African Elephants

The Range Rover bounced through the trees like the Indiana Jones ride at Disneyland, then, mercifully, stopped. Our guide shut off the engine. I could hear the ticking of hot stressed metal. My body was just as stressed. I may have developed a tick.

Over there.

I could see him, hiding, a giant bull elephant, trying, it seemed to me, to be inconspicuous.

I began taking photographs. Through the lens, the elephant looked annoyed. With crunching footsteps, he lumbered out of the trees into the open, staring at us. We stared back at him. He came closer. Closer. CLOSER. I reached for a wider lens.

Hold very still, our guide whispered. He reached for his rifle.

The giant elephant stopped, three feet away. I could hear him panting. Snorting. I could SMELL him. VERY BAD BREATH.

From my open seat in the Range Rover, he was massive. His tusks were stained red near the sharpened points. He looked down at me with huge, tired eyes.

What are you doing here?

I came to see you.

He sniffed, his snake-like trunk sampling the air around me. His giant eyes blinked. I could see myself reflected in their rich, deep brown. He looked…sad, maybe. Resignedly tolerant, perhaps. Proud, certainly.

He moved on.

I realized that the pounding I could hear was my heart, not his footsteps.

Our guide put down his gun and started the Range Rover. The roar of the engine shattered the quiet surrounding us and we moved on.

Magic in Marcy en Beaujolais, France

First of all let me say, I don’t drink wine. I don’t drink alcohol. However, I do love grape juice.

_MGL7969_70_71_FarmlandOn assignment, I was staying in a bed and breakfast in Marcy en Beaujolias, a tiny village in French wine country, not far from Lyon, France. Not wanting to miss out on seeing the country side, I went for a walk early one morning. I only had an hour before I had to leave, so, as usual, I was in a hurry.

_MGL8018_Rock Wall WindowThe morning was beautiful. The late September sun was casting long morning shadows on stone walls and stone balconies built in the twelfth century. I was transported in time. As I walked, I quickly ran out of village and found myself in the midst of a gorgeous, hilly vineyard countryside. _MGL7916_7_8_wine country vineyardThe grape harvest was in progress. _MGL7943_Red GrapesThe vines were heavy with rich, red grapes, dripping with morning dew. Some of the leaves on the vines were changing from  brilliant green to autumn red, indicating the close of another season.

_MGL7949_Vineyard MasterAn old man, carrying a bucket hand picked and tested the grapes, while a modern, somewhat out of place, harvester, striped the rows of luscious fruit.

On the harvester, another man sorted grapes and plucked the leaves from the harvest, in preparation for processing. The scene was magical, beautiful. I lost track of time as I walked a narrow lane through the vineyard. _MGL7926_7_8_Vineyard RowAs I walked, a truck filled with grapes pulled up next to me. An old man beckoned me to “come, come.” I approached him and he motioned for me to get in the truck. He spoke as much English as I spoke French, next to nothing. The old man’s face was lined with wrinkles, leathered over the course of many seasons in the sun. His hair was gray. His beard was gray. His eyes twinkled. I climbed in the truck. He smiled as we drove through the vineyard. He would point to things as he talked. I enjoyed the view and the lilting sound of his voice, but I had no idea what he was saying.

_MGL7975_Country RoadAfter about fifteen minutes, he backed into an ancient stone building. We got out of the truck as the old man pointed out important parts of his winery, talking non-stop. _MGL7985_Grape offloadingAnother man, younger, shorter, but just as weathered, joined us with a smile. The younger man held a pitchfork in his hands. They pressed a lever and the bed of the truck rose, dumping grapes and juice into a vat below the truck. As the younger man forked the grapes from the truck the older man pointed out a large vat with a spinning mixer, turning and mashing grapes. _MGL7979_Grape VatThe rich fragrance of grape juice was intoxicating. I could tastes the juice in the air it was so think and delicious.

As I took pictures, the old man motioned me to follow. We went down a stone staircase into darkness. He flipped a switch and I was surrounded by gigantic wooden wine barrels. IMG_3422_Wine VatI think he was telling me that this was where they aged the wine. We went further underground into a wine cellar with an arched stone roof. Here, he showcased the Beaujolais wine he was so proud of._MGL7999_Wine Cellar Entrance

After looking around, he led me back up the stone steps into the light. The truck was empty, time for another load. We got back in the truck and he drove me back to the village.

_MGL8000_PierreBefore I left the truck, I asked his name. “Pierre”, he said, “Peter, in English.”  We shook hands and I climbed out of the truck.  Pierre drove away with a smile.  _MGL7925_Vine StakeI stood there, basking in the morning sun amidst the fragrant vineyard of a magical valley deep in the heart of France.  I marveled at the unexpected adventure I had just experienced. Pierre, like his father before him, and his father’s father’s father before them, has been making wine his entire life.  _MGL8083_4_5_Beaujolais Wine CountryOn this day, perhaps unremarkable for him, yet most remarkable for me, Pierre offered a magical glimpse into a tradition that crossed the ages, jumped the stone fences  and bridged our cultures through kindness.  I will not forget his friendship.

So, if you happen to be in Marcy en Beaujolais on a sunny morning during grape harvest season, be sure to take a walk through the vineyards. Look for a gray-haired man with a twinkle in his eye. While I don’t drink wine, I can, wholeheartedly recommend the grape juice.  And, I can say from first-hand experience, there is still magic in the world and kindness without fear.