The morning after Christmas, I awoke with a throbbing head. A few days earlier, I had been laughing, bent over in a forward motion, and smacked my upper lip onto a hardwood chair. It was the kind of moment that happens periodically in my life when I think, Really? Did I seriously just do that? My lip started bleeding and swelled up into what felt like a beak for several days. My nose commenced to swell as well, and I wound up with a sinus cold for Christmas.
I tried my best to buck up. I took a shower, got dressed, and drank some coffee. All I wanted to do was crawl into bed with a hot cup of tea and watch movies all day, but our Airbnb apartment in Arles stank of yesterday’s cigarette smoke (not our yesterday, mind you), and it felt like it had not had a proper cleaning in some time. Fresh air would likely be more effective for my healing than staying indoors.
A birder ex-pat Englishman living just outside of Bordeaux had detailed places we could go in Provence for specific hard-to-find species.
Eagle Owl was one, and it was on our list. So off we went in search of a moto cross in the smallest of small villages called Le Destet in a countryside spotted with olive orchards and stone houses. The slate grey mountains beyond this moto cross were home to the Eagle Owl.
There are times when I go out in search of birds and it is pure magic. I can feel the energy and know that we will be blessed with remarkable views of brilliant birds. This morning, as I kneeled down to pick up a smooth, white, rounded rock, I had the feeling that something was not right. I wondered if it would be bad luck to pick up the rock before even seeing a bird? At the behest of my husband’s daughter, I had been collecting a few from each of the places we had visited on our honeymoon in France.
I am drawn to rocks. I seem to pick them up wherever I go. Sometimes, I pick one up and sense that it does not wish to travel, so I set it back down. With this rock, I was not sure what it was telling me. So I picked it up, placed it in the pocket of my pants, and followed my husband down the trail.
We followed a road and then veered off onto a sort of strange, off road course for mopeds. Dark green pine trees lined the course on both sides. The mountains were ever to our left. With our binoculars and camera, we scanned the mountainside in hopes of spotting the enormous bird. But it was not to be. The eagle owl did us in, less the physical presence of the bird but perhaps the lack thereof/the absence.
We walked along, up and down the course trail and then back onto the dirt road.
Small birds called out and flittered through the tops of the trees, but we could not seem to catch them in our view to identify them.
The forested area opened up into meadows of short plants, lavender, gorse, and others I did not recognize. In my mind, I could hear the words of the song Wild Mountain Thyme.
Oh the summer time is coming
And the trees are sweetly blooming
And the wild mountain thyme
Grows around the blooming heather
Will you go, lassie, go?
Tired and a bit hungry, we decided to turn back. We were sidetracked once by a wayward woodpecker and another time by a bird singing in a tree (we were not able to identify either of them). Finally, my bladder necessitated returning to the car. As we approached the vehicle, we noticed a hole in one of the front passenger side windows, the small triangular shaped one just beside the side mirror.
Shocked, we walked closer.
I can’t believe someone broke our window! my husband said with surprise.
I know, I responded.
We were dumbstruck. It had not yet occurred to us that the person had broken the window in order to take items from the interior of the car.
I opened the front door to find the glove compartment hanging open. Luckily, there was nothing worth taking inside.
Then, I noticed the back passenger side door was slightly open. I looked in the back and saw that our groceries were gone.
Did you leave your camera bag in the car? I asked.
I looked in the front seat and realized my own bag had also been taken.
My shoulder bag! I cried out. It was one I had just purchased to replace the one that was stolen when someone broke into our house this past summer, and it too was gone from its spot on the floor. Feeling under the weather and tired when we set out to look for the owl, I had left it behind. We were in what felt like the middle of nowhere and didn’t think about it. Besides, it was the day after Christmas. Aren’t people supposed to be nicer and more forgiving around the holidays?
What I couldn’t understand was how a person could walk by a car and think, Hey, I think I’ll take everything inside! It’s a completely foreign concept to me.
My husband suggested that it would take a complete shift of perspective to think this way, that perhaps the person was thinking, These people were dumb enough to leave their belongings in the car, they were asking for it.
I can see what he means, but I have heard the asking for it line before, and I just don’t buy. If I wear a tight shirt, it doesn’t mean I want every man in the vicinity to stare at my chest.
As we left the parking area, I told my husband that it was getting easier to accept loss.
It’s another opportunity for non-attachment, he responded, and we talked about Buddhism and the burden of material things.
Going to another site in search of birds was now out of the question, so we headed in search of a garage. It was doubtful anything would be open on a Saturday, the day after a holiday, but we tried. A French man scratched his head and told us that nothing would happen until Monday, and then they would need to order a window.
As the afternoon wore on, I grew more and more frustrated. My head felt like it could burst at any moment from the pressure on my sinuses. When my husband suggested that now I could buy a bag in Paris to replace the stolen one, I snapped back at him, I don’t want a Paris bag. I wanted that one.
At this point, I feel that I should add that even with this unfortunate experience, we were safe and the items stolen could have been much worse. This was clearly a problem that could be resolved to an extent, and then we would simply have to make peace with it and carry on.
And we did.
We were lucky in so many ways. There was no violence. It was a small window, so it wasn’t too cold as we left Arles behind with the setting sun and drove north to a longtime friend of my husband’s in Grenoble.
We were lucky to be welcomed into the home a wonderfully loving family.
We were lucky to sleep in a warm bed and wake up to sunlight over the French Alps.
We were and are lucky.
It felt like the eagle owl did us in, but it simply helped us gain perspective and count our blessings for so much of the beauty we experience in our lives each day.
(I still want my bag and my bird guide back, though.)