Seven months ago we arrived in Harmons, Jamaica ready to serve and enjoy our sabbatical. We built houses, hauled water, ate jerked chicken pizzas, and climbed up stickman’s mountain. Four months later we waved goodbye to maul hauling, mango munching , red Jamaican soil, and our close friends promising to return. With only two weeks to see our friends and family we returned and left Quiet Creek wishing we could have stayed longer, but excited for the next part of our learning experience.
We arrived in Corsica, France exhausted and ready for a little vacation time. Although it wasn’t long, we needed a place to appease our bodies’ craving for hard work. Serendipitously we met three great friends: Albrecht, Steffi and Bianca who gave us many opportunities to serve on their herbal farm. In addition, we traveled around the most beautiful and diverse island we have ever witnessed. With the help of our new friend Benjamin, we learned French and chemistry.
We experienced the Mediterranean Diet to its fullest, finding fruit and vegetable stands every few kilometers, instead of fast food shop or convenient stores. Eating nuts, fruits, olive oil, yogurt, and vegetables every day, we have grown healthier with good nutrition and exercise. The European lifestyle has encouraged bicycling, walking, swimming or hiking every day.
Now at the end of our sabbatical we looked back on our expectations. Ashton says, “My view of our sabbatical has changed because I never knew about all the wonderful things that could happen. Throughout it there has been amazing surprises seeing the world through the eyes of humans in other cultures. During this sabbatical there has been all sorts of different exploration, such as meeting nice people, seeing pretty scenery, being happy, being sad, facing fears, but most of all having fun no matter what was involved. I recommend it to everyone greatly, they are loads of adventure.”
Walker states, “I think that I have fulfilled my expectations for the definition of a sabbatical. My family and I have not only seen several parts of the world, we also viewed them through people’s eyes of different cultures. We lived vastly different life styles and learned loads of new recipes. We have jumped (or fallen) way out of our comfort zones, for example, visiting the infirmary or climbing down the cascade. Overall I am very glad we had this amazing opportunity and I highly recommend it.”
Claire reflects “it was important to me to experience the grass being greener in other parts of the world. Now I will bring that green grass back to where I live to share and to appreciate with others. I’m so content to have gone and to now return to Quiet Creek to serve in all capacities of my life. Our family will genuinely laugh and cry harder with God’s blessings and challenges.”
Rusty sums up “These seven months contain some of the richest moments of my lifetime. Building relationships with my family tops the list. Together we enjoyed sharing life with a multitude of people who were strangers the day before we met and lifelong friends the day after. This time has given me an appreciation for the great things the world has to offer, I’ve never seen such breathtaking vistas or taken time to know Gods awesome love in other people. ”
The long term rewards do outweigh the short term challenges we faced in taking this sabbatical. Our lives have been changed by the lives we have changed. Thank you for journeying with us, learning from our experiences, and do consider doing the same in your life.
While walking along the Mediterranean coastline with my father, I noticed him examine the scattered driftwood that had been tossed up by the surf. Every so often he would pick up a stick and scratch the surface. Some he would put into his cloth bag and others he would toss back.
At my question, he explained that he was testing the hardness of the pieces of wood. If the test proved positive, the piece of driftwood was able to be successfully carved with a knife. Next I asked my dad what he planned to carve with this wood. He replied with two words: Santa Clauses.
This did not surprise me; we have several of his Christmas tree ornaments carved to the likeness of the popular Saint Nicholas. What did catch my interest was the chance to learn how to carve the said Christmas time character.
My carving background involved walking sticks back home, bamboo vases in Jamaica, and a carving Boy Scout merit badge from summer camp. Last Christmas my parents had given my brother and me a set of carving knives, a sharpening stone, and Kevlar gloves. I was excited to increase my skill level by using European resources and my new tools.
After collecting a bagful of potential material, we headed to the villa. The first step was to examine the natural appearance of the wood to distinguish the santa hat from his beard. Next my dad showed me how to make the face with a pencil outline. He carved notches for the eyes causing pronouncements for nose and checks. Once the face was roughed out, he worked on the upper part of the stick to make a pointed hat. The lower part was left alone to give the beard a natural look.
Dad then sanded the carving with several grades of sandpaper ascending from coarsest to finest. He progressed with polishing the wood with sea glass that we had also found washed up on the beach. He brushed the wood with a fine glaze of polyurethane to protect the wood and to meet the international custom regulations.
