Wednesday, May 22, 2013


Just in the pines on the heather. (And grass!)
My father's family has a cottage in Riel (Google satellite view). It's flanked on one side by heather fields, where ancient post-ringed grave-mounds rise up out of the mists in the mornings, and dune-grasses slowly invade the heather's territory, giving way only to the dwarfed pines that pop up here and there, and the ever-widening paths trodden by horses. The little house, "Hoefke 5", is flanked on the other side by a darkly colourful forest of beech, chestnut, oak, pine and rhododendrons, tended over generations by the family. This is where the family's treasures were buried, during the war, and the reason that some treasures still exist, among us, now. We like to
...eventually Hoefke 5 got a portable phone...
think about this, while exploring the often-dry pond, the fox-dens, and the little craters left by the bombs. Oh. And the neighbours. Many of them farmers, they visit the little Maria Shrine at the edge of the woods, peer towards the windows when they notice somebody's home at Hoefke 5, and generally don't converse much. During my childhood, the closest neighbours had a pig farm. Rows of inedible pig-corn lined the brick road to the heather. Their poultry woke us up in the mornings, and their sweet friendly faces welcomed us home when they noticed us arrive.

Oom Just, Grootmoeder, Sander and Jeroen at het huisje.

Cousins Just and Adrian, hanging out in het huisje.
Hoefke 5 is an old hunting cabin, with thin wooden walls and red/white/blue shutters on the windows. I love the job of going around to open the shutters, upon arriving at the house! There are low counters and a potato box under the kitchen floor. There is a big fireplace and a collection of games, and paintings of dead hunted animals, of course, too. There is a shower-room big enough to dance in, and a little WC with so much thick white paint on the walls that it nearly feels padded. There is a smell of old furniture and damp leaves; of pine trees and sand and soot. There is a warmth left by generations of our family, finding ourselves.

The van Lidth de Jeudes are an interesting family. And by this I mean the particular group of van Lidth de Jeude's who are descended from my Grootmoeder (the cottage in Riel comes, after all, from her uncle, Gerrit Kuijk). Maybe we're unusual in our humour and propensity for speaking frankly (not always a good mix), but we're also adventurous, and thoughtful. There's a strong interest in working with or traveling on the land, as well as an intellectual side. There has also been some attrition from the homeland of the Netherlands, but very little where Riel is concerned. In the van Lidth de Jeude family there is a deep authenticity; a rejection of class and stereotype. Well, in fact, there are certain uncles (and to some extent my own father) who like to strut about in their noble heritage, smoking pipes and serving cookies on ancient delft plates; wearing sweater-vests and drinking jenever elegantly. But these men all seem to suddenly shed their shirts (and sometimes everything else) when the opportunity to use chainsaws, burn brushpiles, and just generally get dirty in the woods presents itself. And it finally occurred to me that this may come from Riel.

Floris' teepee.
I was chatting with my cousin, a few days ago - the one whose life has meant that he, like I, only lived in the Netherlands at all for a couple of years, and now makes his home in Africa. But, as usual, Riel managed to work its way into our conversation. We cousins - all of us - have deep connections. We're all so close to our own siblings that we choose to get together whenever possible. And cousins like to keep connected, too -- even without words, somehow. I linked to one of those Dutch cousins on LinkedIn, and he replied "but we're always connected, of course". Exactly. For those of us on different continents the visits are rare, indeed, but the connection is still there. Some of this connection may come from our Grootmoeder's -- and now our many parents' -- efforts in keeping the family connected. But Timon and I think that some of it comes from Riel.
Heather: Maya, Emily, Just, Floris, (Allard & Marianne in the top right corner).

Riel is a place where we celebrate life: We play ridiculous games and rituals that feed into our lovely family sense of humour, and we lie down in the heather fields. We run through the sand and the brick roads and the forests. It's a place to drop the pretenses of European society. And Europe has a lot of pretenses. Maybe that's why my father escaped in his early twenties into the BC forests, coming eventually to this island on the pacific coast. I suspect he came here to get out of the pretentious European lifestyle, with its classes and customs and expectations. He came here to be real. And Riel is still in him. His humour is intact, and his relationships, and... he has a veritable rhododendron species garden.

And lucky for us of the next generation, Riel's acorns and chestnuts and beechnuts have planted themselves in our souls, too. We can't live but to look for the changing of the seasons, and to celebrate everything. We play the ridiculously silly games of Riel all over the world, now. When I once asked my 3-year-old cousin, Sander, when his birthday was, he said he didn't know, but he would know it was coming when the snowdrops bloomed. What more is there to life, really, than this?

Riel is a place for people to be authentic; to connect with the family and the land and life, without pretenses. We try so hard to make everything seem shiny... but sometimes in the bare authentic little gatherings of people just being themselves, we find real happiness.

Look deep into nature,
and then you will understand everything better.
~Albert Einstein

This is the legacy of Riel.

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