the uneven path
A French proverb offers the following insight: En tout pays il y a une lieue de mauvais chemin. There will be bumps in the smoothest roads. Being an optimist at heart, I usually look upon bumps, or challenges, as opportunities and so, upon reflection, it seems natural to me to dream of meandering along uneven pathways (both literally and figuratively) when time allows.
One dream had a habit of recurring over a period of twenty years before it finally became realized. My love affair with one of nature’s most humble and enduring of creatures can be traced back to a poem I first encountered when I was six years old:
People have a strange expression
“Silly donkey!” people say
They’ve a right to their opinion
We’ve a right to have our bray
When they call us “silly donkey”
Do they know just what they mean?
Are we silly, here together
Happy in this field of green?
After many years, I am still unable to find an author for these words, but the feelings awakened in me by them has never left. Growing up in Ireland, of course, meant that I could be certain of seeing donkeys dotted around the countryside whenever we ventured out of the city. I fantasized about having one of my own, as children might do with any beloved creature. Over the years we settled for more typical pets, but the longing remained to spend even just a short while up close and personal with the animal of my childhood reveries.
The dream finally became a reality recently when we decided to take a trip into the Rhone-Alpes. This region of France is actually a major European transit hub, with millions of summertime tourists driving from Paris to the seashore every year. Our motivation was not the beach, however, but the chance to explore some bumpy mountain paths in the area around Eygluy-Escoulin. With Quicoo for company, we set off in pursuit of an adventure and, I assure you, we were not disappointed.
Our first hike took us out into scenery so spectacular that it was almost overwhelming. With no noise pollution from traffic, there was a soundtrack of birdsong to accompany the most beautiful of views. Rugged mountains enveloped us, offering leafy shade over twisted pathways from time to time but often exposing us to the sun in a way that highlighted our feeling of smallness in a huge universe. The flora of region is abundantly colorful despite the terrain; purples, blues and yellows enhance the trails along the way. It takes a little time to surrender to the solitude and embrace the sensory input on many levels. This is the kind of adventure that appeals through smell, taste, sights and sounds. When you are looking at a donkey through rose-colored glasses, you see nothing but the potential to enjoy a little taste of paradise in a day that can last forever.
At this point it might strike you as ironic that, for a person who talks a good game about bumps in the road, there weren’t any beyond the rocks and crevices that we occasionally stumbled over, being distracted by the heavenly surroundings.
Friends, there is another French proverb, which states: Juge hatif est perilleux. Quick judgements are dangerous. Especially when they refer to map-reading. Let me say that it is an opportunity for the deepest self-reflection when one finds oneself in the middle of paradise with no confidence of ever getting home for dinner. True, the donkey next to you patiently bears no ill-will, since a donkey has enough food at its feet to last for a lifetime of dinners. Nonetheless, the realization that one has probably strayed from the well-trodden path and onto a large bump, as it were, is a profound experience indeed. It is at a time like this when one ponders the great questions of life, such as “Is it really as good as it sounds to have no cell service in this area?” and “Why have so many people in the world been able to survive without learning English?”
In retrospect, what could have been a most tense experience certainly did provide us with material for a wonderful story to add to the library of our life adventures.
L’espoir fait vivre. Where there’s life, there’s hope.
It was complicated, but our host was eventually able to receive the message about two wandering souls and his humble, enduring donkey.
It was almost incredible, but our host was eventually able to locate us in the middle of paradise without as much as a slight hint of our whereabouts.
It was challenging, but our host picked us up in a trailer and now I like to think that even the donkey has material for a wonderful story to add to the library of her own life adventures.
In case you are wondering, everyone remained on speaking terms and a good dinner was had by all.
After a lifetime of longing, would I now harbor any regrets?
After meeting a bump in the road, would I walk it again?
As they say, "C’est en forgeant qu’on devient forgeron."
Practice makes perfect.
Quicoo, you were everything I imagined you would be, and more.
See you soon again, I hope.