I jumped right in to the project asking my dad for advice along the way. He had high quality standards; ultimately through his mentoring I met his expectations. Surprisingly I went way beyond his quantity goals by carving thirty Santas total while on sabbatical.
Dad is now helping me market them to sell at the Quiet Creek shop and the upcoming Mother Earth News Sustainable Fair where I will be presenting a workshop on Wild Edible and Medicinal Plants. These funds will be used to purchase a digital camera to document the happenings at Quiet Creek and my future travels. Of course, I’ll be on the lookout for more driftwood wherever I go.
When dining over a French mushroom pasta dinner with our friend Alain, we admired his cultural diversity. He was born in Algeria and had traveled the Middle East, continental Europe, and even America. Alain speaks impeccable French, English, and Corsican plus a little Arabic which he wants to improve.
Sheepishly we confessed that few Americans speak nothing but English and have never been out of their country. The reason, he suggested, was that America is big enough so that if its residents wished to travel, there was no need to venture outside its English-speaking borders. We agreed with him, but after experiencing our international sabbatical we were so pleased that we now view the world without boundaries.
We were content; the small coastal town had much to offer, but why not gather the cultural diversity of Corsica. With generous “mad money” from a friend back home and Alain’s encouragement to see more, we rented a car to venture out on a ten-day excursion around the island of Corsica.
We began with Calvi, to the northwest, touring its citadel, the probable birth place of Christopher Columbus. Citadels were marks of the Genoese, dominators from the Italian city-state of Genoa beginning in the 12th century. They fortified Corsican cities with these castle-like settlements to protect themselves from rival powers. Later that night at the base of the citadel, we jumped off granite cliffs into the Mediterranean Sea while listening to Calvi’s best in jazz; sipping on Corsican sparkling water; and eating marinated olives, sausage, cheeses, and grapes.
The next day we visited Aleria, once Greek, but conquered as a Roman capital in the 1st century. This museum offers artifacts and outside ruins where the Greeks then Romans had settled on the eastern coast. Nearby snorkeling at Solenzara was my brother’s favorite; the gneiss outcrops displayed octopus, sea anemones and urchins.
In the center of the island, we discovered Corte, a capital proclaimed by Pascal Paoli, Corsica’s lone liberator during the 1700s. This mountainous city hosted a museum to help us understand Corsica’s geologic, ethno botanical, industrial, and religious influences.
We then headed due south to Bonifacio with its citadel perched on100 foot white limestone cliffs. Best known in this Corsican city is the iconic rock stack ironically called “Grain of Sand”. We snorkeled in the swift waters around this huge limestone formation and I climbed a portion of it jumping off twice.
Along the southwest coast, we hiked the Cauria plateau with several megalithic alignments dating to 4000 B.C., and then drove northward to Filitosa, the best-known megalithic site on the island. The most intriguing of the megaliths are statue menhirs. These tall stone pillars often have human faces with swords, daggers, and armor carved into them.
Our final destination, Ajaccio, was named the present capital by Napoleon Bonaparte. This beautiful city perched on red granite is the birthplace of France’s last emperor in 1769. We visited his Uncle Joseph Fesch’s art museum, France’s second best collection of Italian paintings, next to Paris’ Louvre. There we thought of my Grandma Marilyn and her love of art and her father and my Great-Grandfather, Napoleon Bonaparte Parmly.
On our way back to Moriani we stopped and hiked a small portion of the GR-20. Known as the Grande Rondonnee, it is the most difficult hiking trail of all Europe.
As you can see this small island in size has a tremendous amount to share. It is considered an insignificant provincial region lost in the Mediterranean Sea and being one of the twenty-two in France’s geographic collection. Corsica boasts of 6000 years of turbulent history; beautiful sedimentary, igneous and metamorphic rocks; coastline sites that excite even snorkeling experts, and changes in elevation from sea level to 8500 feet within 30 miles.
So I challenge all Americans -- defy conformity by learning a new language and culture – go visit a another country. If it is as tiny as Corsica or a huge as China, go explore.
Excerpts from Ashton’s journal --
I have a good friend known as Benjamin who has taught me many things. He is from the great region of northwestern France named Brittany. He works at a fantastic laboratory here in Corsica. There he is a chemist and is a very good one.
