I’m A Wonderer

My sister-in-law and I were speeding, probably rather too fast, down the mighty expressway, the A38, which connects Devon with the rest of the world.

On the way there were many strange names. Not as strange as Cornwall, mind you: some of their names could well have come from a chance encounter with someone from another planet. But quaint to the point of eccentricity.

Like Chudleigh. And Bovey Tracey; or try Coombe Fishacre, and Ugborough, and Yellowberries Copse.

So there we were, flying along with the warm fat Devon summer air on our faces, and we happened upon the sign for a most singular place: a place called Rattery.

Someone once said something about me. They observed dryly:”She’s like a dumb blonde; except that she’s not dumb and she’s not blonde.”

Occasionally, my mouth will engage and begin speaking independently of my brain. And this was such a time. With a Julie Andrews fresh British open and enquiring mind, I wondered aloud: “I wonder if there was once a rattery there?”

About five seconds passed, while we both processed what I had just said.

And then we roared. The thought of someone keeping some mediaeval hotel for needy vermin; husbanding the little pitter-pattering scavengers for some long-lost purpose long since buried in the pages of some ancient herbal: it was just too good. If no one had written a book about it, then someone should.

Just for the record, then, I should inform you that Rattery is recorded in the Domesday Book as Ratreu: some say it is a variant of “red tree.”

I am very fortunate. My sister-in-law is every bit as absorbed with odd details as I, and she did not look at me as if I were odd. She howled because she might have asked similar questions in similar circumstances.

It’s a state of  mind, this wondering.

Down every English path there is a question; on every English street, in every English house. Plants are stuffed with questions, animals teeming with them. A motorway shouts them at you as if it is at some subversive party; a garden murmurs them like some whispering earth-mother.

And museums. Don’t get me started on museums. It is like standing in the centre of a great symposium at coffee time, everyone munching their biscuits and chatty questions moving from group to group, cross-referencing and finding like questions with whom to hob-nob.

Questions romance my head and my heart. They astound me every day. I am a wonderer by trade.

Not everyone, I have discovered, thinks like this.

Many people know what they like and like what they know.

Perhaps it is because I live in the human equivalent of Tolkein’s Hobbiton: a shire where people earn their money and live in little places they make into palaces, enjoying many of the privileges this 21st century globe has to offer.

Or perhaps it’s because we travel at breakneck speed through a life designed by people who think it’s all about the answers.

For whatever reason, I still get the strangest looks from the majority of hobbits when I wonder about the unconscious, or the miracle of the nucleus, or Shakespeare’s Globe, or magpies.

At these times one could seriously do with a Gandalf: someone from the spheres who has been wondering for even longer than ourselves.

But Gandalfs are few and far between.

John Milton was one such Gandalf: he filled his work full of references and metaphors and little bits and pieces which served his purpose. And it was he who told us:

The mind is its own place, and in it self

Can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven.”

It is customary to wax lyrical about this 21st century and the toxic childhood it provides, the paucity of time, the rising numbers of disintegrating relationships, lives which earn more but are less lived.

Yet, for someone who chooses to wonder, life has never been so good. I can glance at a motorway sign for a place name, whip out an iPhone and find its origin. What would once have been a tedious journey becomes a heaven, a fund of information about the places we are passing.I can research and write articles like this one, day in, day out, accessing scientific papers and online historical source material. I can pull up a biography by using just the tips of my fingers.

All it takes, to move from hell to heaven, is to dare to wonder. To step out of line, and begin to ask questions. To endure the puzzlement of the inhabitants of the shire because, ultimately, it is the questions, and not the answers, which pave the way to paradise.

I make no apologies: I shall, I am, and always shall be, a wonderer.

Written in response to Side View’s weekend theme: I Wonder. You can find her, and join in, here.


Feature picture from wbmgroundworksltd.co.uk

Devon map from http://www.Devon.gov.uk


62 thoughts on “I’m A Wonderer

    1. I’m off to Brize Norton later for Scout’s Saturday morning activity… and you have made me wonder about something…..

  1. With my pen-name I have to “like” this post! I am with you – more than once my wondering has been construed as “wandering off track”. Ah, but that’s where the new discoveries are. And it’s the questions that take us there, maybe leading us to further questions that are even more valuable than the answers we originally set out to find. Happy wondering!

