I sat through most of How The West Was Won (1962) the other night and the song Home In The Meadow, sung by Debbie Reynolds, struck a chord. It is an adaption of the English folk song Greensleeves that dates back to the 16th century, possibly even earlier.
Whenever I am overcome by a wave of nostalgia for England, I tend to play a CD featuring the Last Night of the Proms at the Royal Albert Hall. As Fantasia on Greensleeves by Ralph Vaughan Williams plays, I close my eyes and instantly conjure up an image of the rolling English countryside – a generic image of fields with cattle grazing or seeking the shade of a majestic oak tree.
Last weekend something approaching that mental image met my gaze when I visited Camp Milton, a historic site within Jacksonville’s city limits. During the U.S. Civil War, the camp at one point was home to 8,000 Confederate troops – a bulwark against possible Union expansion into central Florida.
Heading back to the car, I witnessed across the road a scene reminiscent of the kind I used to see in England – cattle grazing in a lush pasture. A run-of-the-mill shot in England was treated by me as if it were an exclusive shot of Pippa Middleton.
Such pastoral scenes have been rare since I moved to the United States. In Texas, I became ensconced in suburban America and remote from fields and streams, farms and country lanes, which had been just a 10-minute walk from my house in England. In Jacksonville, my daily routine is confined to the inner city areas of Riverside and Avondale.
The English tradition of a run out in the car to the countryside does not translate to my part of America because the fields, woods, streams and lakes are not as accessible.
After 11 years living in the United States, I have still to find the equivalent of an Ordnance Survey map showing public rights of way. I fear the concept of public footpaths across private land is an anathema in states where the motto “Don’t Tread On Me” holds good for a great many folks.
Access to the countryside is largely restricted to state parks and historic preserves – no, that is not Robertson’s jam from the 1920s. Grateful as I am for that access, it is a little too organized and regimented for my taste, although better than no access at all.
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