One day he even invited me into his lab. There I learned about making extracts using ultrasound technology. Everything is done in the metric system which makes so much sense, since it is based upon increments of 10, 100, or 1000. We used an electronic balance to measure the cocoa bean, and then we measured the volume of alcohol with a graduated cylinder. Benjamin explained that a sound bubble causes a stream which picks the cocoa bean. It allows it to explode releasing the wonderful smell which is preserved in the alcohol/water solution called an extract. He says chocolate shop owners will buy his cocoa extract and pipe it through their businesses to make people buy more chocolate.
One Sunday morning Benjamin went to Bastia to the flea market with us where I bought a Tintin book. Benjamin introduced me to this Belgium comic book a week ago; it is a series about a boy reporter and his dog. We watched Tintin movies together; he practices speaking English, while I learn French.
After the flea market we picked out Corsican meat pies, red peppers, oranges and apples. Benjamin treated us to strawberries, grapes and cherries. We drove to the most northern part of the island called Cap Corse, there we snorkeled and swam. My mom got stung by a jelly fish. She said it was just like stinging nettle and the pain lasted fifteen minutes.
On the way home Benjamin pointed out the French cars -- Renault, Peugeot, and Citroen. He also taught me French families pay taxes that supply funds for child care, public education through university level, health care, and retirement. Their health care is so universal if I had hurt myself falling down the distilling steps, France would have treated me like a French citizen and taken care of my injuries. Our two countries share many words; I asked him the French definition of a faux pas. He said it is an embarrassing mistake made by a person; my mom said it is the same in English.
Next week we are treating Benjamin to a train trip across Corsica. We will end up in Napoleon Bonaparte’s hometown of Ajaccio. Ironically, it was Napoleon and his French army who conquered the Corsican people in the late 1700’s under Pascal Paoli. This was the only time Corsica was truly independent from years of being domination by the Romans, the Genoese, the Pisano. Corsica’s independence lasted less than 20 years, but the Corsican’s patriotism still lives with a vengeance against mainland France.
In fact, Benjamin even helped me understand the meaning a Corsican symbol that shows up on t-shirts, billboards, and pamphlets. Benjamin agreed to pick my dad and me up from the car rental office. While my dad was paying the bill, I was next door looking at cd’s. Benjamin walked over to look at music with me and there was that symbol again: a masked man crouched down holding a gun.
I asked and he did not know, so he asked the lady in the music shop. She said in an annoyed voice, “It is a rebellion symbol against French people, like you!” She later said to Benjamin that I should not be touching the cd’s because they might break.
Benjamin then returned that remark by saying, “If he cannot touch them, then you should put a sign on a glass window around them that says DO NOT TOUCH and then maybe close down your shop.”
He was so annoyed with what she said about French people that he even told her that we would drive 20 more kilometers from there so that I could buy the cd from someone that was not her. Evidently there is a group of rebels who wants to overthrow the French government in Corsica.
We eventually turned it into a joke and had a good time laughing hysterically; there is an example of a faux pas and the French. I sure hope Benjamin comes to visit me in Pennsylvania.
It is nearly the middle of July and I can see snow on the distant mountains. I am sitting under the shade of a Pinus nigar, a black pine known for its straightness and height. The thick trunks surround me, as well as ferns, thistles, and the precious plant, immortelle.
This extremely fragrant, herbaceous perennial with bright yellow flowers is the reason my father, three of Steffi’s harvesters and I are so high up in the Corsican mountains. Immortelle has a high content of very fragrant natural oil and is coveted by the world’s perfume market. Today representing Italy (Roberto), France (Bruno), Morocco (Bolafki), and USA, we as the work crew are here to harvest its abundance.
Immortelle is one of the beautiful smelling plants that make up the variety of floras known as the maquis, the shrubby undergrowth of Corsica including rosemary, cistus, lavender, and myrtle. Fields of maquis blanket within the forest when natural forest fires destroy the pine growth. The maquis envelops the olfactory sense; even the blind-folded Napoleon Bonaparte could identify the smell as he traveled by boat alongside his homeland on his way to exile.
To arrive at our destination, we first bicycled to meet Bruno and workers at Essences Naturelles at 7:00 am. Then Dad and I followed them hurriedly in Steffi’s little white French truck, as Bruno progressed at an amazing rate in the bigger truck. To fulfill their morning routine, we stopped three times to pump air in the tires, purchase baguettes, and fill water bottles at a high mountain-spring fountain.
