We had to get to Schiphol by 7AM. When Donna woke me, the street was dark and hazy, the streetlamp and an ebbing moon creating two pools of weak light in the silver fog. The hour-long drive to the airport was the perfect goodbye to the Netherlands – and to the first week of my sabbatical – allowing me to gently integrate the experiences of the past seven days. And have one last look at all my favourite things about the Dutch landscape.
The highway borders long stretches of farmland that echo the diligent and experienced hands that work the land. Even if fog covered the green fields like a fuzzy blanket, the cows and sheep paid no mind; they continued to graze as they have been for centuries, muzzles buried in the haze, their muscular backs sharply outlined by the rising sun.
Traditional windmills stood shoulder-to-shoulder with glossy white aeolians, the blades of which turned lazily, or so it appeared to my bleary, ground-level eyes. It was like driving through time, but I’m not sure in which direction we were headed. I couldn’t decide if what I was witnessing was prehistoric or futuristic. Somewhere past Delft, the sun began to rise in earnest, transforming the pink shadows into slants of blinding, pulsating orange that chased the fog away. The other magic hour, the one I rarely see.
As we zoomed closer to the airport – and the plane that would take me to Greece – I mentally went through the clean clothes in my luggage and calculated how long I could go before laundry would become necessary. I have been a nomad since late June, when I had to move out of my house for a bathroom renovation project. A short stay at home and then travelling for two months. A whole summer and fall living with the same 14 pairs of underwear, squeezing small bottles of shampoo in unfamiliar showers and trying to remember in which pocket I stored the small cable that recharges my battery pack.
Did I ever really have a drawer full of t-shirts?
But despite the tossing around, I have what I need. That is, enough clothes to keep me comfortable and presentable, good perfume to make my twice-worn clothes smell sweeter, and enough Pilot pens to fill all the pages of my notebooks. Travel makes you realize just how little you need. Standard suitcases, for example, force you to make decisions about which clothes, shoes and toiletries you can live without. But being in the world without the comfort of familiar faces and places, forces you to disconnect from usual patterns and discover which emotional tools are crucial to living well.
I spent the three flights from Amsterdam to Munich to Athens to Paros drafting that list for myself and it’s much shorter than I expected:
*I have a curiosity that seeks beauty.
*I have senses with which to see, hear, taste, smell and feel that beauty.
*I have a sense of humour that softens the less-than-beautiful.
*I have a desire to write about that beauty in words that can be shared.
It’s not much, but in seven days, it’s yielded a blustery North Sea, tall buildings gilded in Vermeer yellows, tiny buttery pancakes dusted with icing sugar, wet umbrellas, illuminated windmills at night, bicycle shenanigans behind the Concertbegouw and banter that left me breathless with laughter. What do I really need with a functional hot iron when I can take in the soaring vaults of the Dutch sky? All that other stuff in my luggage can be washed, replaced or purchased.
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To read all the blog posts from my Fall 2015 sabbatical, follow the 63days category.