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The Historic Appeal of Nature

by Kit Bakke

I like walks that mix history with scenery and Cape Cod is full of them. A native Seattleite, I am lucky to have friends and relatives on the Cape who have introduced me to many of its peripatetic pleasures.

One spot I especially like is Marconi Beach - the platform, the outer beach. I like seeing big unpeopled sweeps of land and sea. It's fun to imagine Guglielmo Marconi striding about, finding the right spot for his two-way wireless demonstration in 1903. Attuned to publicity as well as radio waves, he arranged it to be between President Teddy Roosevelt and England's King Edward VII.

In a chapter entitled "Open Heart, Open Mind" in my novel Dot to Dot, I quote Dorothy Wordsworth saying "a good walk always calms my nerves" to Mary Wollstonecraft, as the two women stride across the green and heather covered hillsides surrounding Derwentwater in northwest England's remote and stormy Lake District.

Dorothy Wordsworth lived most of her life in the Lake District with her adored brother, the Romantic poet William Wordsworth. She loved a long walk and didn't think twice about hiking twenty miles in heavy shoes and long skirts to visit friends, often returning after dinner with only moonlight to mark the narrow, rocky and often muddy path home.

Today, the Lake District remains a hikers' paradise, chockfull of blue lakes, purple hills, volcanic slate and granite outcroppings, and almost two thousand miles of public footpaths. Oh, and those dancing daffodils, too. More on them later.

I've enjoyed many Lake District rambles over the years, and it was great fun to place some of Dot to Dot's action in amongst the area's staggeringly gorgeous views.

Making the place even more attractive, the Lake District's valleys and peaks are littered with a thousand years of human history, from ancient standing stones to Beatrix Potter's farmhouse, to the tiny daisy-studded graveyard in the bend of the River Rothay where Dorothy Wordsworth was buried in 1855.

The more I learned about Dorothy Wordsworth, the more I knew I had to include her in my novel. She is an unsung literary hero, the proverbial woman behind the man.

Never complaining, she did everything from housekeeping (which in those days included planting, tending and harvesting vegetables, chopping wood, making bread, hauling water and endless cleaning), to sitting on hard chairs in cold rooms while making fair copies of her brother William's poetry by candlelight.

Their now famous Dove Cottage was drafty, cramped, damp, dark and inconvenient. Dirithy also courageously mediated the increasingly difficult relationship between William and Samuel Taylor Coleridge so that they could revolutionize English poetry, which they did, with Lyrical Ballads in 1798.

Heather outcrop above Boot, Cumbria, England Copyright: Nick Thorne

Back to those daffodils. Perhaps the best-known Wordsworth poem is the one that begins, "I wandered lonely as a cloud" and goes on to describe seeing "a host of golden daffodils; beside the lake, beneath the trees, fluttering and dancing in the breeze."

All very nice, but it turns out that many of Wordsworth's poetic descriptions of nature exist because his sister Dorothy told him about them, or wrote descriptive phrases in her journal after they'd taken a walk together. He would then ask her to read her journal to him as a way of jumpstarting his poetry-writing. She wrote that she kept the journal only "to give Wm pleasure by it."

William never gave Dorothy formal credit for her contributions to his topics or his phrasing, although when you know where to look, you can see his occasional references to her as "Friend," and once he wrote that "she gave me eyes, she gave me ears" in his poem The Sparrow's Nest, but still never naming her.

Dorothy herself said she never had any interest in writing poetry, but she did write the occasional poem and essay, and typical of the day, lots of letters.

As Dot travels in England with her eccentric Aunt Tab, she runs into more history than she knew existed. As Aunt Tab tells her "travel isn't only going from place to place." And history, it becomes clear, is a lot messier than Dot had realized. Making her way through the messiness of the past begins to help Dot find her way in the messiness of a future without her mother.

No matter which side of the pond you are on, night or day, rain or shine, winter, spring, summer or fall, there are walks to enjoy and history to explore. Write and tell me your favorite places to walk. I'll be waiting at the mailbox:

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Kit Bakke is the author of MISS ALCOTT'S EMAIL and DOT TO DOT, books that celebrate the creative and independent young women who face down adversity with humor, persistence and friendship.

Born in Seattle, Kit loves to travel and weaves her adventures into her writing. Like her characters, Kit asks a lot of questions and believes life should be lived out loud. To read more about Kit visit her website at