Next we traveled higher and higher into the mountains until our little truck could go no further. At that point, we parked and then jumped into Bruno’s truck bed holding on as we were soon swaying back and forth up the curvy mountain road. We passed huge forests and rocky outcroppings. The air grew colder, quite an alien feeling to me, after being in a constant warm temperature. Finally, the field of immortelle, interspersed with young pines and thistles, came into view. It sloped down to the edge of a forest, on the lower side of the road, and up above us as far as we could see, touching the almost cloudless sky.
With sickle in hand, Bruno showed us how to cut, bundle, and carry the immortelle which we weighed and stacked. The heavy manual labor was unnoticed due to the cool mountain breeze, the spectacular aroma and view, and the quietness of the mountains. At the end of the day when the truck bed was full, my dad and I climbed on top of our harvest, stretched out, and slumbered back down the mountain. Occasionally, I opened my eyes to admire God’s creation while continuously smelling it.
After learning the distillation process at Essences Naturelle, the owner Albrecht requested our family build an entryway from the garden to the distillation barn. Six days a week the farm is open for tours which involve the entire essential oil process: growing herbs, removing the oil from the herbs, and selling that essential oil.
As a marketer, Albrecht, wanted fluid movements as the farm guests move from the garden, to the distillation warehouse, and then to the boutique for final sales. Before the O.F. (Orner family) all his guests had to backtrack through the garden out the one and only exit. “This interrupted the flow of the tour,” as the owner expressed some slight annoyance.
He suggested another gate be built at the end of the garden, so the tour would proceed smoothly to the location where the oils were distilled and extracted. At the location of his suggestion, there was a drainage ditch which diverted the winter rains (presently there has been forty days of sunshine). Here a ramp-like bridge over the ditch would be needed, in addition to the proposed access.
We embraced the project, that is -- me, my dad and my brother. My mother was busy weeding morning glory from the acre of roses, but helped in the process when the time came. First we started by laying a 2 ½ meter pipe in the ditch and covering it with concrete. Next my dad’s many skills came into play.
I had no idea he could teach me how to make archways and walls purely from smooth, flat-faced rocks we collected nearby. My brother Ashton exclaimed, “It’s a Genoese arch!” Sure enough, it was just like the many bridges we studied and explored in our experiential, homeschool lessons on Corsican history.
After assembling Genoese archways around each end of the pipe, we created dry stone walls in parallel to hold the earthen ramp in place. Dad was taught both techniques when working in New England and now he was passing the skill on to my brother and me.
Next Albrecht led us to a huge pile of composted distillation waste (rosemary, immortelle, lemon verbena twigs and more). After digging several loads and spreading hummus, the ramp was complete. Now it was time for the gate.
Dad had spied thick wooden beam perfect for teaching us how to form them into mortise and tenon style with chisels. This old-fashion type of peg and hole conjunction made for a simple frame with no screws or nails. We then cut fresh saplings in the woods (Albrecht directed us to the strongest trees that locals used to carve tool handles). We wove these within our hand-made frame to keep out the dogs and the wild boars. The end product was very heavy (70 kilograms or close to 150 pounds).
Holes for the stout gate posts had to be dug and my mom showed up just in time. We cemented them in after leveling them as best as possible. The following week we returned to hang the gate and place two menhirs at the entrance to the ramp. Menhirs are standing stones sometimes over two meters high(ours were only one, but very thick and heavy). They are found throughout Corsica dating back to 6000 B.C. Some have faces and daggers, and others carved out of granite or gneiss.
Albrecht kept pacing up and down the ramp and opening the gate while admiring the “Masterpiece.” We proudly accepted his compliment knowing we too, in our small way, had contributed to the ardent relationship between our two countries. Granted, we were not Lafayette and his army nor had we bestowed the Statue of Liberty, but we felt gratified that we were building bridges, figuratively and realistically.
