again is through imagination and stories. That’s the bridge for me.
It’s because I feel like an outsider that I force myself to re-imagine my home, make it speak to me in new ways while listening to the old forked tongue of nostalgia.
But the connection is there, at least. Just needs weeding. The longing that I feel for Wales is transformed into a story I want to tell about it. Reinvent the past, I guess. But it does help me that I have this strong relationship to the landscape of Wales, to its trees and rivers and rain and bracken and ponies and mines and literature and song, that land of milk and salmon (some of the best salmon fishing is known to be had in Wales).
And it all infused me as a boy just wandering the small green copse behind my house. I didn’t need to go far. The epic quality of Wales with all its legends and myths was right out my back door and a heartbeat away. I stayed there as long as I could until my mum would call me in and even then I’d prolong it and eventually succumb to her call and wander in under the threading silence of bats and the coming of night up out of the ground as if Lord of Annwn had arisen.
America is just too big. One of the things Morris talks about in the book is the immediacy of connection that Wales offers because it is so small a country, nothing is too big or too far, all its history, myth, and folklore, and literature are contained in this small landscape and yet they can produce this epic Wales, too, this country of a dragon with forked tongue and raised claw. And the Welsh flag is considered the oldest flag there is since it can claim to be related to the Roman’s purple griffon.
Wales really is an old country, that’s why I feel like I have to work to keep my connection to it — there’s so much to fathom and be aware of. Living here in a relatively young country, I don’t feel the need to work so hard because its history dogs you still, it’s too close almost that it needs to rest, stay silent until it builds up more secrets.
I love to hear about people who harbor a connection to a country that is not the one they were born to. I don’t think anyone needs to have a patriotism for the place of their birth, shackles like that cripple you and I believe all people long for the might-have-been.
We should be free to love what we will, whether it’s a place or a person or a leek.
I’m just lucky that the land where I was born is the land I have a deep feeling for. It does it for me, but I do need to keep the flame alight, though, so it’s not just a simple nostalgia or easy patriotism, I guess I’d call it a creative force, which is more to my liking and character.
And I do feel a connection to Maine because it’s the closest place I’ve found that reminds me of Wales and Ireland. It’s old, too, the land that is, looks it with its stones and gnarled trees and wildflowers and mist and bogs. And it’s been a refuge in many ways for me.