The world desperately needs more peacemakers and healers, restorers and storytellers and lovers of all kinds. –Dalai Lama


I was feeling particularly blessed to be at my friend Christophe’s humble art exhibition—organized in his garden to celebrate his birthday and show two years’ worth of artwork he’d produced since moving to this quiet village in the eastern French Pyrenees—when I suddenly felt the need to leave. Some strange bewilderment overtook me and I needed to get out of there. I walked home alone in the warm evening air, the heavy scent of summer invading my psyche. I took in the scene around me, the verdant fields draped at the base of Mount Canigou, the cherry trees full with fruit and the roman-tiled roofs dotting this ancient French landscape. Then I called Dad.

It can be either catastrophic or enlightening when I turn to Dad at such hours. The conversation began shakily and I felt myself spiraling deeper into confusion. Dad went down his list of useless problem-solving tools until finally he pulled out this one, “You know the reason you feel so bad is because you’re not writing.” Silence.

When I first came to this village, desperately in need of a safe harbor, Christophe called from the path above my stone courtyard. Mademoiselle, he called down. I hadn’t realized you could see into my space from the road just above, so it startled me, like the voice of God calling down. Christophe smiled brightly and said it pleased him to see someone enjoying the beautiful grounds of this old stone mill house—often empty except for the summer months. And then he continued on his way to his garden, an abandoned village briar patch that he’d hand cleared with little to no tools over the last year.

I’ve been cautious about the people I socialize with since moving here. It hasn’t been a conscious thing, but looking back now I see it clearly. I’ve very much needed to protect myself, feel the influence of others wholly, not haphazardly. Christophe has been one of the privileged few, I think, because he emits a certain naivety that feels safe. His story is rich, and probably not something he’d want me publishing to the world, but I think it’s okay to say he came to this village in the wake of love and loss and a search for divinity—on his own terms. I sense that he’s suffered, and that like most of us, he still does. But when you see the flowers he’s painted onto silk cloth canvasses, when you see his now-blooming no longer abandoned garden, when you see his clay pottery unintentionally fallen into two pieces titled “they meet,” you see, quite visibly, his effort to transform mishap into beauty.

Christophe tells me he goes for a walk each morning. Ever since spring hit the Pyrenees he’s been in a mode of creativity. He says a flower will call to him while on his walk, tell him something important, and once back home he’ll spend hours working his dye into silk fabric. Christophe’s hands are permanently stained these days; he opens his door with a paintbrush between his lips and he comes running down to dinner invitations, late, with his mistress in hand—a still-damp silk tapestry of spring flowers.

Christophe lives in a tiny loft apartment that once was a stable for animals in winter. He cooks on a camp stove and takes the 1-euro bus into town on market days. He makes delicious vegetarian soups and gives gifts of fresh picked mint from his garden or he lends music CD’s the library has lent him. He tells me he’s grateful for the help he receives from his family—what I can only guess is similar to the way Van Gogh’s brother meagerly financed Van Gogh’s creativity.

Christophe has given himself to the artist’s life. I don’t truly know if he is better for it, but I can’t help but to think the world is. Christophe’s flowers, real and painted, reflect the light of observance that seems to have escaped so many of us. Standing in Christophe’s garden, smelling the humid heat and feeling the raw air on my skin—I felt intensely this absence of observance in my own life.

And then I thought, how strange that people buy art, that paying attention can even be a profession. That it’s come down to this. We cut ourselves off from the mystery of life and then we crave it so intensely that we’re willing to buy it back in the form of art. And still more strange, even more sad—that the observer must sell his or her art for the freedom to keep paying attention, that simply paying attention, staying connected, necessitates such a sordid exchange.

Dad is right, I haven’t been writing. And though that reality is destabilizing in and of itself, what’s most bewildering is that I’m not sure I have the heart to be the observer that writing requires. I’m too busy selling myself, doing whatever it takes to survive, to write. And yet, my futile attempt to live is the very thing keeping me from the source of life. This insoluble dilemma makes me feel absurd, in a panic. I feel in my gut that things like art and food should not be bought and sold.The only thing I can compare this feeling to is an ordered and chaotic painting in hues of yellow and green that hangs in the room I rent. I don’t like the order or the chaos, and it feels like there’s no way out.

For his birthday party/art exhibition, Christophe moved his rudimentary belongings into the street and into his garden, turning his room into a gallery. He hung his silk tapestries and displayed his pottery and silk and clay lamps all right next to his personal life—his dishes, his books and poetic notes to himself that, in English, read something like “To feel and know how to love, by he or she, who leads us to be born unto ourselves, each day”. Christophe’s invitees perused the exhibit and then ate soup in the garden and drank supermarket wine chilled in the flowing river just below.

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Like a lot of kids, I wanted to be an astronaut when I was young. My Dad’s interest in space and science fiction must have influenced this dream. He was an enthusiast to the core, a paying member of the NASA club. Where other kids’ houses had family photographs, we had high quality images of Saturn and its rings, Jupiter and the whole blue-green Earth from space. To hear my Dad talk about space was to hear him talk about the future, about God in a way.

