Sunday, November 30, 2014

The Lollipop Trail

It was described to me as the shape of a lollipop - the stick was the straight trail from where we parked the car and entered the forest, the main trail was a more or less circular loop.

The Lollipop Trail, more commonly known as Brackloon, is just a few kilometres from where we're staying for most of a month, and it's one of Rooby's favorite places to walk because she can be off leash for the most part.

Walking the entire trail takes perhaps 40-45 minutes for Rooby's owners, who are in much better shape than I. Today it was roughly an hour, and we didn't do the "stick" portion.

Interesting message board at the junction of the stick and the pop (or is it the lolli?) that this is one of about two dozen forests in Ireland that are being monitored for the effects of climate change and man-made pollutants in the atmosphere. The message said the effects can be measured for years from a single major storm which deposits a lot of sea salt in the forest.

After three trips along the trail, I'm getting to recognize some of the landmarks -- the fallen white birch that forms a canopy, the brown bracken-bracketed steady upslope not far from the top of the pop entrance, the burble of shallow rapids from the Owenlee River, which wends its way to the Atlantic.

We often pass other walkers (or are passed by those of more rapid pace - including a couple yesterday who looked to be a few years older than us and who did multiple loops around the pop). When we encounter other dogs, Rooby is nervous and hides behind my legs. So it surprised me today when she loped up to an approaching Irish Setter whose color matched D-L's hair; I was relieved when the Setter's owner greeted, "Hi, Rooby," and the dogs clearly knew each other.

Haven't spotted any rabbits, Rooby's favorite pursuit. But there have been several "snapchat" birds which resemble a small robin with a bright orange chest.

More photos and description on Donna-Lane's blog:

Map of the forest trail below. My Texas friends will probably say the loop looks more like a lasso.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Things we take for granted

It's Thanksgiving Day in America, and we're seeing lots of messages about overeating and the ridiculous chaos of Black Friday. It doesn't seem much like Thanksgiving here on the Atlantic coast of Ireland, though the Tesco grocery was advising that we should get our "holiday turkey or ham," presumably for Christmas. Donna-Lane and I had a semi-traditional Thanksgiving dinner, substituting BBQ spareribs for the turkey but adding corn on the cob (imported from Spain), onion and chives mashed potatoes, and cole slaw. We also had a fire going in the woodstove as we sat in a glass-walled conservatory with a view of rugged stone walls bordering the spacious yard, an assortment of mature trees, and garden flowers bracing for the brisk winter.

In the evening, I took Rooby for a walk along the "greenway," an old rail line which has been converted to a jogging and biking trail. Goes all the way to Clew Bay but not tonight. A bit too nippy for an hour-long hike.

The walk had to wait, though, until after the electrician came on an emergency call to fix the hot water which supplies not only the shower but the room radiators as well.

We're house- and dog-sitting for a woman and her teen daughter who are off to India for three weeks. The "cottage" is a very recent purchase - they moved in less than a month ago, so even they haven't learned all the nuances of the new place yet. And like many older houses in Ireland (and other countries) this one has its quirks. We figure by the time we leave on Dec 20 we may have finally figured out how everything works (nah!).

But thanks to the electrician who came yesterday (the day of our arrival) and today (the day of the homeowner's departure) and the other emergency electrician this evening, we have lights in the bedroom, heat in the rooms we'll use most, and hot water for showers, dishwasher, and laundry.

We tend to take basics such as electricity and plumbing for granted, and when they don't work it can cause a mild panic.

In a way, we've "moved" to a new house much like the owners. We have to figure out where things are, such as dishes, get the WiFi hooked up (essential to get our work done), load drivers for a new printer, learn which keys unlock which doors, remember to drive on the left side of the road (I've done it before, but it's still a mental challenge), discover where we might shop for groceries (and what familiar and no-so-familiar brands they carry ... yes! Oreos; yes! Lindt dark chocolate), and when half-awake distinguish between the bathroom and the closet.

This is our first house-sit, and it's not unlike some of the airBNB's we've stayed in recently where we occupy the entire apartment or house, learn how to navigate the place and the area around it. The key difference here is Rooby, who loves to have her head, neck, and belly scratched.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Things We Left Behind for You

The recent passing of a friend, coupled with our frequent travels, got me to wondering about the possible reaction of family and friends in the event Donna-Lane and I both died at the same time, say if the Ryanair flight we are on to Dublin as I write this were to go down in the English Channel.

