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Last Night in Wales

[Editor’s note: This post was written about a month ago. Do not be led into a space-time paradox by the opening line.]

[All photos by Aedan Peterson.]

Can I tell you about last night?

Part of the reason for this self-indulgent post is that our time in Wales is possible in part to an anonymous donor, and this is the best way I know to show my gratitude. We’ve been gone for more than a month now, and so much has happened that I won’t burden you with the details. The highlights: a wonderful 3.5 weeks in Sweden, during which time I made good progress on The Warden and the Wolf King and visited the ruins of the cottage where my great-grandfather was born. Then I got a kidney infection, an illness that knocked me out of the game for six fevered days and ended in a hospital visit on the island of Gotland. I recovered, and we pushed on to Norway, then hopped across the channel to London, where, like good Americans, we did everything we possibly could between the four concerts last week. That means the Tower of London, Westminster Abbey, St. Paul’s Cathedral, a play on West End, the British Museum, the National Gallery, Platform 9 3/4, and too many London Underground train rides to count. Needless to say, I didn’t get much Wingfeather writing done that week.

(I’m leaving out our visit to Oxford for now, because there’s no time. But trust me: it was magical.)

During the London stay we had a single show in Wales, so we took a train from Paddington Station to Bridgend. When we got off the train we were greeted by two great guys, Phil and Von. Phil is a South African pastor, Von is an American musical missionary. Stepping out of the station in Wales after having spent a hectic-but-awesome week in London was like easing into your favorite chair after a good day’s work. The countryside! It’s impossible to avoid comparing it to the Shire. I even heard that Tolkien may have based the Shire on Wales (and hobbits on Welsh folk, a comment that rankled the one whom I mentioned it to). We spent the day in the ancient town of Llantwit Major, played a blast of a concert in an old church (along with a local folk band called Valhalla), and even paid a visit to a 1,000 year old pub in the country, which was started by monks. It was a lovely day. The next morning we took a deep breath and boarded the train back to London for two more concerts. I SO wish I had the time and energy to tell you everything, and that you had the time and energy to care. We’ll have to save it for Hutchmoot or something.

The reason I mention that excursion to Wales is to demonstrate how excited we were for some real rest at a place called Bryn Cottage in Newport, Wales after the glorious bustle and energy of London. At a concert this spring I mentioned Bryn to someone who I think had spent some time in Wales, and they insisted on paying for our week here. My mind was blown, and they wouldn’t let me refuse. So let me tell you about it.

We drove four hours from Oxford, west toward a setting half-moon. The kids fell asleep, and for the last two hours it was me, Jamie, and the GPS lady’s comforting voice telling me when to exit the roundabouts as we drove into this unexplored land after dark. By that ancient, mysterious sense in our bones I was aware without looking at a map that somewhere to my left was the sea. Later, looking at a map, I learned that it was the Irish Sea. The roads wound between steep hedges and stone walls, and Jamie and I wished the sun was still out so we could see the ocean or the rolling hills or whatever beauties lay beyond our headlights.

At last we reached a town called Fishguard, where the road narrowed even more and led us between old pubs and flats and walls, built long before the invention of the automobile. I held my breath to aid the car through the narrowest spots. Down, down into Lower Fishguard, closer to the water and boats, closer to the rivers and streams that poured into the quay, then up, up again into the countryside. Jamie read our directions aloud. “Seven miles from Fishguard, as you pass the 30 mph sign, turn right at the sign for Cwm Gwaun and drive up the hill past the cattle grid. Take the right fork, steeply uphill to where the tarmac turns to cobblestone, then take the first lane on the right to Bryn Cottage.”

By now, of course, we had roused the kids. When we turned up the hill we saw in our headlights two wild horses, a mother and her foal, with long, beautifully unkempt manes and tails. Following the directions was like reading a treasure map in the dark. And a treasure it was. We climbed wearily out of the car at 1 a.m. and marveled at the stars. The milky way was a swath of mist overhead, hushing the Petersons and the wild horses and the rolling hills alike. I had to use my phone flashlight to make our way through the iron gate along the stone pathway to the red front door. We were sleepy and giddy at the same time—and a bit creeped out, I confess. Who knew what ghosts were sleeping in the old cottage? The ceilings were low, and I bumped my head more than once on beams and doorways. We more or less collapsed into bed, all of us wondering what the sun would reveal when we woke.

At 8:00 a.m. I sat up, happy as a kid on Saturday morning, and ducked my way downstairs and out the door. The morning was bright and cool. The first thing I heard was the bleat of a sheep not twenty feet away. It was irritated that I was interrupting his breakfast. After the shock of my companion’s presence, I looked around and the world that lay under that blue sky. We were on the slope of an enormous hill. “Mountain” feels like the wrong word, because it’s so pastoral; green as a garden, and soft as a pillow. Below us stretched pastureland divided by stone walls for perhaps two miles before the earth fell away in cliffs to the sea. The cottage overlooks Newport Bay, flanked by Dinas Head, a peninsula on the left, and Newport Sands on the right. Imagine the Igiby Cottage, but wisely built well away from the edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness. Then I heard more bleating, and now a company of wild sheep trotted into the front yard, fertilizing and eating in equal measure.

Sure enough, there was no cell signal. No television. No phone. No internet. Just sheep. And wild ponies. And swallows, hawks, rabbits, cows, and silence. The nearest neighbor is through the trees about 200 yards away. We ate lunch and dinner at pubs (fish and chips, please), and yesterday took a cliff walk from Abereiddy Tower to Porthgain. The tower ruin sits on a jut of rock hundreds of feet over the sea, and looks just like one the signal towers in The Lord of the Rings. We sat in the grass overlooking the craggy coast and read Psalm 148 aloud.

Praise him, sun and moon, praise him, all you shining stars! Praise him, you highest heavens, and you waters above the heavens! Let them praise the name of the Lord! For he commanded and they were created. And he established them forever and ever; he gave a decree, and it shall not pass away. Praise the Lord from the earth, you great sea creatures and all deeps, fire and hail, snow and mist, stormy wind fulfilling his word! Mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars! Beasts and all livestock, creeping things and flying birds!

Asher happened upon a Geocache hidden under a stone, and I wrote in the notebook, “Found by accident by the esteemed explorer Asher Peterson.” I asked him if he had anything to add, and he answered, “Woot woot.”

Yesterday evening we moved a table into the yard at Bryn Cottage, carefully avoiding the sheep droppings, and had dinner in the cool of evening as the sun sank into the Irish Sea. I had iTunes on shuffle, and just as the red sun eased into the ocean Fernando Ortega sang,

Let every creature in the sea And every flying bird Let all the mountains, all the fields And valleys of the earth Let all the moons and all the stars Throughout the universe Sing praises to the Living God Who rules them by His word Hallelujah! Glory be to our great God

The kids had been playing a made up game of tag, hopping from rock to rock and howling with laughter as they tried not to step in sheep droppings, but when they saw the sun about to go to sleep and heard Fernando’s praise, they each stopped and watched in the gloaming and glory. Words. Music. Beauty. Praise. Rest. We were meant for these things.

Thank you, Anonymous Giver, for last night.

Thank you, God, for the anonymous giver, and for thinking up this place called Wales.

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