A New View

Diderot once said of Holland, and its flatness, that “in that curious country, the most modest rise gave one the loftiest sensation.” And it’s true. But more often than not, you have to leave the country to even find one of those rises.

Just over the border from Enschede, in eastern Holland, is the small German town of Schöppingen, and except for the slightly undulating landscape, you might not even notice that you’ve crossed into a new country.

Schöppingen sits on the flank of a rise, and if you walk to the top of it, you are rewarded with a lofty sensation.

You get a 360-degree view of the surrounding rural landscape, and the nearly thousand-year old towns that dot it.

Schöppingen is also home to the Künstlerdorf, a place that invites a couple of dozen artists, writers and composers to work there for a few months each year.

I happen to be one of the fortunate this year.

They say that sometimes just a change of scenery can do wonders, for work, for art, for writing. I generally agree, but have heard sufficient stories to know that it’s not always to good effect. A Dutch friend of mine had a dream to drive across Canada. So he flew to the eastern part of the country, rented a car and drove up along the Great Lakes, following the Trans-Canada. Somewhere in Manitoba, he got tired of following the rest of the traffic and took a sideroad into the vast, flat landscape, just for the hell of it, just to break away. And with nothing else to look at, he realized just how empty the landscape was.

He stopped the car, got out, and stood in the middle of it, car door open and binging while the wind blew over him. He turned himself 360 degrees and saw nothing but flat. Not a house, not a tree, not another human being. And he freaked out. He ran back to the car, jumped in and did not get out of it again, except to pump gas, until he hit Vancouver.

I like that story. Mostly because, like a new view, it revealed something about him that I hadn’t known before.

That aside, here’s my experience. Views help to clarify. They allow us to pause, to take measure, to gather ourselves again before we begin the descent back to the daily life that offers a different kind of view; one we’re familiar with.

A new view requires an effort of us, but not one that goes unpaid. And we could all do with a bit of shaking up every now and then.