I'm not talking about the sorrow. I'm musing more about the sometimes bedeviling details of "wrapping up" someone's affairs after they are gone. Not to mention the occasional amusement or puzzlement of the items left behind.

Certainly we should have some sort of legal or at least expressed will about what funds, if any, and other items of value should be bequeathed to which family members and friends. (Once the mortician is paid, of course, which in France is one of the first considerations. No payment, no burial or cremation. A small burial insurance policy is not a bad idea, I'm told.)

But what would be your reaction when you go to clean out our bathroom and come across the Scooby Doo toothpaste?

Or when you find the water pistols, one of which I hid (not telling) and one of which D-L has hidden (I need to search for that when she's not around so I can "disarm" her.)

Or the small stuffed animals on the beds? Their names are Petite Cougar (if you know our ages, you'll figure it out), Hunny Bunny (the one with the pink ribbon - more symbolism), and Herr Hare (our fluffy friends even have distinct nationalities). By the way, Scooby Two is with us on the plane, in my backpack, so he'll be at the bottom of the sea, weighed down by the laptop, power cords, and sack of coins.

What of that framed piece of paper covered with colorful stickers of assorted shapes and images? Or the several other unframed sticker pages?

D-L's Christmas gifts for me are in the cabinet in her office / snore room. (No, I have not peeked.) My gifts for her are hiding in plain sight, wrapped, on a shelf behind by desk chair.

On one book shelf, there are assorted keys, some labeled, some waiting to be labeled. Hint: they all work in doors (or mailboxes) either in the two places we live or the places of friends in the village. Maybe you could make a scavenger hunt game out of figuring them out.

You'll get to see what medications we were taking from the supplies we left behind (though there are some prescriptions I filled and never used).

Our landlady will have to identify which artwork (and furniture and dishes) belong to her, and the remainder would therefore be ours. My photo favorite is the reflection of our shadows in the water in the sometimes-river which runs through the village when we get a good rain; Donna-Lake took it, and it's amazing. The queen mattress is barely broken in (he he he), only a few months old, and we haven't been in Argeles all that much.

Other than personal mementos, most of the rest could be useful to almost anyone: books, movie DVDs, music CDs (pretty much replaced by iTunes on the computer, except when we're on longer car trips). Oh yeah, the Peugot - one of our friends has the key and knows its location; it runs pretty good for 15 years old.

Help yourself to the wine closet; most of the bottles were gifts from visiting friends. Please find a good home for my golf clubs; they've been little used lately, too, but I love them just the same.

We don't have a dog (yet), so it's not necessary to find a good home for her. But that may happen in the new year.

That about covers it. Simple lifestyle. We like it that way. Easy to wrap up ... even if I didn't put everything in order before I left. (There's always next time.)

Well, we're long past the English Channel now, so I guess if the plane is going to do down it will have to be in the Irish Sea. D-L is reading, which is appropriate, and I am writing on the computer, also appropriate.

Last night in Barcelona .................................

Monday, November 17, 2014

Spirit and Soul

I know the amateur theologians will be all over this topic, but during the celebration of Barbara's life I got wondering about a person's spirit and soul, the afterlife, etc. Lots of events to trigger such thinking: the spreading of her ashes in the cemetery's "jardin de souvenirs" (french for memories), visitors to our door of a religion that believes people get a "second chance" to be "saved" after the resurrection ...

I'm not going to be religious nor scientific about this, just wondering because I don't think any of us has the answer as to what happens in the afterlife. I don't personally know of anyone who "came back" and told us what we can expect after death.

The spirit, to me, is the essence of a person's nature and character, and I believe that lives in one degree or another in all of the people that individual touched during their life, whether in person or by some indirect means - something they wrote, or perhaps a life lesson they taught that was passed on to another person or perhaps even hundreds or thousands. Death does not eliminate the impact a person has on others, and indeed their spirit lives on in those who carry and apply the lessons learned from that person.

