Saturday, November 26, 2016

Brief Thoughts From a Sick Head

Last Sunday we got up early to meet Manuel for another hike.  This time he promised no steep ascents or descents - instead we were going to walk along the acequia (irrigation ditch) to Puente Palo.  I knew as I got dressed that I was coming down with something, but I wanted to hike so I didn't mention it to Sam.

Manuel was waiting for us when we walked up to the gate just before 8 am.  The sunrise was especially spectacular, indicating a change in the weather.  

Spectacular surise

We drove up the mountain to the lookout tower and stopped to check for mushrooms under the oaks there. We stood at the fire lookout and watched as the sun rose over the mountains to the East and as the rays started to sparkle on the surface of the Mediterranean.  

View from the fire lookout

Then we drove on a little bit, parked the truck and began our hike.  

The route is lovely, and gentle as promised.  The oak forests were at the peak of yellow brilliance and here and there golden poplars punctuated the view.  Manuel pointed out several varieties of oaks, some that keep their leaves year round, and he told us the Latin name for each.  

Yellow and gold hillside

We learned which oaks have the tastiest acorns and when we passed a very large and old tree, he hugged it.  His excitement for these mountains is contagious and we found ourselves reflecting his joy as we walked. 

A true "tree-hugger"

Blues (the dog) was with us and he kept busy sniffing the many places where wild boar had recently churned up the ground.  It was a pleasant walk and by noon we were back at the truck.  

Puente Palo

Walking along the acequia

Fantastic views and interesting clouds

By Sunday evening there was no doubt that I was sick.  The bubbly ears and scratchy throat could no longer be ignored.  The weather changed overnight and Monday and Tuesday brought lots of rain.  It was cozy inside our house with the wood stove going.  At our house in Oregon we were more aware of the weather.  We could hear the rain beating against the windows and at times when the wind was strong, it was as if the entire house shook.  In our stone house here, the wind can blow and we are not aware of it at all.  I like the solid feeling that the thick stone walls provide.  

The view from our living room this week.  Isn't this a perfectly shaped tree?

On Wednesday the weather cleared and we were greeted by a snow line only a few hundred meters higher than our house.  Mulhacén was magnificent - blindingly white against the deep blue sky.  

We knew that snow was forecast for later in the week so decided to take advantage of the clearing to go out and stock up on groceries.  The road down the mountain was not as eroded as we had feared after the heavy rains, but perhaps our expectations have just been lowered.  We stopped in Orgiva for mail and a few materials at the hardware store, then went half way to Granada to the Mercadona supermercado.  We loaded the cart and, nearly 200 euro later, were back in the car headed for home. I was drugged up and not feeling too badly, so we stopped in Lanjaron for some lunch and re-stocked on cough drops and ibuprofen at the Farmacia.

The view from our road coming home on Wednesday.  Our property is down the hill to the right.

Thursday was Thanksgiving. Turkeys do not seem to be readily available here, but I had purchased a chicken at the Mercadona and managed to put together a festive meal of roasted chicken and vegetables.  We enjoyed a quiet day - the only Americans on the mountain, so a holiday all our own.

This has been our longest spell of dreary weather.  The break mid-week was welcome, but for the most part we have had a week of rain and fog and grey.  The land here needs the moisture and the ski area opened today with so many excited about the snow in the Sierras.  I am reminded of the long winters in Oregon and am ready to wake up to bright sunshine and blue skies.  We run the generator each day because there has not been any solar power to charge the batteries.  We worry about how long the wood supply will last, but recognize that once the sun returns, and I am healthy again, we will not keep the fire going all day long.

A break in the rain today and we went out to our yard to admire the colors.

We think of friends and family; this week Sam's mother turned 92 and a dear friend celebrates 85 today.  Some of the kids were together for Thanksgiving while another worked, and the fourth is contemplating a move.  Life moves on "at home," and we watch from afar.  We hold our families and our friends close in our hearts, while voicing our gratefulness for this time in our lives.  We are thankful to be here now and we look forward to every opportunity to share this experience with others.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Finding More in Life by Having Less

We first visited Spain in the fall of 2008 and for months after that I would escape to my memories of our trip through photos, blogs and podcasts.  

I recently stumbled on this post that I wrote in February of 2009.  I didn't remember writing it, but re-reading it now I am stunned.  

My soul found its home on that first trip to Spain; I'm thankful that I was able to bring it back here to stay.

February 9, 2009
I went for a run at lunch time, and while running I listened to 2 podcasts from Ben and Marina put together a number of podcasts while visiting various places around Spain. Ben is British but has lived in Spain for over 10 years now and Marina is from Spain and they met, married and now have a baby in Madrid. Today's podcasts were both done in the Alpujarras, south of Granada. The first was recorded in Lanjaron, the first village you come to when driving up into the Alpujarras. 


This village is known for its spring water and we drove through there in October on our way to Ferreirola. The second podcast was done outside of Orgiva at the home of Chris Stewart. Chris left England in the 1960s and settled on a farm outside of Orgiva. He has written several books about his experience - the best known is called Driving Over Lemons.