We are huge advocates of eating locally at home and abroad. Since the beginning of our sabbatical, we have munched on mangos while living in Jamaica, eaten flowers off the southern coast of France, and discovered many Corsican delights. Advantageously, the French government requires all foods be posted with their farming origin and the use of genetically-modified foods is outlawed (unless under strict supervision for research purposes only.) In our villa complex, our family is jokingly known as “the crazy Americans who eat grass.” Our first week here Marcel, our neighbor, approached Rusty and boys while picking greens for Claire’s French fig, sheep cheese and arugula pizza accompanied with lamb’s quarter, fennel and cistus salad. The farm Bordeo where we volunteer also shares their potatoes, zucchini, eggs, and herbs every time we work. We’ve befriended Alex, the neighborhood butcher, who weekly suggests a local pork sausage called ‘charcuterie’ as well as grass-fed steak. Rabbit is also widely available and the boys love their ‘lapin’ spicy and fried. Void of much fish in the hills of Pennsylvania, we especially are savoring the Corsican coastal treats. After a bicycling trip to a Sunday market, we relished ‘Fruits de Mer’, a seafood medley of lobster, shrimp, sausage, and mussels over saffron flavored rice. With mussels under their belts, the boys wanted more. We discovered the Etang of Diane just twenty kilometers south of our villa, a brackish bay where these mollusks are cultivated. Here on long chains suspended into the bay, the mussels attach and grow. The chains are then hoisted out of the water with huge cranes, harvested, sorted by size, and sold to seafood lovers. We purchased 2 kilograms, steamed them up with local chicken broth, parsley, olive oil, tomatoes, lemon juice and white wine making a specialty called ‘Moulles de Diana’. Along with French bread toasted under rosemary, garlic butter, the fifty mussels and their broth were sopped up completely with not a drop left over. When steaming, every bivalve should open perfectly to insure its freshness. They are deliciously tasty, not too fishy as some seafood, and reasonably priced when bought directly at the harvest site. As everyone in France states at mealtime –Bon appetit! Moulles de Diana
Directions Rinse the mussels under cold running water while scrubbing with a vegetable brush. Discard any with broken shells. Heat oil in a 6 to 8-quart stockpot. Sauté the shallot, garlic and thyme to create a base flavor. Add the mussels and give them a good toss. Add wine, lemon juice, chicken broth and red pepper flakes; cover the pot and steam over medium-high for 5 minutes until the mussels open. Toss in the tomato, parsley and butter, recover the pot, and steam for another minute to soften. The tomatoes should keep their shape. Serve with plenty of grilled garlic bread.
- 4 pounds mussels
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 shallot, minced
- 2 garlic cloves, shaved
- 4 sprigs fresh thyme
- 1/2 cup dry white wine
- 1 lemon, juiced
- 1 cup chicken broth, low-sodium
- Pinch red pepper flakes
- 1 tomato, peeled, seeded and cut in large dice
- 1/2 cup roughly chopped parsley
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
Hearing about it from all the locals, my family decided to hike to the Ucelluline Cascade, a beautiful waterfall and river gorge. From there we would descend, to what on the large road map was a dotted line, and thought to be a hiking trial. If only, we had looked a little closer.
We set out at ten o’clock stopping along our way. Our first stop was parking our bikes near a 400 year old mill beside an 800 year old dry stone bridge that dated back to the time that Genoese, Italy controlled Corsica. We then hiked to an old and very tall church halfway surrounded by tombs. Before lunch, we ventured to a wild yellow plum orchard that became dessert after arriving in San Nichalao at noon.
With a hearty meal of cheese, sausage and French bread, we strolled along a thin mountain road toward the cascade (waterfall). Enjoying the view from a granite peak, we heard the roaring flow, long before our arrival. As we approached, we were deafened by it. It was not that the cascade was large in volume with a high flow rate (about 100 gallon/m) that made it so loud; the ten meter drop into a rocky pool, with a rainbow sparkling through the mist, seemed to accentuate the sound.
We admired the cascade from a modern bridge built to emulate the curved arch of the Genoese era. There, surefooted, we viewed the center of the cascade around 2 p.m. We then followed a path to the base of the cascade and looked up as the water threw itself over huge boulders. Relaxing awhile we then decided to take that “path” to eventually find our bikes waiting along the river gorge.
As we trekked downhill, the caynon became wider, steeper and the number of boulders continued to grow. I split up from the rest of my family in hopes of finding a path through the taller lithic structures. I jumped from a platform downward, but had to stop when I came upon an eight foot drop onto a slippery boulder. Out my comfort zone, I took ten minutes to convince myself, but finally I leaped landing on all four limbs sliding slightly sideways.