The soul, to me, is a more nebulous concept. Is it some sort of wispy apparition, like we see in portrayals of ghosts? Sometimes in the shape of a body, sometimes less defined in shape. Does the soul of an evil person come back to haunt us? Does it inhabit a living person to re-create the original evil, ie, does Hitler's soul (did he even have one?) inhabit today's skinheads? Does the soul of a good person return as an angel (and why would an angel need wings anyway)? Is the soul of a loved one watching over us? Mysteriously helping us avoid calamity? Infiltrating our thoughts so we make correct choices - because 'they' know the future that we do not?

Can you imagine the souls of all the people you have known who passed away - negative, positive, or shades of both, as is the case with most of us - hovering around you in what you think is mere air, whispering in your ear to do this or that with every decision, large or infinitesimal? Hundreds of invisible "Jiminey Crickets" as your conscience.  I shudder at the thought.

But as I was watching the Argeles Gospel Choir sing in tribute to Barbara, my mind's eye could imagine her in the group, singing with pure joy. Certainly her spirit lives on in each of those choir members who knew and loved her. And in us as well.

Friday, November 14, 2014

First Time

Hard to believe, I played my first round of golf in France recently. Not the first time in Europe - I played in Scotland many years ago, including a delightful day at Royal Troon.

Not that I haven't been intending to play. Before I ever came over to Argeles-sur-mer, Donna-Lane had scoped out a wonderful-looking resort course in Saint Cyprien. She heartily encouraged me to get out and play. I've even hit range balls there a few times, bought a carry bag, got to know the Scottish marketing development manager ...

Just had not been able to find 5-6 hours to plan to play a round, including making a tee reservation a few days in advance.

After we returned from our two-month travels ( and several posts on D-L's blog:, my American friend Gary said he'd discovered a 9-hole country course not far from ASM in Montescot.

The course reminded me of some of the outlying courses I grew up on near Binghamton NY: flat, simple, smallish greens, an occasional sand trap, a mix of grass and weeds in the fairways and rough, horse stables bordering the first fairway, quaint French village in the distance.

The best feature: the dramatic Canigou mountain in the background.

I loved it.

I noticed in the clubhouse/cafe/pro shop where we paid our fees that the course record is a 69, three under the par of 72. I realize I haven't played much the past few years, but I've still got game. And now I also have a goal - I want to beat that record.

Friday, November 7, 2014

The Phases of Death

Shock. Disbelief. Share. Commiserate. Disbelief. Detail. Decompress. Grieve. Disbelief.

We lost a friend yesterday. A dear, dear friend.

It was incredibly sudden, which was "good" for her, relatively speaking, compared with the slow, painful death that some suffer.

Not good for those of us trying to cope with the vacuum in our lives and especially in our hearts.

I had talked with her not three hours before. She was in rather good spirits, based on test results from the day before that diagnosed her recent breathing difficulties as bronchitis and not the lung cancer she feared. She was going to the local medecin (doctor) that afternoon to follow up, and it was in his office that her heart stopped. She had been talking with him in her unique loving-life manner, he was saying something to her, and then he noticed that she appeared to simply fallen asleep.

We learned of her passing from a neighbor who stopped by not long after we'd returned from a meeting with our attorney in Perpignan. The neighbor speaks only French, and mine is still weak, but I understood enough, and her body language filled in the blanks.

There has been a steady stream of friends visiting in consolation. The village news grapevine is more effective than any social media and we've all avoided posting on Facebook. This is the sort of news that deserves face-to-face conversation, or at least a phone call for someone who is not in the village.

She was D-L's friend for nearly 40 years. That's a rare friendship in these times ... in any times.

I knew her only two years, and before I ever arrived in Argeles-sur-mer she was highly skeptical of me because I was American (and worse, from Texas). When we realized each other's authenticity, we became good friends as if we'd known each other for decades.

She would kick us in the butt, figuratively, if she thought we were mourning. Instead we'll celebrate her life with her many, many, many friends, some of whom are flying in from distant locales to honour her. We will sing and dance and laugh, as she did, as she would.

After awhile, life will return to what some might describe as "normal." But it will never be so again. Normal is having her down the street, the door open to her bookstore on marche days, the cat sunning himself in the window. Normal is her showing up at our front door with a "Hello, darling!" greeting and her lips extended for a kiss. Normal is having a spaghetti or goat dinner with her the evening we return to the village after a week or a month away.

"We will miss her" is not only a huge understatement, it is misleading. She has long been a part of our lives, and the wisdom and spirit she imparted will continue to be.