‘What’s different about Wales?’ I once asked an American, recently moved here. ‘There are no billboards here,’ she replied, and that got me thinking.
I hope that I appreciate many things about my native country; its small size, its mountains, hills, moorland, and coastline, all in convenient proximity here in north Wales, but I’d never considered or appreciated the absence of other things, such as billboards, (and for those, I imagine the ‘Marlboro country’ type images of massive billboards out along a highway in the desert somewhere…)
The reason for my question was to get a glimpse of Wales through someone else’s eyes. What were those things that she’d appreciated as different to her native State, which I may take for granted?
What do we take for granted?
As well as those things we don’t have, I wonder what are those things that are part of our lives, so commonplace and part of the landscape, literally, that we fail to see or appreciate them, but which may seem ‘other’ or unusual to someone else?
I suppose some are iconic, such as the four million sheep. Japanese students who stayed with me some years ago would be delighted with our sheep, especially the sight of them being sheared at the local agricultural show.
Cycling recently, I rode along-side and old stone wall completely covered in verdant greenery. I know those stone walls are certainly noticed if not appreciated by tourists driving through Snowdonia and unused to hugging in so close to a solid object on some of our narrow roads, but we don’t give them a second thought. Then there are Snowdonia’s crawiau, those fences made of jagged slate spears bound together with twisted wire.
How many other facets of our surroundings do we take for granted? Perhaps the green coloured lichens that grow on rocks or the grey beardy lichens which grow on trees where the air is clean? It could be the soft springiness underfoot when walking in the mountains, the call of a different set of birds, or a million different things.
One thing we overlook is Anglesey’s prehistory, there’s a standing stone on a rise every few fields, and more ancient monuments per square mile than anywhere else in Britain. Some of them we see from the road and have become accustomed to, others are further afield, on farmland, and not often visited- and yet astounding when you discover them. Just don’t ask for a definitive explanation of who built them around 4,000 years ago or more, or why. Just take time to imagine the significance of these stones and burial chambers for people, similar to ourselves, but from a very different culture.
Cycling at a slower pace is a contemplative act which gives us time to observe and ‘be’ in our environment. It gives us time to notice details missed when travelling in a car. It allows us to reflect on how our landscape has changed over centuries, how it changes through the year, and with every passing cloud.
What else should we be noticing with the eyes of someone new to our ‘patch’? Why don’t you come cycling with us and help us to appreciate Anglesey through your eyes?