I wonder if the remark by Goethe I quoted yesterday - that his father could never really be unhappy because his thoughts could always return to Naples - resonated with anyone as much as it did with me? For I'm continually recalling special places I've been to, numinous places I've stumbled across, significant intersections of latitude and longitude on this fair earth I've washed up against - and this brings me deep content. It's something I often do before falling asleep each night. Revisiting these sacred spots in the imagination is something I never tire of. And, apart from happiness, I think it's also a source of creativity.
A jewel-like lake high in the Ariège in the French Pyrenees, the top of Haystacks in the English Lake District, the golden crescent of sand at Sandwood Bay in north-west Scotland, a birch and chestnut forest in south-west France on the Voie d'Arles pilgrimage route, the tabletop plateau of the Spanish meseta on the Camino Francés, a view across Monsal Dale in Derbyshire's Peak District on a still summer's day, when I lay in the grass over a precipice, insects busy all around ... The list is endless, and the pleasure of recollection unbounded.
But perhaps the most deeply embedded, the most meaningful of all are those place-memories from childhood. Some of these are inerasably etched on my mind, for they are the places which first gave me that feeling of the thrill and shock of the natural world, and that half-mystical shudder you get when suddenly 'ambushed by beauty'. Among these epiphanies of place I remember the summit of Potter's Hill near Woolacombe in Devon, the semi-tropical Undercliff area near Lyme Regis in Dorset, and the tiny 'island' my sister and I named 'Crystal Island' (a simple patch of grass, a few trees and marsh surrounded by farmers' dykes) which lay a couple of miles from our family home in Lincolnshire ...
We all have a Naples of the mind, a place where we can never really be unhappy. The memories of such special places are ours forever, locked in the treasure-chest of our minds and imaginations, always there to give solace, sustenance and inspiration whenever we turn the key.
(The photo shows one of my special places: the High Ariège in the French Pyrenees.)