I am in the Netherlands, where I grew up. It is the month of March, early spring here, with stormy weather and spring flowers blooming everywhere: tulips are only one among many.
I am visiting my relatives. I landed in Schiphol, which is said to be Amsterdam, but which is really a world away from it. I know as much about Amsterdam as you do. What connects Amsterdam to Schiphol are the canals. Water is everywhere. Rotterdam, for example, was still under water in the 1200s.
The western part of the Netherlands used to be one big delta. I am staying in Westland, in southwestern Netherlands. What one sees now is all created land. It used to be green, green grassland, I imagine. I am now more aware than I was as a child that there is water everywhere and often the water is higher than the land. The Netherlands is below sea level.
I get around here mostly on a bicycle. I have two of them that I can use: one is the old kind, witte fietsenplan. I also have access to an electric one, which, when the wind is at my back, can reach a speed of 30 km per hour. It is fantastic to have such a bike when biking into the wind. As a child we did not have such bikes.
Yesterday the wind was fierce. I saw someone who was blown off her bike, nearly into the water. Two-metre wide bike paths are everywhere, bordered by a narrow strip of grass, then water, often a ditch. Excess water is regulated by pumps, and sluicing. The pumps used to be windmills, and some windmills are left and used in that way. Not all windmills are watermills; some are for grinding wheat. When I bike through the land from one town to the other, I see puddles in the fields. Some have manmade furrows a foot wide to lead the water to the ditches, which can be a meter or more deep, and, I assume that at some point one will call it a canal.
In the Dutch language, there are many more words for all the different waterways and bodies of water, as Inuit languages have many words for snow and ice.
I stay in my mother’s apartment on the top floor, three stories high, at treetop level. Above the lee, originally a natural waterway the size of an average canal, the wind rattles doors and windows inside the house. This morning, I am watching two crows that often sit, swaying in the spring green weeping willow across the lee.
The crows are big here, says a Westlander. They pair for life, I read. When we see them flying around with sticks, we wonder in which tree they are making their nest. The big nest that they used last year, according to my mom, is in a big, still bare, willow. Willows here are very large and the typical round shape. The evergreens are the smaller trees here, but it seems that the crows are building in such a pine tree in front of the big redbrick church.
In the mostly choppy water of the lee itself, there is always a lot of activity and I can see many different water birds. In the cloudy sky, there are seagulls and on the bridge across the lee, I can see cyclists, an occasional car and, every morning, several large elementary school classes that walk from school to the nearby swimming pool for lessons.
I do love this world, so many brick places, roadways, and buildings from the past are still here and functional, and all the green and birds: more then I remembered. There are daffodils along every road and building. Yet here in the southwest especially, there are many more big buildings and roads that have taken the place of cow pastures.
And last, but not least, Westland is famous for greenhouses: 5000 of them in the area. They represent a glass world for growing flowers and vegetables. Some of the small old ones are still there, but the real industry now happens under 10 metre high glass, all growing conditions simulated to provide optimum growing conditions for each particular crop.