On my last morning in Labastide, I headed up for one last trek to Le Roc, which had become “my spot”. As I hiked up the rocky trail past the church, I saw John coming down towards me (John and his wife Kerry are owners and hosts of La Muse). He slowed for only a few steps and said, simply, “It’s a perfect day.”
I got up to Le Roc and immediately understood what he meant: it was the clearest morning of my three weeks in Labastide. I could see far into the valley below me and beyond, to the clear outlines of the Pyrenees and their still snow capped peaks. For weeks, my eyes would strain and only make out hazy outlines of the Pyrenees; and now, suddenly, here they were. It felt like a message, but whether that message was “hello” or “goodbye” I’m not sure.
In any case, it was perfect. I had lots of perfect days in Labastide, and many in my last week. I intended to blog so much more while on my trip: funny and strange details about the people I interacted with, relearning and remembering how to speak French, my daily hiking adventures. And I still might tell those stories.
But for now, the end.
The day before I left, I woke up at 6am so I could hike to Le Roc to see the sunrise (even though the mountains blocked most of the view). I headed out of La Muse and Homer, John and Kerry’s dog, ran up to me. Normally, Homer would accompany residents on their hikes and walks, but at the beginning of our retreat Homer got sick, and his daily jaunts were restricted. For three weeks I would head out for a hike and Homer would stare at me with sad eyes, begging to come along.
I don’t know what he was doing outside so early, it was almost as if he was waiting for me. He bounded over, gave me a quick look, and then took off, sprinting, out of the village. He wasn’t missing this walk.
I headed towards Le Roc, with Homer leading the way. We made it up to my spot and sat together and watched the morning for awhile.
The rest of the day was a blur: lingering at lunch, a last hike, a pizza dinner with the entire group, starting a 1000 piece jigsaw puzzle at 10pm. I woke up the next morning, not quite packed, not quite prepared to navigate Paris, not quite ready to leave. I sat on the terrace and ate my breakfast with Jean-Christophe and other residents filed in and out, everyone up earlier than normal that day.
I sat at Le Roc and stared at the Pyrenees for as long as I could, and then raced back to La Muse to throw things in my suitcase and write an entry in the guestbook and give away the extra food in my cupboard and say goodbye to La Muse and Labastide.
We drove away in the jeep, only Diane and I leaving that morning (Glenn and Julia came along for the ride and a trip to the grocery store; both had figured out a way to stay in Labastide for another week). As we drove away from the village, someone started singing, “All my bags are packed I’m ready to go, I’m standing here outside your door…” and we all joined in. It’s the slightly corny kind of thing you’d see in a movie, but for us, and in that moment, it worked. It was bittersweet and beautiful.
So many people who go to La Muse end up going back, and I understand why. Already, there was lots of talk about reuniting next summer. I think I knew, on my first day there, that I would want to go back, and that feeling only intensified throughout my stay.
But if I never make it back, it’s okay. It’s the kind of experience that stays with a person forever, and I got more out of it than I ever imagined I would.