The 45 minutes or so that these podcasts lasted provided the mini-vacation that I needed. I had listened to them before going to Spain last fall but hearing them again, and being able to picture the places mentioned, allowed my mind to hear the water trickling from the springs, and through the irrigation troughs built over 500 years ago by the Moors - I could smell the damp moss and ferns that flourish around the springs, I could feel the hot sun pinning me against the barren hillsides and I could hear the goat bells echoing across the valley.

Mineral water fountain outside the village of Ferreirola
When we were in the Alpujarras it was the highpoint of our trip, and now, looking back, it provides one of my most soothing mental hide-aways. I hope we can return there someday. I dream of living there in one of the villages, among other expats from England, Holland, Germany and probably the USA (although I don't think there are many Americans there.) Some of the white villages of the Alpujarras have stayed more Spanish than others and all retain the strong influence of the Moors who built the villages.

A younger Laura at peace in Ferreirola

I really believe I could be content in those mountains, rarely needing to venture out. 

Everywhere is a feeling of ease, and peace, and slow, conscious living. I long for that environment and to be surrounded by people who wanted more from life and found it by having less.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Spanish Comfort for American Wounds (If you are happy about the election you can skip this week's post)

This has been a challenging week and the wounds caused by the election result are deep. Our hearts ache for the future of the U.S. and for our children as they look ahead with multiple concerns, and very little hope.  

I have thought back to 9/11 and the way I felt that day. From the moment I heard what had happened, I was stunned.  My foundation had been shaken and I was disoriented; how did this happen?  

But after 9/11 the world mourned with the U.S. and, for a brief period of time, it was as if the United States was truly united.  People looked at each other and recognized sameness; we were all Americans, and we had been attacked.

After waking up Wednesday morning and learning the news, I was stunned; my foundation was shaken and I was disoriented.  How did this happen?  

But this felt worse than 9/11; this was not something done to us, we had done this to ourselves. The world was not mourning with us, but instead they were shaking their heads wondering how this could have happened. And in the hours and days that have followed, rather than unity, we have watched as hateful incident after hateful incident has divided our country even more decisively. There is a collective angst that is agonizing. 

And here on the mountain in Southern Spain we feel a bit of something like "survivor guilt."  While we are relieved to have already made the move rather than being among those wishing or hoping to get out of a country run by Drumpf, we feel guilty that we are not close to our kids and friends to help work through this tragedy together. We make regular financial contributions to organizations that provide healthcare to women, and to environmental causes, etc., but we recognize the privilege that allows us to sit here and make on-line contributions, while others are "back home" on the streets and in neighborhoods making tangible contributions to the lives of those who are frightened and hurting.

And so this week we have accepted the kindness of our friends and neighbors; gifts of distraction and comfort.

On Tuesday, while the election was happening, our friends from Spanish Highs Mountain Guides took us on a magnificent hike in the Cumbres Verdes area of the Sierra Nevada Natural Park. It was a cool, crisp day and we hiked through forests and over rocky out-croppings and we savoured the views, and the air, and the company. The election seemed very far away.

Cumbres Verdes

Wednesday morning Manuel arrived soon after we read the election results.  He greeted us both with a big hug and when I burst into tears he shook his head and said that everyone in the village was also stunned by the news. For the next two days he came and worked, but treated us a bit like you treat someone who has just had a death in the family.  On Friday Manuel invited us to go hiking with him over the weekend.  We accepted this kind offer and Sunday morning he picked us up and drove us further up the mountain.  We hiked to the top of a 3090 meter (10,137 ft) peak.  The entire hike was beautiful and in the 6 hours that we were out, we did not see another human.  The peacefulness and beauty were just what we needed, and the effort demanded our attention and left us exhausted. 

On The Way Up

Magnificent Views

On the way back down Manuel led us to a hilltop that had a natural rock boundary and inside of the boulders there were numerous stone shelters that were built during the Spanish Civil War.  He told us of the gunfights that took place in the mountains where Nationalists were high in the Sierras firing their machine guns at the Republican resistance who used these shelters. It was a historic reminder that was powerful and especially poignant.

Spanish Civil War Shelter

Another Civil War Shelter

And finally we were blessed with a visit from a woman I met on the Camino. Lin and I met the first night and then ran into each other from time to time during the first 3 weeks that I walked.  We have stayed in touch during this past year and on Friday she came here for lunch.  Lin is from Canada, but she is on an extended trip to - to wherever she ends up! We convinced her to stay for a few days and it was truly a blessing to have another person here at home. We welcomed the chance to show her around the area and her gentle spirit helped to calm ours.

With Lin At The Old Mill

The beauty that surrounds us, and the kindness of so many is like a salve for raw wounds.  We are fortunate, and for that we are truly grateful.


Saturday, November 5, 2016

Returning Home

I have missed writing these past couple of weeks and apparently I have at least two readers who look forward to my posts each week, so it is good to be back on the blog.

