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Telling Stories in Cornwall

by Elyn Aviva


My husband, Gary, and I recently went to Cornwall to walk meandering paths with a small group. At least, thatwas the story. One morning over breakfast at Rosemerryn House in Lamorna Valley, one of our group revealed she is a professional storyteller. She described learning to take storytelling seriously. “After all,” she mused, “We don’t usually think stories are important. At least, not in the real world.”

I realized that often the word “story” is used as a code word for “false.” As in: “Oh, that’s a likely story! You don’t really expect me to believe you, do you?” Or it’s trivialized to mean something soothing, as in, “Tell me a bedtime story.” Of course, a story is much more than that: it is how we make meaning out of our experiences—as in, “telling the story of my life.” Sometimes I identify so much with my story that instead of me telling “it,” it starts telling “me.”

That morning the group set off on a journey to Boscawen-un stone circle. Usually, my story would have been to go along. But I decided to tell a different story: a story of following where I lead myself instead of where I am led by others. 

I set off on a different journey—a journey to 2500-year-old Boleigh Fogou, an underground, stone-lined passageway (in Cornish, fogo means “cave”) hidden in nearby Rosemerryn woods. There is much debate about the original purpose of fogous (storage? A hiding place?), but it seems clear that they were primarily used for community ritual and ceremony. As a guest at Rosemerryn B&B, I had permission to visit the fogou.

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My Head Trip

by Sandra Kennedy

I used to be an extrovert.

Now, I consider myself an introvert with some extrovert added to the mix. I have a hearing loss. One ear is deaf and the other partially deaf. I feel like I have an invisible veil separating me from others. 

Two years ago, after struggling to hear with friends, travelers, servers, family, salespeople,I checked into getting hearing aids. Each time, I felt frustration as technicians told me: “they should work.” They did not work for me. It began a path towards partial isolation and frustration.

I visited specialists at Kaiser, my medical group After test results, my doctor said, “You have a brain tumor which has damaged your auditory nerve."

“Hearing aids won’t help.”

“What?” My mind raced to thoughts of my grandfather who died of brain cancer. The doctor continued, “Good news: it is not cancer. Bad news: Permanent hearing loss with residual symptoms.”

“What are the residual symptoms?” The Dr. responded, “Head pressure, tinnitus, balance issues, and vertigo (world spinning around you.) 

“You will need to decide on radiation, surgery or wait.” I felt overwhelmed in making this decision. Adrenaline started pumping through me. One part of me wanted to cry. The other part started putting together an action plan.

When feeling threatened, I override my insecurities. Friends say, “You are so brave.” I think, no I’m not. My survival tactics go into play. They see a proactive, determined person fighting the odds. The outside doesn’t match the inside. 

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Fogous and Creeps in Cornwall

by Elyn Aviva

Pendeen Fogou wasn’t a very prepossessing site. To reach it, the three of us—my husband, Gary, our guide, Cheryl Straffon, and I—had to unfasten three rusty metal gates to venture ever deeper into a farmer’s cattle yard. The broken concrete beneath our feet was covered with several layers of dried (or drying) cow manure. Cattle were lowing and resting in their own muck in the nearby pens. 

Our goal was a six-foot-tall stone structure with tall grasses and weeds growing out of the top and a yawning opening in one wall. Before we could enter the site, we had one more obstruction: a detached farm gate, which the three of us hauled over to one side. 

Bending low, we followed Cheryl down a steep, stone-lined passage deep into the earth. I was grateful I had my hiking staffs to help keep me from slipping. At the bottom, the rocky passage leveled out. My flashlight illuminated moss-covered granite walls and ceiling, the large stones carefully placed to construct the fogou. Pronounced “foo-goo,” it’s a Cornish word that means “cave,” and it refers to a human-made underground cavern.

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Explosion on the Mountain

by Nancy King


It was a gorgeous day for a hike--sunny, blue skies, comfortable temperature-perfect hiking weather. F suggested we hike up to the summit of the 12,000’ peak, taking our time, enjoying the profusion of wildflowers that had suddenly emerged after the night’s rain. She was used to hiking at lower altitudes, so we stopped whenever she needed to catch her breath or eat a snack. We climbed in companionable silence, finding the meandering path up to the top with no trouble.

