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Gaze in Wonder

by Nicola Slade

We live in a world of amazing natural beauty that can make us gasp in awe, but we also live in a world of man-made wonders that we take for granted, the flick of a switch, a voice across the sea, pictures of the stars.

Some things in nature are so astonishingly beautiful that all you can do is stare; for me it’s not only the mountains, oceans and forests. It could be an English wood in May, leaves just showing that brilliant, luminous new green and a carpet of bluebells at the foot of the trees. There is one road near my home that manages to be a wonder every time I drive along it, no matter what time of year; the Straight Mile is its local name.

In winter the skeletons of the oaks and beeches are stark and black against a pale chilly sky; in spring the branches seem to leap in a moment from just a hint of green to blazing leaf and in summer the trees almost meet above the road, leaving enough space for shafts of sunlight to dapple through; in autumn the leaves fall in a confetti of browns and oranges, yellows and rust.

At a time when much of mankind seems bent on destruction it can be refreshing to turn the other way, to contemplate some mankind’s creations instead. Among the man-made wonders that make me pause, enjoy, marvel and reflect are the bridges. The Forth Rail Bridge, in Scotland, the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco and any one of hundreds of bridges arching elegantly across a four-lane motorway; the Confederation Bridge miraculously spanning the miles between Prince Edward Island and the Canadian mainland; the new road bridge, The Skye Bridge.

Stunning architecture always gives me pleasure whether it be Roman ruins, Egyptian temples, Georgian elegance in the city of Bath but when it comes to creative works of art I’m a very recent convert to sculpture. As an amateur artist I’ve had an interest in painting and drawing for years but sculpture has tended to leave me cold, even Michelangelo’s David elicited little more than vague appreciation.

Recently however I’ve discovered the work of British sculptor Antony Gormley, My first encounter with one of his works was with the famous (some would say infamous) Angel of the North. Some have found it disturbing, others distasteful, some even loathe it. I, along with millions, found the Angel utterly spellbinding. The initial view of the statue, from the main road, is impressive but if you take the time to go to the foot of the Angel it can prove an unforgettable experience. I stood dwarfed by the gigantic, rust-red statue and dwelt on the symbolism of the outstretched wings.

But wonderful as the Angel of the North is, for me it is outshone by another Gormley statue, called Sound II, This statue of a man with cupped hands stands in the ancient crypt of Winchester cathedral, six miles from my home. I’ve always loved the cathedral anyway and drop in now and then to read Jane Austen’s epitaph and bend my head in silent respect at her grave.

The statue in the crypt, a solitary figure pared down to the essentials is, quite simply, wonderful. But when the crypt is flooded, usually in winter, an even greater wonder occurs. The statue stands knee-deep in water and reflected in that water is the vaulting of the Norman ceiling. It silences the chattering tourists who gaze in awe and I defy anyone, regardless of faith, or absence of faith, not to be moved and marvel at this amazing evidence of the continuing ability of mankind to create wonders to behold.

Nicola Slade was brought up in Poole, Dorset, England. She wrote children’s stories when her three children were growing up, moving onto short stories for several national magazines. Winning a story competition in Family Circle galvanised her into writing seriously and since then her stories and articles have been commissioned regularly. Scuba Dancing is her first novel. She lives with her husband near Winchester in Hampshire. For more information about Nicky and her work visit


©2007 Nicola Slade for SeniorWomenWeb
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