  2. Kate, I wonder all over the place!
    I’m always asking questions. I know that I’ll never know all of the answers – I can’t even remember some of the facts that I think I know now, but that’s just another reason to ask more questions. And with all of these questions, I’m in my own little heaven anyway… and doesn’t Yellowberries Copse sound magical?
    Another great post here, Kate.
    Sorry I haven’t been able to visit as much as I’d like to have done, but things keep getting in the way – however, I do get here eventually!
    Have a great Saturday! 😀

    1. Tom, you know its just nice to see you when you come! I, too, have been rather busy and not as regular as I’d like….I think a lot of us who meet here are wonderers. It’s a pleasure to find so many in the same place…

  3. *merrily sings ‘Valderee, valderah…’ with one letter adapted…*
    True that people who wonder about all sorts of things generally have people wondering about them!

  4. I always learn a bit whenever I read your posts, Kate, love the references to anything and everything. I do indeed pop out my iThingy frequently to check the origin or meaning of something because I don’t want to let those learning moments go by.

    It is so much more fun to wonder about the world around us than to just pass through unknowingly. Thanks for getting my mind to work daily, tis indeed a wonder.

  5. So right – not everyone thinks like this – there is room for us all I hope but let me wander with the wonderers most days.
    It is 17 March, St Patrick’s Day – I know Rattery is an Irish surname so I did a google – 8 Rattery’s emigrated steerage to USA from Ireland in 1848 and another was born at sea. I wonder what happened to him?

    1. Elspeth, I did enjoy your piece on wondering! Thank you for popping over to read; and fancy that! All those Ratterys off to pastures new! I wonder if there are Rattery dynasties in the UA?

  6. he filled his work full of references and metaphors

    I am so glad I went to college and have a decent liberal arts education. I can spot and appreciate such things in the writing of others and infuse them in my own creations. Esp cartoons many of which will not be understood by those with no knowledge for “references and metaphors. ” I watch for similes and metaphors all the time as I read and often copy them on the blank end pages of a novel. Gems of words.

    1. Thanks Celi. Your wondering, though, leaves me breathless because it is so practical: each wondering turns into a brilliant idea, a happy creature or a great recipe. I haven’t been as much as I wanted to recently – life is very full-on – but I love my visits there to see you at the farm 🙂

  7. People of like mind tend to gather together . . . 🙂

    The fact that you’re a wonderer, and do such a “wonder”ful job sharing what you find as a result of that, was the lure that kept bringing me back here to read, at least initially. For years, I’ve used the phrase, “inquiring minds want to know,” yet not remembered where I first heard it. Your post today made me take a moment to find out: http://alt-usage-english.org/excerpts/fxenquir.html Geez, I never realized I might be unwittingly endorsing THAT!!

    Thanks for being the wonderer you are. It’s a blessing to have an inquiring mind, I think. 🙂

    1. Wahey: it just shows the power of advertising, Karen 😀 Good that your enquiring mind dug it out!

      Your questioning and research invariably adds something to our debate for the day, Karen. I so appreciate your visits – thank you 🙂

  8. “All it takes, to move from hell to heaven, is to dare to wonder.” Perfect! Wondering planted Tom and I smack dab in this little neck of the woods called the Cutoff.

    I did let out a hearty guffaw along with you and your sister-in-law about the rats of Rattery.

    1. It’s the beginning of a novel, isn’t it, Penny 😀 Or did Terry Pratchet already write that one? So: wondering brought you to the Cutoff. It can have some fantastic effects on our lives…

  9. Who needs graduate school when there is Kate Shrewsday to be read?

    That second-to-last paragraph is amazing. Simply breathtaking.