Photo by John Fowler via Flickr CCL

When we reached the top, both of us feeling triumphant, she high-fived me and we stood, enjoying the panoramic view. When we noticed that the gray clouds were turning dark, we decided to have lunch lower down, where we had a great view of a mountain lake.

Almost as soon as we started eating, it began to rain. We put on our rain gear, packed up our food, and started hiking down the mountain. The temperature dropped. Balls of hail mixed with the rain. Rivulets of water poured down what we thought was the trail.

Suddenly she screamed at me. “I’m not doing this anymore. Why do you always have to hike? Why can’t we ride bikes? This is dangerous!”

I told her, “I look at it as an adventure.”

“It’s not an adventure, it’s dangerous.”

Habitually, when someone is angry at me, blaming me, I “check out,” go deep inside myself and wait for the assault to be over. Since I was so stunned by her anger, by her irrational accusations, by her acting as if I were to blame for the weather, I shut down and focused on finding the way down. I wasn’t sure what was a trail and what was water running down the steep slope, but I figured if we kept to the right and kept going down, we’d be okay.  As I hiked, I tried to avoid the water gushing down the path. She followed me.

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In Search of Quiet

by B.J. Stolbov


Deep in the barren Sonora Desert of Southwestern U.S, three days away from the last person I saw, I was hiking alone, in search of quiet. The desert has always been the one place that spiritual seekers, saints, and sinners have gone in search of quiet. 

Sonoran Desert, Prima, Arizona. Photo by Ken Bosma via Flickr CCLExcept that, in reality, the desert was not quiet. Its incessant winds whistled by my ears and rumbled up through my feet. Dead and dying grasses tumbled and rolled by.  Snakes slithered, lizards clicked, and hares scurried across the sand. The winds sang beneath the wings of hovering vultures and under the claws of lingering thoughts.

There, hiking alone through the desert, reveling in my own silence, late in the afternoon on a tranquil summer’s day, I suddenly came upon a rattlesnake, which startled me with its rattle, louder than any rock concert I had ever been to.  I stopped, the snake did not strike, we stared at each other, and then we both quietly went our separate ways. 

Sound and silence can come in unanticipated places and at unpredictable times. 

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Jules’s Very Dumb Day in Luxembourg 

by Jules Older


If you travel, you will have dumb days. That's a given. You’ll get on the Metro, but on the wrong train, and you’ll end up at the wrong end of Paris. You’ll order dinner in Tokyo, and with a flourish, the waiter will set what appear to be raw snails in front of you. You’ll book a hotel in Miami, and when you get there, discover that the elevator hasn't worked since the Nixon administration. These are dumb days. They will happen.

The trick is to avoid VDDs — very dumb days.

I just survived one. Barely.

Jules’s Very Dumb Day began in our hotel room in Luxembourg City. We’d been here a week, a week of nothing but sunshine and warmth. Okay, maybe I'd grown cocky about the weather. 

Now, we were heading north to Vianden, a town of winding, cobbled streets; an ancient mountaintop castle, lovingly restored; and such overwhelming charm that… well, in 1871, Victor Hugo found refuge here. 

Bet he brought his raincoat. Though I’d searched our hotel room from gurgle to zatch, I couldn't find mine. Not that it was raining — just in case. After seven straight days of Luxembourg sunshine, no worries.

We took the Hop-on Hop-off Bus to Vianden. We arrived at 11 a.m., and though he spoke no English, the driver assured us in the modern traveler’s Yiddish — FranglishDeutch — that he'd pick us up at exactly 2 p.m. on that self-same spot. And off he drove.

That was where we had to make our first decision. Walk up to the castle or down to the tourist chairlift, then hike from the top of the chair to the castle. Effin said.  “I felt a raindrop. Let’s walk up. It’s shorter.”

I said, “Nah, let’s take the lift. It’ll be an adventure.”


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