I continued downward till I reached the lower pool. My family, trying to get down through a crevice, was stuck. Back tracking, I met them there where together we figured out how to get them down. Sliding around one rock then dropping down a few feet to another, each of my family members faired with only a few scratches.
Jumping from boulder to boulder, we traversed the gorge until we experienced another difficulty. This time the four of us had to slide two meters down a slippery rock at a 45 degree angle. Unable to see the other side where we would drop, we considered turning around. Fortunately my dad found a belly-squeezing hole underneath a fig tree allowing us to descend further.
After each impediment, we realized that more difficult situations were ahead of us. The next one was a thin vertical stone chute, lined with sharp projections, which dropped into another shallow pool. I made myself into a wedge, trying to slow myself as I slid quickly down. As the chute evened out, I jumped into the shallow pool to avoid a hard fall. I coached my family through -- first catching our backpacks, shoes and socks and placing them on a dry rock.
My brother Ashton went next sliding a few feet then plunging too soon into the water, making a big splash and laugh. My mom, who waited till the end of the slide, jumped like I had done. My dad came last and fell the hardest when he pushed himself off the crevasse. I could tell he was not enjoying our hike by his scowl and the shaking of his head.
At this point we, as a team, discussed our situation. We did not think we had found the “path” but we thought it was easier to continue on then to try to find a way back up. Ashton was having the most fun by sliding, falling or jumping from rock to rock. His amusement stopped however when he accidently slid across a stinging nettle patch and the barbs went through his shorts.
Our movement became easier as the gorge started leveling out. We followed the steep rocky stream down to where it became a level bubbling brook. I could tell moods were lifting as we came upon a deep swimming pool. My brother ripped off his shirt and jumped in making another big splash and my dad followed him. My mom and I watched as they swam back and forth cooling off. We all assumed we were near the end of our adventure; we had no idea how wrong we were.
Refreshed from the respite, we gathered our belongings ready to complete the final descent. On the contrary, the gorge started to steepen and widen again. This made it easier to find a way down, but did not heighten our hopes of the gorge ending. We scaled down waterfall after waterfall, some of which were larger than the original cascade. Deep pools with huge green silhouettes of algae tempted to lure us in, but we knew it was getting late in the evening.
Unable to descend the gorge because it became too steep, we climbed the ravine into a thick forest. We bush wacked awhile, and then found what looked like a wild boar path. This was better than nothing, although we had our reservations about Corsican boars.
A stone wall came into view and I saw an orange circle that marked all hiking trails in that area. We got out our small hiking map and found that if we followed the trail it would take us back down towards the river where we began our adventure.
With a huge sigh of relief, we relaxed as our bikes came into view. Riding back to our villa, we felt extremely accomplished, but somewhat confused. What had that dotted line on the road map symbolized?
We closely retraced our path down the mountain. It had taken us 5 hours to hike one kilometer horizontally and 800 meters vertically. The dotted line was merely a county boundary!
A story my brother Ashton would like to share: Last Tuesday was a lucky day for me. My family and I were planning to volunteer at Essence Naturelles Corsica, a local essential oil farm. At 8 a.m. we headed out on our bikes; it was a bright, sunny day. When we arrived, our German friend Steffi greeted us with “Guten Morgan! I am so glad to see you today. I am on my own and need help distilling the myrtle brought in from the mountains late last night.”
As I walked into the distillery barn, there to my surprise was a ginormous pile of myrtle leaves. I reached over and put one to my nose; it smelled delicious. Albrecht, the farm owner, taught me that myrtle is used to help people focus and concentrate. Often it is dispersed in the air through a diffuser during hospice situations to ease the stress when someone is dying.
My family gathered the myrtle into a huge cylinder to extract the aromatic oil from the leaves. One by one we untied the bundles and put them into the huge vat which holds two metric tons of raw plant material, approximately one English ton. Next with pitch forks, we raked the loose leaves into piles; mine was an artisan fork made out of wood.
My dad asked me to sketch the rake design so we can make it at Quiet Creek when we come home after this sabbatical. While sketching, I watched Steffi power up the “claw” to finish the job. What I called the “claw” is a huge gripper used to lift herbs into the big vat. Next we closed the distiller lid, secured the tubing, and turned on the heat. She predicted we would collect two kilograms (4.5 pounds) of myrtle oil. I love applying the metric system because it makes so much sense.
