Words & Photographs by Amy Henderson On that Saturday night, everything seemed harried. My mind and schedule. I was busy doing work, I was busy not doing work. I was busy being guilty over not doing work. I came on exchange to explore and see the world. I had flown what was familiar and easy and comfortable. I had desired to meet people from eccentric backgrounds and immerse myself in the charming oddities different cultural experiences can bring. To shake up my character and perspective of it all.
This I have joyously had the privilege to do. Sashaying through the Dutch Leiden markets, hands sticky and dripping from the goo escaping my stroopwafel (please try!) as I attempted to happily prattle with my broken Dutch to the haggling store keepers wanting to sell me the strongest (echt sterk!) Dutch cheese they’ve ever had.
Thrilling and terrifying, I’ve been taken up in a crowd of bikes, the real kings of the road, as with self assured confidence, we’ve taken the crossing. More tamely, I’ve navigated the cobble stones loud and ever so jarring, trundling down on my fiets (bike), weaving in and out of the busy bicycle traffic.
I’ve sat in a quaint, tucked away pub, nursing a delicious beer, as jazz smoothly meanders and envelops me and my group of Italian friends. I’ve put my hand to playing pool until 2am, Linkin Park surprisingly exuding from the loud speakers. Perhaps time does stand still in some places.
Exceptionally so, my understanding was that I would have stumbled upon many a secret glade, water way or paddock/pasture. This was The Netherlands after all, blessed with bountiful fields and tulips and precipitation. Yet on that Saturday, it was this that had not happened. I had not yet set out to greet the quiet, serene and natural unknown. And so, on that Saturday evening in May, at about 7pm from my small quaint attic in Leiden, I decided to step out for a bit.
I had no plan or idea of where I was to go. I just knew I had to get out and discover whatever came my way. Serendipitously. I wanted to be at the wiles of The Netherlands. And to somehow respect the laneways, canals and twisting forest paths with their soft blanket of leaves. To immerse myself in what it wanted to show me, the places I had neglected for so long.
As I commenced my sojourn into the wild, I cycled on a bike path that was flanked on either side by canals. A satisfying genesis I thought and was able to lose myself in the serene, organic quirks of this beautiful country. I spotted a duck, purposefully and resolutely disturbing the green algae that can lie thick and undisturbed, an aquatic grass, brilliantly green and dense, just inviting a trusting footstep. I took in the water side patios, old, wooden and lightly exuding nostalgia, proffering the wanderer with wisps of precious summer nights spent in idle bliss, with glasses of wine and the best friendship. I cycled on and smiled at the flowered-weeds that proudly decorated either side of the path. They knew not, or cared not of their inferior technical ruling, they grew and swayed and gave forth colour, and that was enough for them.
I pressed on and came to the end of the path. I could chose left or right. An archaic windmill was in front of me, grand and stately, even in its chipped wood and stationary state; benevolently presiding over my indecision. I chose right, I continue on, more water ways and reeds. They were plentiful here, elegant and simple, catching the light notes of the wind. I crossed a wooden bridge into what seemed reclaimed land from the sea. A polder. The reeds were taller here, I was quietly enclosed in a soft world, far from the loud and cheerful bustle of the packed pubs in town. It was then that I came to what I now call my sanctuary. One needed to dismount, manoeuvre the bike through a turn stile, skip on, and then open a heavy gate that lead out onto the promontory jetting out into a great lake.
I said hello to and carefully eyed the cows that were pleasantly crazing on the patchy, slightly undulating pasture. I think they accepted me as a present but unobtrusive strangling that was want to visit their humble dwelling. I cycled the length of the paddock and paid my respects to land’s end. It was then spotted. I headed back, for a tantalising feature had caught my eye. There on the right,past the cluster of humble and dopey cows, was an old, lightly peppered with ducks droppings, wooden jetty. It was sans beast. It could be my very own. The bike parked, I skipped onto the wooden jetty and my poor, ever so woebegone heart nearly burst. This was it. This was my haven. I sat down, closed my eyes. I listened to the lightly lapping waves, the sound of a small boat, a rower out on their evening jaunt and some gulls frolicking above. The jetty, sound and true beneath my frame, having welcomed many a jostling and bubbling boat party, was mine for this precious and quiet pocket of time.
I return often. It greets me in the way it knows best, with intermittent creaks and an air of indifference. I check on the cows as they dolefully be about their passive business. The boats hum and swish by, adding to the serenity somehow. It is a good place and I recharge from the day’s frivolities and demands.
I invite you to find your sanctuary. Hit the road, take no map. An inadvertent discovery is a sweet one. I have loved and forever will, love mine.
Amy in the Netherlands