Sunday, January 30, 2011

waiting for snow

It’s a dull and grey Sunday afternoon, the fire is giving great warmth to the room and an Elvis movie is playing on the television my hosts are snuggled on the sofa watching and I am hoping for a glimpse of the mountains today. It has been overcast for a couple of days now, with the promise of snow on higher ground, the bitterly cold clear days of last week were great for clearing brambles and walking the dog but the word was that new snow was needed in the hills. If it clears, I will be able to see the pyrenees from where I am sitting and hopefully the new layer of snow will be obvious. Our skis are packed in the car and if the forecast is right we will be heading up the mountain for the first time tomorrow morning for a day on the slopes.

It will seem strange heading to St Lary for a day, last time I was there, I stayed for nearly five months, working for board and lodgings at Lou Rider, a cute little chalet nestling in a valley just below the slopes. I arrived there through helpX in early December and skid for the whole season. This time it will be day trips and a good chance to check out some different resorts in the region.

I am staying with Vanessa and Lisa in their rented farmhouse about an hour from the mountains, the view from the property is amazing, especially on a clear day when the mountains tower above the hills on the other side of the valley. We met last winter when they visited Lou Rider to ski and enjoy the mountains, and have been in contact ever since. I visited the farm last summer and we joked about skiing again this year, I was sure that I would be in California by now and was sure that it wouldn’t happen, but it has. Funny how things turn out.

Life here has a slow, relaxed pace, a bit lazy in fact. We get up after nine, have a cuppa and walk the dog. Plan the day over breakfast. There isn’t a huge amount to do, a bit of garden tidying, maybe some writing, Lisa has plenty of painting work to do, elsewhere, but only three or four days a week, Vanessa marks papers for a college from time to time, a trip to the supermarket, dinner with neighbours, I use neighbours loosely, as many live several miles away, but are friends and so come under that umbrella. We have had some fun nights out, a great evening in a tiny bar that we battled through the freezing cold night to get to, a fifties tribute band that played great music in a bar that was so small and packed that we actually felt warm for the first time in several days. This morning Vanessa and I headed to the local woods to walk with Tim. He has a house in a neighbouring village and knows the area well. We followed the trail through the arboretum and woodland, checking out the occasional named specimen and marveling on the mini canal that brings water to the village, it was built at the turn of the last century and flows for miles, following the contours of the land winding tortuously through the woodland and out the other side. Within the woods, a team of local men were busy felling and chopping timber. Tim explained that it was a community owned wood and all the villagers have the right to remove a certain amount of wood each year. He showed us the section that he was working with another couple of villagers, ten metres by one hundred and twenty five, it stretched up from a muddy track into the distance. The wood that could be harvested was marked in advance by a woodman then the team work their way through clearing brush and scrub and felling their crop, mature trees are left and sold for the commune, the resulting firewood is then theirs to take home or sell on as they choose. He was loving the involvement for several reasons. Learning french, involvement with the local community, a sense of camerarderie, learning new skills and also the cheap firewood. it was a great walk on a dreary morning and inspiration again for plan B should my visa not appear.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

two thousand and eleven

The news was not what I had expected. Another delay, this time caused by the inefficiencies of Homeland Securities themselves. It took me several days of quiet contemplation to fully absorb the news and for a little while kidded myself that a definitive no would have been easier to deal with. Of course that isn’t true all, I would be off in an instant, just give me the news that my visa is ready and I’ll collect in record quick time.

Anyway, I found out from Cynthia, thought I should give her a call to see how she was and if she had had any news. That was back in November when I had figured that the 16 months suggested waiting time was well and truly up and I still hadn’t heard anything. There was plenty of news, mostly good and very exciting, though unfortunately the one bit that I really didn’t want to hear was another delay. Cynthia had been following the progress of the visa online, something that I had been unable to do, and explained that after initial submission, the authorities has taken over four months to pass my paperwork to the relevant department for processing.

The sixteen months that I had been counting down were in fact twenty, and there were still another four months to go. February 2011 is now the crunch date, the time when the next, hopefully, three years, of my life will be decided. A YES means that I head to California and Love Apple Farm as quickly as humanly possible and a NO opens a selection of attractive alternatives that I have yet to put in order or become too enthusiastic about, I may share these with you if I don’t get bored of writing just now.

Good news is that Cynthia and the farm crew are all well and enjoying the most exciting time imaginable, transferring day to day business to a new and much larger location. The new farm sounds like an amazing venture, allowing for huge diversification into fruits, herbs, possibly livestock and other produce. It has a collection of buildings that are being converted into classrooms and learning facilities to expand the educational side of the venture and so much more. We had a wonderful chat about the goings on and I grasped the enthusiasm and excitement even through a painfully disjointed transatlantic phone call. I get the occasional glimpse of the farm through images on the lovely Facebook along with snippits of information, although am cautious of getting too excited about the venture myself, lest the chance of becoming involved in person never materialises. I ache to find out more, to be there and to hurl myself into the project wholeheartedly yet continue to find myself kept at a distance.

Hairbrain suggestions and devious plans have been concocted and banded about to see if I can get to the farm under false pretenses, perhaps I could visit the US east coast for a holiday, then travel on to the west coast, extend my stay for a couple of months and get stuck in. These plans are always highly tempting on the first read, questionable on the second and then reality sets in. Why jepordise the right and legal route? What if it didn’t work, the whole process would be wasted and I would never go. There are only a few more months to go now. How could I get involved again with the possibility that I don’t get to return long term, I just don’t think I could do that again, it stirs up too much passion and energy, I need to keep it under wraps until the time is right or contain it until I have another project to release it onto in its own right. I can fill the waiting with exciting and memorable challenges, learn new skills and enjoy the rich tapestry that lies before me,I can help out, encourage and participate in the lives of others, but until I know for certain the results of my visa application, the life that I want to follow remains illusive.

The not knowing sometimes becomes a challenge. This morning I had much less of a plan than I do right now. I was feeling quite purposeless and unrequired by the world until I realised why, I could not see enough of my immediate future apart from knowing that I still had to wait, my immediate train journey takes me from Nottingham where I have just had a wonderfully relaxing and enjoyable Christmas and start to 2011 with my dear brother Windy, his partner Michael family of dogs, lodgers and friends to London, then a week later in the direction of Salisbury to visit my parents, thereafter I had no idea where I was going to be and it was beginning to get me down somewhat. A little research and a few discussions on line and I have extended my known journey through to the end of the month and beyond. An exciting train journey from London to Toulouse for little more than the cost of a cheap flight and without any of that airport security nonsense, the prospect of visiting friends in the mountains, skiing, discovering an area that have come to love during the summer in the depths of winter, I have just opened the door to another adventure and it feels marvelous.

We then spent the afternoon earnestly discussing the prospect of buying a cheap house, perhaps at auction or a bank repossession, this spring, to work on, improve and then sell at a profit. It could be a good plan B, it may never get talked about again but the spark is alight again and that is all that matters.