A light rain falls and transforms the long, tangled grasses to ice. Across the valley, where hills climb higher, snow flakes descend and dust the landscape. I carry two wooden fence poles on my shoulder as I walk. I slip, regain balance and continue to follow my host as we march to the top level of his terraced olive grove. Swollen from a week of precipitation, the Tiber roars in the valley below. We reach our destination. My host motions towards his and neighboring vineyards, the whole of the valley visible at this height, and recounts a famous battle between the Guelphs and the Ghibellines which raged there centuries ago. Socks soaked and teeth chattering, I release my burden and we trundle back down the hill. Many more posts are needed before we can begin fencing the grove.
Stories of personal growth through travel are numerous to point of becoming cliché. Yet, this is a shame, for the volume of such stories is a testament to the reality that immersion in a different manner of life and custom can profoundly impact the individual who experiences it. The encounter with difference has the literal effect of broadening one’s conceptual gaze; of providing the backdrop against which one can compare his or her own habits of thinking and sense of the world. I was fortunate in having just this sort of experience while traveling in Europe.
While I will not soon forget exploring the great Western European cities, it was my time with host families on their farms that I recall most fondly and that are most stimulating in their recollection. Yet, among these highlights, one stands out from the rest. In the central Italian province of Umbria, my hosts owned a small vineyard in the Tiber river valley. It is common to witness singular determination in an effort to accomplish a particular task. I have behaved in such a manner while executing the various projects of my life, yet the efforts had always been disjointed. One goal attempted at a time without a deep and unifying theme between them. What is rare, however, is the complete dedication of one’s activities to the achievement of, not some individual project but, a manner of living.
My hosts, an older couple, had purchased their vineyard only a few years prior to my stay with them. They had abandoned their old home and careers in order to start afresh amid the foothills of the Apennines. Their aim was to convert an overgrown and forgotten plot into a fully functioning vineyard and winery. Yet this was so much more than a mere project. So driven were they to accomplish their purpose that it pervaded all aspects of their lives. To create out of formless nature, by the work of their hands and intellect, the ordered structure of their dreams was their ultimate end. With this mindset, even the most mundane chores were imbued with a certain nobility as their completion was a necessary step toward the achievement of the overarching goal. The passion with which they worked was infectious and utterly inspiring.
Experiencing my hosts’ manner of life created in me a deep respect for the sort of goal directed living that they embodied. Selecting an ultimate goal focuses one’s activity. I wish to live such a life and intend to do so.
The endings is a bit weak... I am currently drawing a blank. However, some criticism of the rest will probably help as will some more thought on my part. Thanks again for reading.