Congratulations! We’ve all made it beyond the first chapter of The Return of the Native! That’s no small feat, my friends. Once I finished that wordy setting I took all of Hardy’s lavish descriptions of the heath and did what every self-respecting reader of the 21st century would do: I Googled it.
I needed to see a heath. Yes, Hardy, I get that it’s a dark place. I even get that it’s a really dark place. Oh, and ancient, and dismal, and a landscape for thinkers and philosophers and realists. And did I mention that you mentioned that it was dark?
But what exactly is a heath? What does it look like? Well, first let’s establish what it is not in Thomas Hardy’s world.
Despite Google Images best intentions, it is not this guy:
That was just his first name.
And gladly the search engine didn’t pull up a picture of my college boyfriend (and neither will I) but Heath was just his last name, and gladly that whole thing ended before it could become mine as well. He wasn’t the subject of this relationship drama.
Nor is Thomas Hardy talking about this street that you might stumble upon if you’re making your way to our house.
Although, I’m not above mentioning that there’s a heath in our neighborhood.
And to my great disappointment, Thomas is not lacing his novel with this chocolate toffee delight.
So, is this what he’s trying to describe for an entire chapter?
Nope! Gotcha! This is actually a picture of the landscape in northern Nebraska. You see, when I started looking at images of heaths online many of them reminded me of my homeland, where the sandhills become scrubby with cedars, and the rough, yet sandy terrain buckles against cultivation. It is sparsely populated and no friend to strangers. Yet the locals know it’s crevices, dunes, bushes and shadows far better than any image on Google Earth.
So part of me feels at home upon Hardy’s Egdon, but at the same time, very cognizant that I am just an observer here, the sandhills are my home.