Dragonflies and dodos

I started writing this post last week, but then riots broke out. I couldn't finish it; the idyllic scene in here felt too dissonant with the ugly reality out there. I just couldn't write about a lovely, serene afternoon while people were being burnt out of their homes. But life is like that: a meshing of fun and seriousness, joy and sorrow, good times and bad, maybe in the same day. So, as today is the birthday of the friend who shared the loveliness with me, I'm posting this now along with renewed thanks and happy birthday greetings!

The other day, on a single sunny afternoon sandwiched between two wet ones, I visited a well-kept secret: Worcester College's extensive gardens. For almost three years I have walked past this college at least once a week en route to the station, at certain times noticing an overhanging magnolia tree; but it was only when I met a friend, fresh from attending a wedding there, that I discovered that those walls contain a real urban oasis.

It has everything you could want in a garden: a lake, complete with ducks and geese; a small orchard; well tended lawns, and, of course, flowerbeds, bursting with blooms and alive with fat, fuzzy bees, too busy with pollen collection to even think about bothering visitors. And then there were the surprises: sunny corners filled with succulents and tropical plants, incongruous against Oxford stone walls. It is, quite simply, delightful!

We also visited the chapel, which is adorned literally from floor to ceiling. The pews are decorated with carved animals, including a dodo and a walrus, which made me wonder whether Lewis Carroll had ever visited, and his wandering eye found inspiration during a boring sermon...?

My guide was a young friend who had been an undergrad there, and still knows the porters. One of them came by as we were sitting by the lake. He pointed out a dragonfly which we hadn't yet noticed, and as we watched it hovering and skimming he explained the mechanics whereby dragonflies open and expand their wings. And then, having mentioned kingfishers, he began to quote Gerard Manley Hopkins: As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame... I had heard this line a couple of times before, but did not know more, so it was only as the poem continued that I realised it also contains another line, better known and often quoted in all sorts of contexts:
for Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his

All in all a lovely afternoon: I enjoyed good company, feasted on beauty, learnt new, unexpected things about dragonflies and poetry, enjoyed the sunshine - simple pleasures, freely and easily given and received.

Since my visit I have discovered Worcester's website, and the slideshow of photos makes me want to go back again, to see it in different seasons! There's also a blog by the gardening team, so presumably people who know about these things can enjoy what's going on, and maybe even pick up some useful tips.