Four Brothers in The Ossau Valley, Day 1


When I awoke I heard bells. No, a bell. Must be the church in the village, I thought and it must be later than I’d expected. I checked my phone: 5.29. Hardly the church – it was the bell on the animal in the field we’d heard the evening before, when we stood out on the balcony and gazed out into the valley, soaking it in.

The moon lit up the valley before us, beaming down from the east over the mountains, deepening them towards a dark blue. A plane’s contrail dissected the darkening sky. Owls called from the forest and the bell rang clear and light from somewhere unseen below. Another bell, deeper and distant pealed out from further down. A bird screeched. We didn’t know what it was. A raptor, perhaps, not a jay for sure.

We were ebullient and grateful for the reunion a few hours earlier in Biarritz Airport and still somewhat giddy to be away. To be sitting around a table together eating good food and drinking good wine again. That we were in a Pyrenean valley and with a week’s walking and talking and communion ahead was like an undeserved kiss from a loved one. We had to reaffirm the fact again and again to make it real. To let it seep in. Every so often at the dinner table one of us would relax and lower our heads and just smile.

We went to bed early and I slept long and deep and dreamlessly. Even after waking at 5:29 I slept again and woke just before eight – a rare gift.

The house we were in is 400 years old and it has many tales to tell, I’m sure – times of plenty, times of paucity, times of grief and times of joy. And tonight it sheltered four reunited Irish brothers, come to rest there and walk in the mountains, plateaus and valleys all around. Together again for a week.

And it’s brilliant. It’s rare and precious and renewing and it lifts us up and lets us believe again that everything is possible, so much is worthwhile and everything is fine. Yes, everything is fine. Just fine.

The setting forth in the morning dark, the drive to Dublin, the five a.m. rise the morning before. The airport, the flight, the sun and sky on the Biarritz runway. The drive east into the valley south of Pau, the woman who brought us to the house and showed us around, the short walk before dinner to get our bearings, the setting sun, the stars, the moon. The mountains and the sleeping house.