Mom headed to the rose garden to gather flowers and rest of the crew stayed in the barn to sweep up for the next delivery of herbs. Wanting to take a break, I headed over to the railing overlooking a stairwell. These steps lead to where the essential oil drips out during distillation. With my camera in hand, I jumped over top of the stairwell to the other side. This is fun, I thought to myself and then a little whisper came into my ear from God, “Don’t jump, you might fall.”
Ignoring Him, I leaped again, ducking under the railing with a one-handed clasp. Abruptly, my grip slipped off the railing and I tumbled 3 meters downwards (about nine feet), ricocheted off the cinderblock wall, bounced backwards on the metal stairs, and landed on the cement floor.
My scream echoed through the air and my mom instantly knew it was me. She dropped the roses dashing to my side; my dad had already arrived. Steffi, not familiar with children, only considered that the cat was terribly injured and ran to get her Immortelle essential oil knowing it relieves traumatic bruises on cats and humans. My brother, Walker, saw me fall and thought-- ouch. My shrieks turned into wails of “God told me that would happen!”
I eventually obtained the strength to stand up, move my extremities, and show my parents my abrasions. Mom dosed me with Steffi’s oil and later on only one spot turned greenish purple (she must have missed where I bounced on my leg). I retrieved my camera laying under the steps, untouched by the plunge, and we all thanked God for keeping me safe.
God encouraged me to journal about this miraculous mishap. I did so because I had learned my lesson and wanted to listen to God from now on. He said, “Good job, Ashton.”
After our first few biking trips to Moriani Plage to purchase groceries and to volunteer at the essential oil farm, our family decided to venture elsewhere in Corsica, France. With a map from the local tourist office, we headed to Cervione, a village situated in the mountains west of our beach villa.
The trail we found was paved, but shortly into the trip it turned to a rocky goat path. The scenery was magnificent – hazelnut, kiwi, and clementine orchards grew at the base of jagged, metamorphosed basalt known-locally as schist. A rippling brook laced with spicy watercress was a perfect respite for Ashton’s hot feet and my Dad’s and my greasy hands after repairing our bike chains.
As the road curved like a serpent to the left, we found a man-made stone wall depicting many shapes and shades of grey rock. We followed the noise of bleating to a herd of sheep weighted down with winter wool. The sheep were grazing in the lawn of an ancient ivy covered stone house surrounded by tall cork oaks. This Quercus genus possessed long crooked branches and bare lower trunks, where the cork had been harvested for capping wine and vinegar bottles. Within a few years, the cork would grow back ready for future vineyard fermentations.
As Ashton climbed and jumped from the stone platforms, my mom and dad visited with Jürgen and Gudrun, a couple staying on a sailboat at the Port de Taverna and had been hiking down the trail we were ascending. Their English was interwoven with bits of German which was friendly and easy to understand. With their recommendation, we continued on the trail pushing our bikes with the rising elevation to a small 12th century church called Chappelle Sta Cristina.
Here my mother read to us Corsican history while we sketched—my dad an olive tree, my brother the variety of iron crosses on the gravestones, and me the church itself. It was fascinating to discover how the Roman, Genoese, Pisano and French domination had influenced the people, architecture, religion, fauna, and language of this 50 by 100 mile island.
Hunger won the battle as we moved onward and upward to Cervione, the goal of our day’s itinerary. This town was perched on the mountain so all the streets were either slanting up or down at sixty degree angles. We locked up our bikes and walked to the town square hosting a Baroque church of the 16th century and a few modern-day cafes.
We chose an outdoor table and the four of us feasted on Corsican salads with smoked sausage, fresh mozzarella, cantaloupe, basil, tomatoes and lettuce. The next course was quiche with sweet peppers, onions, prosciutto, and sheep cheese. We consumed three baskets of chewy French bread dipped in the island’s olive oil, rosemary, and gooseberry vinegar.
Too full to eat any more, we hiked up to an ancient castle with a fresh water spring. Here we refilled our water bottles and infused sprigs of uncultivated mint. As we turned around to admire the view, we saw the outline of the Tyrrhenian Sea engulfed in fog with a glimmer of sunshine sparkling on the water. In anticipation of swimming, my brother Ashton convinced us to head to flatter ground.
The biking and hiking were challenging, but the ride down the mountainous road was thrilling. The wind whistled through my bike spokes and my backpack was full of wild edibles. It turned out to be a rewarding family adventure completed with elderflower fritters for dessert.