It was Dad who recommended I read Tom Wolfe’s The Right Stuff, a book admittedly I didn’t finish. Maybe that’s because I got as far as I was supposed to go. I remember a passage in the novel where one of the characters takes off in his jet early in the morning for training. He looks down at the world and sees all the people going to work, going about the monotony of life, and he’s above it, has escaped that particular reality. I must have been ten or eleven at the most when I read that. I’d had enough mornings off to school at the same time with no real raison d’etre to understand the longing for something more. This astronaut in training seemed to get it.

I recently told Dad about the power of that scene in the book and how it reached in and grabbed me at such a young age, made that longing inside me real and lucid. He replied saying that made absolute sense, because space and science fiction and astronauts and flying—all of this is really a spiritual quest. It’s about getting up above, out and beyond, the quest to understand, to touch the source. I get the attraction. And maybe I should blame that damn novel for the tumultuous path on which I find myself.

I’ve always been good at figuring out what I don’t want; easy enough when it’s the tedium of existence that grates at your nerves. To avoid boredom I started out early charging through the walls of dullness without a plan. The Dixie Chicks’ song Wide Open Spaces was my theme, blaring all the while in the background as I recklessly eloped to avoid ever marrying into the bourgeois society my private school college represented. The Dixie Chicks sang louder when a year later I divorced and then let my teaching certificate lapse so I would never be tempted to go back into the stifling public school classroom for the sake of stability, god damned stability. When I consciously chose a partner who didn’t want kids, Wide Open Spaces applauded the freedom. And let’s not even talk about how I ended up in France.

Who doesn’t know what I’m talking about
Who’s never left home, who’s never struck out
To find a dream and a life of their own
A place in the clouds, a foundation of stone

Many precede and many will follow
A young girl’s dream no longer hollow
It takes the shape of a place out west
But what it holds for her, she hasn’t yet guessed

She needs wide open spaces
Room to make her big mistakes
She needs new faces
She knows the high stakes

She traveled this road as a child
Wide eyed and grinning, she never tired
But now she won’t be coming back with the rest
If these are life’s lessons, she’ll take this test …
–Dixie Chicks, Wide Open Spaces

This winter I celebrated my 38th birthday. The world still feels wide but the test has been more rigorous than I ever could have dreamed. After all my charging ahead and stubbornness, do I have the right now to say it’s hard?

Wouldn’t kiss all the asses they told me to
No I, I could never follow
It’s been two long years now since the top of the world came crashing down.
And I’m gettin’ it back on the road now.
But I’m takin’ the long way
Taking the long way around.
–Dixie Chicks, The Long Way Around

Do you even ever make it around? I don’t know anymore what I once dreamed. I don’t think I ever imagined myself at this age, bewildered by the shortness of life and all the things I’m now realizing I’ll never get to do before I die. Am I allowed to change my theme song? Do I have the right to claim the Ballad of Lucy Jordan even though I didn’t stay married , have children and settle down?

My heart wants to feel the blessing of life, this life, but some other part of me feels abused, worn out, ungrateful. It’s times like these that I like to close my eyes and imagine the blue-purple twilight  horizon high above the earth I saw once from an airplane window. There’s peace to be found, I know it. If I could only touch it.

Sittin’ on top of the world

December 10, 2012

For the past month and a half I’ve been house-sitting at the eco-lodge where I finished my GR10 hike last summer. The owners needed a refuge guardian and someone to feed their pets, so once again, I find myself up in the heights looking out over a world I never could have imagined. Right now it’s covered in snow. I’m astounded at the size of the world, the magnitude of change, the wide beauty of it all.

The path I take to walk the dogs leads out of the village of Planés and into the shadowed peaks where the Conflent meets the Cerdan plateau. From certain places you see the opening of the Tet Valley below, where my quasi-permanent writer’s cottage patiently waits. On clear days you can see the blue halo of the Mediterranean Sea.

This is why I’m here, why against all reason I’ve decided to make this part of France my home. This place where mountains and sea commune has gripped me and I’ve learned that the peaks of mountains and the tides of the sea aren’t all that opposing. What’s the difference between height and depth really? They both give views into the unknown, into a blue horizon of other.

I remember a day in my twenties. I sat on a beach in Florida stoned out of my mind. I’m not usually given to such substances—even in my youth I tended to prefer staying in control of my mind. Perhaps that’s why I remember that day so vividly, because my mind opened up despite myself. I just remember sitting on that beach, looking out over the ocean and thinking: The world is immense. I am small. I want to go there.

This morning I took Tossa and Zemec (my canine charges) up the powdered white path for their daily walk. The only buzz I can claim is from two cups of coffee, but the moment was similar to that day sitting in the powdery sands on a Florida beach. The snow over the fields had been blown into sand-like dunes. From the white abyss I looked out over the edge of the world and felt its strength, the movement of the ocean, the erosion of land, the clashing of continents forming mountains. It felt like the coming and going of life.