Our trip to Korea was spectacular.  We really had no expectations ahead of time - we hadn't done much research because we were focused on settling in to our life in Spain, and we had no information on our roles as parents-of-the-groom; more on that in a few paragraphs... 

Our shipment from the U.S. finally arrived three days before we flew to Seoul. The delivery men were clearly annoyed by the drive up the mountain, but even they gasped when they stepped out of the van and turned towards the view.  As we started to unpack and unwrap the various crates and boxes we were surprised numerous times by the contents. We had forgotten some of what we had shipped and little things brought great delight.  But we also wondered where we would put everything as three months of living with only the basics had become a comfortable, and clutter-free norm.  

The shipment arrives four months after leaving our garage in Oregon!

Saturday we drove to Madrid, a 5-6 hour trip, and we stayed in a hotel near the airport.  Sunday we flew to Munich, then to Seoul, where we got a train to a second airport and flew on to Jeju island.  By the time we arrived, 24 hours after leaving Madrid, we were stiff and exhausted.  Minhye's family greeted us when we got to the resort and we learned that we should be ready for dinner in 45 minutes.  We quickly showered and dressed and then were taken to a raw-fish restaurant.  We walked into the dining room and realized that we would be sitting on the floor for the meal.  That hadn't occurred to me when I put on my dress for dinner, and given how stiff we were from the plane it seemed like a cruel trick, but we managed to tuck our legs under the low table and we enjoyed an amazing meal of numerous fish options.

Delicious raw fish

We were pleasantly surprised by each experience in Korea.  The landscape and weather reminded us of Oregon, the people were gentle and friendly and everything was noticeably clean.  In Seoul, a city of 10 million people, there is no trash, no graffiti and even the subway restrooms were spotless and well supplied.  Minhye's family were kind and gracious hosts.  They don't speak English but there were many smiles and bows and even a few hugs throughout the visit.

Sunset on Jeju

Touring one of the palaces in Seoul

View over Seoul

The wedding was on Friday afternoon.  We arrived at the Korea House, a venue that hosts traditional Korean weddings.  We learned that most Koreans now have Western-style weddings with white gowns and receptions, but when a Korean marries a Westerner, they frequently have a traditional Korean ceremony. Sam and I were given white gloves to wear and we were each pinned with an orchid.  We stood near Minhye's parents and greeted guests as they arrived.  Minhye's mother wore traditional hanbok - a lovely, colorful outfit. After awhile our corsages were removed and a second orchid was pinned on us and then we were told to go sit for the ceremony.  Kristen's husband, Mike, learned the day before that he would be in the wedding - he was to wear traditional clothing and he led Tom into the ceremony and also carried the wooden goose that was presented to Minhye's mother.  

Minhye and Tom

Mike and Kristen

The ceremony began with entertainers spinning plates and performing acrobatic feats and then Tom and Minhye entered.  Minhye had her arms held high with a drape that covered her face for the entire ceremony and two women led her around because she couldn't see.  Tom bowed numerous times, head all the way to the ground and we were amazed that he knew what to do and when to do it because there had not been a rehearsal.  It was all very lovely.  Following the ceremony we went to a tea room where the two sets of parents performed several traditional rituals.  Sam and I were given handfuls of chestnuts and dates and, when instructed, we threw them onto a cloth stretched between Tom and Minhye; the three dates that stayed on the cloth predict that there will be three sons for the couple.

With Minhye's parents and the bride and groom

Sunday morning we said good-bye to Kristen and Mike and then Tom and Minhye met us at the airport to bid us farewell.  We flew to Frankfurt, then to Madrid and spent another night at the hotel there before driving home on Monday.  

We wondered if we would feel like we were back home when we got to Spain, or would it feel as if this has all been a long vacation but now we really should be returning to Oregon. In Madrid everything felt comfortably familiar and we have made the drive between Madrid and Granada enough times now that we recognize many landmarks along the way.  We stopped in Lanjaron for a drink and tapas at our friend Junami's shop and, although he was closing up, he said that for us he would stay open.  Another friend, Felipe, was there and they both greeted us with warm enthusiasm.  We felt very welcomed.  As we drove up the mountain we were excited to be home.  A couple miles before our place we pass a goat farm and the goats were coming back in from their day grazing.  We turned off the car and waited for the entire herd to make their way off the hill, across the road and into their pen. It was clearly milking time and many of the does struggled to accommodate their full udders as they walked.  

When we drove down the driveway we felt almost giddy.  There was no question that this is our home now and there isn't another place we would have preferred to be.  The weather is changing and by Monday temperatures will drop below freezing overnight.  We needed to run the generator for the first time today to charge the solar batteries following two days of clouds, and we will soon light the wood stove for the first time.  The election is next week and I know that I say this every four years, but this really has been the longest and craziest election process yet.  We are so thankful for our peaceful home far away from the madding crowds.

I love our view

Back to hiking

Home sweet home!