It’s hard to picture Wordsworth wandering lonely as a cloud as I drive along Lake Windermere in northwestern England, past billboards marketing water sports and hourly cruises, the slightly nauseating smell of fish and chips, and casually dressed tourists whose crimson necks and ruddy faces reflect temperatures in excess of 85 degrees. Yet the next morning, as I stand on a hill above the lake, looking across to shadowy peaks beneath the pale blue sky, I am struck by the beauty of the place. Beside me is a slab of stone, set in memory of Gordon Stables, who died July 4, 1978, age 55 years: “By his endeavors he prevented electricity pylons being placed on this landscape” – followed by lines from Wordsworth’s The Recluse: ‘Tis, but I cannot name it, ‘tis the sense
Of majesty, and beauty, and repose,
A blended holiness of earth and sky,
Something that makes this individual spot,
This small abiding-place of many men,
A termination, and a last retreat,
A centre, come from wheresoe'er you will,
A whole without dependence or defect,
Made for itself, and happy in itself,
Perfect contentment, Unity entire.
This is not the grandeur of the Rockies or even the Highlands to the north. Its beauty is more civilized, the kind of pastoral landscape the Romantics loved. Today I long more for wild places, perhaps because the wilderness is disappearing so fast, perhaps because my own life seems sedentary and tame.
On the other hand, I hike without fear of being attacked by sheep.