    I keep telling Mark that I need an iPhone for just such wonderings. The answers to my constant stream of questions while we’re driving would be at my fingertips, instead of interrupting his thoughts 😉

  10. I think by your posts and topics (sometimes multiple topics in one post!) it is very clear that you are a wonderer! I haven’t thought of myself with that title, but it is exactly what I do…and the crisis is often in that I like to “wonder’ in discussion with others. I just shared with you all the other day my “abiding interest” in the British Monarchy…and how when I try to “wonder” about all the connections I watch my friends’ eyes glaze over and I can hear their thinking, “Where is she going with this? And who cares?” Perhaps the thing I like about you as much as I do, Kate, is your wondering ability! It is rich and impressive. I can’t imagine how dull it would be NOT wonder! :-), but it does seem to me that not everyone shares in the delight of curiosity and research! Debra

    1. Blogging is such a fantastic excuse to wonder, Debra. It’s almost that we’ve been given permission: and those who also like to wonder come to see us, and they don’t glaze over. How fabulous is that?

    1. Thank you Rosemary. I feel precisely the same about your site. I feel almost as if I have been to Sicily; those stunning photographs and just enough commentary to enrich them. I always learn something new when I come to yours.

  11. I’m a wonderer too then but I haven’t yet got the miracle of instant internet on my phone so I have to store up my musings or forget where I stashed those mental post-it notes. I’ve also been to Rattery too, I saw a play there by Gonzo Moose, is that more random?! 😉

      1. Hehe, no, just one of those touring things at a village hall. I’d gone with the medieval theory meself actually but I will drive past in the future a more enlightened being now, thank you. 🙂

  12. I’m with you, Kate – trundling down a parallel path, never finished with one wonder before others crack open like pop corn. Thankfully, my mother was my Internet, an encyclopedia was an addiction and family protested my endless questions.

    I cannot tell you my gratitude for iPhones, iPods, and Laptops.

    The real blessing? They never yell at me for asking so many questions!

    Wonder on, dear Kate – to are a blessing to my life!

    1. Thanks, Amy 🙂 I think we are mostly wonderers, those who live in the blogosphere. It is sweet indeed to discover so many in one place.

      I shudder to think how I would have kept my children informed without the internet. My memory is that of a goldfish. I remember shadows of things and then google till I firm them up. Shadows would not have been much use to Maddie and Felix!

      Still, Phil is an Internet. So that’s ok…

  13. No way, for some reason I ended up writing about rats and then read your delightful post, there must be something in the air 🙂 I am very happy you are a wonderer because it makes your posts so interesting to read. Here’s to many more questions and pondering!

  14. Gandalf you say -I think I know what I want to be when I grow up. Intriguing, even for country mice as I. And throwing out there John Milton, well, Paradise Lost in this day and age seems poetic justice, a place where a Wonderer could get lost on purpose and never leave -iphone or not.

  15. Loved it Kate – off to Devon next weekend. By the by for local experiences it is always worth checking out a town’s local museum – more a one man band than a symposium but there are always nuggets of local eccentricity that sustain the soul for a few minutes.

    1. You’re right there, Jim. My latest discovery was a scold’s bridle in Reading Museum. I love the thought of all those curators trying to think of some theme by which to justify all the nik-naks in the same room together 🙂

  16. I am in awe, Kate.
    I know you are a wonderer. I know you are a wonderful writer. I didn’t know the wonder that would would arrive- the magic of you writing about wondering. Fabulous.

    Now what you need is a range of posters, mugs and embroidered cushions, all with that 2nd last paragraph on!

  17. Loved this . . . especially this:

    All it takes, to move from hell to heaven, is to dare to wonder. To step out of line, and begin to ask questions. To endure the puzzlement of the inhabitants of the shire because, ultimately, it is the questions, and not the answers, which pave the way to paradise.

    Who? What? When? Where? and most of all . . . WHY????? 😉

  18. Really loved to read a bit of Kate toward the end…your introspection on how you navigate this world. As for Google and smartphones and the internet…my job in libraryland would be soooo much different without it. That said, somedays *sigh* the time sucking away while I scan tab after tab online makes me long for papery things… (and that is from one who LOVES her iPhone) ~

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