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  • Writer's picturechristaleigh

The Unexpected

What I remember about the Volksmarches through the woods in Germany is the mud. There was always mud. And by the time we were done, my feet were always freezing. I remember smelling beer and bratwurst and that the misery of the trudge through the Black Forest was always punctuated by the intoxicating smell of freshly baked bread that somehow managed to be too tough to eat when you were just the right age for a tooth or two to be loose.

What I remember about the island of Corfu is black sand and water. Water so clear, you couldn't be sure it was even there unless you held your breath and went under. At night, the black ink of the sky swallowed the shoreline and hanging out on a balcony was just as good as floating in space among the stars.

In Segovia, Spain, there's a castle frozen in time. What I remember about it is the empty moat. We got dizzy climbing stairs to the top of a turret, and I remember staring at that perfectly engineered chasm around us and wondering how many knights in shining armor it really kept out.

A memory that's good with details is a blessing and a curse... and many of the things I remember most accurately are the things and moments I never expected or saw coming. The things people don't take pictures of; details that never make the old photo album or the new insta page.

Like here, at Irish Hollow, where a man left an entry in one of these journals a few years ago. He'd purchased a weekend for his parents for their anniversary, but his mother had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's and his father didn't feel comfortable taking her out of their environment and thus insisted that his son take the gift for himself. He writes that he and his wife had a wonderful weekend and he was so grateful for the peace the place brought him.

Maybe it was the absence of a television in the cottage, or maybe it was the intrigue of travelers who came before us- my husband and I poured through the journals, reading passages to each other, laughing and crying and wondering...

The couple who'd met online six months prior and agreed to meet at this cottage after both experiencing brutal divorces, facing the first Christmas without their kids. She hoped they'd be back for a honeymoon.

The woman who had lost her husband, and stumbled across an old boyfriend from her youth online. She described the way he'd sent her an "instant message", and how she never thought at her age she'd use a computer to have a relationship. Irish Hollow was between them in distance. He was single, too, and even after all this time she was so happy not to be lonely.

We found a few people more than once; it became a game to see if the people who said they would come back ever did.

There were poetic entries, stories, sketches. Most writers commented about the food and the hospitality of the people who run the place. Several commented on the quiet of the woods, the way this cottage seemed to slow life down, and the experience of stillness. There were even a few steamy entries, alluding to the magic that must be in the country air...

I hope that some... that most of those people remember things the way I do; I hope they remember what they wrote and how they felt and the way the cottage smelled with a fire burning brightly. Of all of the things that I'll remember about that place, the memories of other people were by far the sweetest, and the most unexpected.

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