Yesterday we took a long family walk up Port Meadow, with more naan tucked in the bottom of the stroller and a telescope in Sydney’s backpack for birdwatching. When we got to the meadow we were hailed by a guy carrying a radio. He greeted Sydney with “What do you see?” Sydney replied with “Dunlin,” and the guy nodded and replied by telling us that if we looked up to the east we should see an “Ascot” soon. I assumed that the former was a bird, but it took me awhile to realize that the latter was a plane. Turns out that this guy watches planes and listens in on the radio to track the trajectories of the various aircraft in this part of England. The radio crackles were full of numerical codes for various towns, near and far, all of which this guy knew. We parted ways at the top of the meadow, and Sydney told me that the guy was at the meadow pretty much any evening Sydney was there, and seemed to spend all of his free time walking and listening on the meadow–which was, apparently, used as a runway during WWII.
Today, on another family walk we walked the loop around Christ Church Meadow, and I admired a large, beautifully shaped tree near the path. Sydney wasn’t able to nail down an identification for me, but we spent some time inspecting it a bit more closely. As we started to walk on we were addressed by a wizened old lady who was sitting on a bench a ways away from us, surrounded by what I had thought was knitting or the newspaper. Turns out that she not only knew the tree (a kind of elm), but she also knew the scientific name for the tree and all of its “relatives” around town. It is apparently 200 years old. She then showed me what we was working on: a detailed drawing of one of the other trees along the walk. And she pulled out a dogeared sketchbook full of botanical names and descriptions of trees, and her drawings of them. She said she’s writing a book of the trees of the colleges, and, when she learned Sydney was at Merton, immediately rattled off the name of one of the trees in the college’s courtyards and its elaborate history. Fascinating, if a bit hard to understand in her heavy Russian (?) accent. If the kids had not needed us to get home I could have spent quite a bit of time hearing about the trees of the town from her.