Following are some images from my time up here. The lyrics of a Dave Mathews Band song come to mind.

Would you not like to be, sittin’ on the top of the world with your legs hangin’ free? Would you not like to be okay, okay, okay?

blog white horse

avery and tossa at 2200 meters


Chapelle du Belloch en haut

Chapelle du Belloch

ice cyrstals

blog snow peaks

blog black horse

blog snowdune

I only ever wanted to live simply, where I could write and smell the world. It’s been a long road, but today I find myself living alone in a room in an old mill house in France with spectacular mountain views and villagers fit to be characters in a book. I don’t know how long I’ll be here, but for now I’m pleased and content. I won’t give my village a name or tell you where I’m at because I feel a need to protect this haven, this dream. Following are a few pictures of my writer’s nest.

All the season’s fruits are coming to an end. My driveway smells like fig jam with fermenting figs littering the ground. Late season tomatoes are juicy and perfumed. I’ve been cooking a lot lately. Made a pumpkin pie, sour cream pancakes, plum turnovers… For the figs a special person recently taught me that they’re best when they’re beginning to crack, bursting open while still on the tree. I agree.

This is the ever changing horizon of where I sleep and wake now. It’s enveloped with peace and abundance. What a joy it is to breathe.

Just a little clarification

October 19, 2011

Yes, it’s true, Alain and I have moved incessantly since selling the cafe in the everglades. But I may have exaggerated our status a bit in my last post. We haven’t picked up sticks and taken off altogether (again). We’ve just upgraded to a bigger place that happens to be in another village just down the road. We plan to stay put in this region for a while, so those of you worried about my stability can breath easy.

However, I should be clear that though committed to settling in for a good while, our lifestyle in general is still one of fluidity. We’re leery of material possessions and struggle daily to lighten the load. In that sense, I feel very much on a hunter gatherer path.

A few comments from family and friends about my last post made me realize it looked like we’d moved to another region entirely. Part of that came from my words, but I think most of it came from my pictures. The beach scenes looked so utterly different from the mountain scenes posted just prior. But listen when I say this. We live where the Pyrenees touch the Mediterranean, truly. We live on the edge of high mountains and blue sea at the same time. We haven’t changed regions at all, just spending more time at the beach these days because the weather’s been so incredibly warm.

As some of you may have read earlier, I’m working in marketing and public relations at Can Rigall, the grandiose eco-lodge on the mountain above our previous abode in Arles-sur-Tech. I’m currently immersed in re-writing the text for a new website. The biggest challenge for the site, and all marketing efforts, is describing the unique geography of where we’re located. Many worlds collide here, stacked one on top of the other. I’m struggling to put into words the very same concept that confused a few of you. So if you don’t mind, I’m going to use this space to work out the needed words. For your benefit and mine.

The Pyrenees-Orientales department of France is where we are, in the Languedoc-Roussillon region that skirts the Mediterranean coast as it turns down toward Spain. We are the southern-most point in France, just a few kilometers from the Spanish border. We can easily hike or bike to Spain in a day. We often go there for groceries and cheaper gas, the way one might drive to a neighboring town for Costco in the United States.

The cultural region on our side of the border is called French Catalonia, or northern Catalonia. It shares the same language and culture with Southern Catalonia in Spain, its capital being Barcelona.

Down there they speak mainly Catalan, Spanish coming in second. Here, on the French side the main language is French, with Catalan coming in second. In Arles sur Tech (the village we just moved from) we often heard street conversations in Catalan from our open apartment windows. And an elderly woman in the building across the street spoke only Catalan, with a few French and Spanish words here and there.

So you can see, we’re in a multidimensional area influenced by three different cultures. It only seems natural that the landscape too would express such diversity. That it does. The frigid altitudes of Pic du Canigou seemingly rise straight out of the blue-green sea. For that very juxtaposition, mount Canigou was believed to be the highest peak of the Pyrenees for a very long time. Its height exaggerated by the low altitude of the Roussillon plain spreading out at its base.

We have two rooftop terraces in our bi-level apartment in our new village of Sorede. From the terrace on my bedroom side I wake and lay down to a view of the sacred Canigou. From the kitchen-side terrace where we dine outside, the waters of the Mediterranean are seen on the horizon. We live, visibly, between mountains and sea. Anyone with poetic ideas for explaining that to potential guests, I’m accepting any and all suggestions!

Mild climate palm trees and oleander grow in Arles sur Tech, a village encased by steep and rocky mountains. Can Rigall is a little higher on the ridge on the left. The snow-capped Canigou presides over from the right. Sea gulls regularly nest in the abbey’s belltower in the center of the village. Mountains and sea, for real.

Any of you wishing to see my labors move from cleaning toilets to clacking on a keyboard can help that along by sharing my recent assignments from Gomad Nomad.

Tweet them, Facebook them, email them, share and share some more. Whether or not you believe in non-polluting travel or European paradise destinations is beside the point. Just get them out there! Two links are below.