(HOST) Commentator Madeleine Kunin visited England recently, where she found food for thought in the lovely Lake District.
(KUNIN) If I were counting sheep in England, it would take me more than a century to number them all in my sleep. Having just come back from a visit to the Cotswolds and the Lake District, I can see them still, dotting every green field and hillside, separated by old limestone or slate walls, or high hedgerows.
This is the lambing season, when tiny black or white lambs, some looking like sleeping cats, were lying in the grass, nursing from their mothers or tottering on unsteady legs to find the best new blade of grass.
Yes, almost every landscape the world over is beautifully fresh in the spring. Here in Vermont, we breathe in the sweet aromas of opening leaves and flowering trees and express amazement that it is all hap- pening again, as if for the first time. Were there ever more hues of pale green latticework than the brushwork we see on a Vermont mountain in May?
Why go to England, then, and why come home entranced? The English have achieved what we have not. They have protected their countryside and intact villages for hundreds of years. Not a fast food shop anywhere, no shopping centers, no houses that break the spell. The villages in the Cotswolds with names like Stow on the Wold, Chipping Camden, Upper Slaughter and Burton on Water are exactly as they were four or five hundred years ago.
In the Lake Country, Dove Cottage in Grasmere, where William Wordsworth was inspired to write his greatest poems, remains un- changed, except for the guide, who points to the narrow beds, the primitive kitchen now barely hinting of lively family life. It is easy to see how Wordsworth and Coleridge derived their inspiration here amongst the glimmering lakes, soft hills and craggy mountains. This is walking country, and there are paths leading up into the hills and paths rim- ming the lake.
How does England, a Mecca for tourists for hundreds of years, densely populated, increasingly prosperous, contain growth and protect its villages and hills and vales? There are rules and regula- tions, and government owned parks and paths. The British have learned what we still have difficulty understanding – that not all progress is good and that change can be destructive.
They accept restrictions on freedom in order to have the freedom to ramble in the unaltered country side, to have a drink in a 17th-century pub, to sit in a lawn chair and be astonished by a sudden commotion just over the fence, caused by a dozen tiny lambs running up the hill and down again, scrambling to keep up with their wooly mothers. It’s as if the gate at the lamb day care center had just been left open.
We have learned a lot from our British elders – Democracy, history, literature – but surprisingly, there is more to learn: how to protect the land and surrounding villages as living sanctuaries that restore both body and soul.
This is Madeleine May Kunin.
Madeleine May Kunin is a former governor of Vermont.