The Old Paths: The great escape

By Leslie Bray Brewer - Special to The Stokes News

It has hit me again. No, not spring fever, as those of you who know me by now might be assuming. As much as I do indeed long for my favorite season of spring, I’m still hoping for one more really big snow with no ice. The two we’ve had this year made my snow cream too crunchy. (Surely you snow-haters can deal with just one more; it’s not as if you live in Florida, after all.)

No, I’m talking about that occasional wild urge to move to some remote village in southwestern England or the Scottish Highlands or anywhere in Ireland. Do any of you ever get that yearning to escape to a green and peaceful place?

I figure that most people who want a retreat start thinking about tropical sites with turquoise oceans and warm, sandy beaches. Yes, I’ll take that for a week or so, but I’m talking about a sabbatical that lasts for several months—maybe a year. Perhaps I’ve watched too much of “Downton Abbey” or too many Jane Austen movies like “Pride and Prejudice” where the lush green serenity of the English countryside beckons to me.

There, the birds trill lovely songs, the roses climb around the doors of the old stone cottages and footpaths lead the way to grassy knolls overlooking the blue of the Cornwall coastline or the Irish Ring of Kerry. Somehow the moviemakers don’t focus on the many cold, rainy days of these regions— tough to shoot productively in such weather, I suppose.

But even that seems inviting to me—sipping hot tea by the fire in a cozy little cottage while the raindrops pitter-patter on the roof. Again, maybe I’ve overdosed on Austen and Bronte or even the quaint little poems in my Childcraft books. I figure such idyllic settings are rare even in jolly old England or Ireland these days; there, too, people live in apartments, condos, subdivisions and modern houses.

Perhaps we should go to the root of the problem—the problem being why I want to become a recluse in Devonshire, England, or why you want to hide out on a beach in Cabo San Lucas. I believe it is human nature to seek refuge in a peaceful place when life becomes overwhelming. Even Jesus resorted to such behavior. Over and over again, the Bible tells of Him attempting to steal away to a remote mountain area or secluded seashore spot.

Even the most extroverted of humans was not meant for continual human interaction. We need occasional peace and quiet to recharge our body’s batteries, figuratively speaking. Therefore, we sleep at night as one way to do this. But in this modern era of staying up late—our eyes fixed on the glaring screen of the TV, laptop or SmartPhone—most of us tend to get too little sleep.

“I’ll sleep when I’m dead,” I’ve heard busy people say. I’ve said it myself. But I’ve matured enough to realize that you might be dead a bit sooner if you don’t get adequate sleep. The body truly needs sleep to restore and refresh its parts that are abused and overused every day.

However, even sleep doesn’t seem to be enough for most of us. We start longing to “get away.” And there’s nothing wrong with that. Even Laura Ingalls on the prairie “got away” most days, even if it was just fetching the cows each evening and watching a spectacular sunset.

But these days, do we ever truly “get away”? Can we really “escape” when we stay glued to our cell phones or keep up with email while we’re gone? If we are still at the mercy of the outside world via constant communications, is this a true sabbatical?

On the old paths, my mom and my aunts, Sylvia, Louise and Sammie Jane, would take us Bray grandchildren down to the creek (the original Belews Creek before there was a Belews Lake). We’d splash and play for a few hours to escape summer’s heat in the days when air conditioning was a luxury for most rural homeowners. If Daddy or the uncles, Donald, Sam and Ira Lee, needed us, they would have to come find us or just wait until we got home.

Sometimes, the Bray ladies would splurge and take us to Hanging Rock to swim in the ever-cold lake. No one sat on the sand scrolling down the iPhone screen. Instead the parents watched the kids play or pondered the patterns of the clouds or actually talked to each other. (I usually can’t get signal at Hanging Rock, so perhaps that IS a good place of escape!)

The point here is that I think the deluge of technology is actually what makes some of us long for a temporary retreat. I love my little “cottage” in the valley by a creek right here in Stokes County. But despite the privacy of my property, while I’m here I still feel the pressure to answer the phone, check my large volume of email, reply to Facebook inbox messages, update the church YouTube channel and/or respond to the many texts I get each day.

And thus, I continue to dream of the quaint stone cottage on a wild Scottish moor or in a green Irish vale or by the sea in the south of England—where I could wander on winding lanes with blooming hedgerows or sit in the sun in the colorful garden or take my tea at the rain-spattered window as I curl up with a good book.

But I, like the poet Robert Frost who stopped by the woods on a snowy evening, must rouse myself from this fantasy and dash headlong back into modern life…..because I, too, have promises to keep and miles to go before I sleep….

Leslie Bray Brewer can be emailed at Her blog is at

By Leslie Bray Brewer

Special to The Stokes News

comments powered by Disqus