When I was growing up in Danville, Illinois, I never dreamt that one day I’d be living on the south coast of the island of Crete with a balcony overlooking the Libyan Sea. In spite of that lack of childhood clairvoyance, I felt an immediate comforting sense of familiarity in Loutro. In so many ways it was like coming home. Without thought, I easily fell back into the routine of participating in communal activities. It was as if the universe knew what it had been preparing me for, even if I hadn’t.
When the morning ferry arrived from Sfakia, half of the village congregated on the beach with wheelbarrows, waiting to claim their morning supplies. I offered my help to whomever needed it. It reminded me of summertime on Dorothy’s farm in Indiana. There were other times I thought of our visits to the Wiese’s farm on Voorhees Street. As I filleted fish over the bathroom sink, I finally appreciated the little I had learned about fishing from my dad. As I made my way up the steep hill to the castle ruins each morning, I understood the role my solitary summers in Kickapoo State Park had played in the preparation for my life on Crete.
Hindsight is indeed 20/20. As I look back upon my life I understand that in one sense nothing is simple, but in another way, everything is simpler than we think. I had followed my bliss as my mentor Joseph Campbell had suggested. It led me from the exciting hustle and bustle of the cities to a small village in the Greek Islands where I had come full circle to the place where I had begun. I had come home. A place where we never locked our door. A place where everyone knew everyone else’s name. A place where everyone was simply a member of an infinite extended family. A place where we all could see with our own eyes that we needed each other, that we were all important parts of the whole.
EASTER MORNING 1993
A German man named Mike brought his flute to our yoga class the day before Easter. After class he introduced us to his soothing improvisational style. On Easter morning we sat on our balcony, wrapped in blankets, anticipating that moment just before sunrise, when the bay turns blood red from the reflection of the eastern morning sky. We both noticed Mike sitting on the rooftop of the building where he rented a room, but thought nothing of it. But then, as the tip of the upper portion of the sun touched the horizon, I heard a soft faint tone that grabbed my heart, bringing tears to my eyes. With the sound of his flute, Mike slowly pulled the sun up into the blood red sky, increasing the volume, pulling the sun higher and brighter, washing away the blood, bringing the news of the resurrection of daylight. I was sad for everyone who slept through this glorious moment, or for those who were just too busy to notice the miracle. I celebrated my return to a place where I could feel my pulse beating to the rhythm of all creation. A place that lured people who understood how to participate in creating magic, by using nature as a partner. A place where I could appreciate the miracle of sunrise along with my place in the greater universe.
On the beach in front of the kiosk, an effigy of Judas hung over a huge pile of twigs and other wood, waiting to be burned at sunset. As we walked through the village, grandmothers came from doorways, to give us bright red colored eggs, representing the blood of Christ. The hard shell symbolized the sealed tomb of Christ. Cracking the egg represented Christ’s resurrection from the dead. I felt like I had stepped back in time to a place where people still remembered the origin of traditions, before they had been co-opted by corporations for profit.
As the morning wore on, the air was filled with the aroma of sacrificial goats, slaughtered for the feast of the resurrection. Tsourike sweet bread, baked on Holy Thursday, was now handed out as offerings during Easter Sunday. Like the red eggs, the bread has its own mythology. The rising of the bread represents Christ’s resurrection from the tomb, while the red eggs are often baked in the bread or laid on top of the bread to represent the blood of Christ. In early traditions, the braiding of the bread was meant to ward off evil spirits.
THE KÄUZCHEN AND THE FULL MOON
In Loutro, our first relationship with a non-human came in the form of a goat we affectionately named Lucy. Lucy reminded us of our dog Lucy, in both appearance and behavior. Our dog Lucy thought she was a cat, but the goat Lucy thought she was human. Lucy came to every yoga class, deliberately separating herself from the rest of the herd, their presence perceive only by the gentle sound of bells ringing from the distant hillside. Lucy’s bell however, could often be heard violently clanging as she desperately tried to escape with a yoga student’s backpack. She was very adept at unzipping the backpacks to remove someone’s lunch or an apple designated for an after yoga snack. Nobody seemed to care except the shepherd who could not accept a goat with a mind of its own. We all adopted Lucky as our mascot, eventually adding a warning before classes, for all students to keep their backpacks close to their yoga mats.
It didn’t take long to understand that full moons in Loutro were an undeniably big event each month! After sunset the first light of the full moon could be detected behind the hills that spread from Sfakia up to the village of Anapolis, directly above Loutro. Soon the first edge of the enormous yellow ball of light would begin to slide out from behind the mountains, until the entire moon was exposed across the now shimmering water of Loutro Bay. Tourists would gasp in appreciation, local men would down shots of Ouzo like water and inevitably, during the night, someone would start a fight, or tables and chairs would be thrown into the water, or somebody’s husband would be caught sleeping with a tourist. No one was spared the energy of the full moon.
It was on the night of a full moon that I first met the käuzchen. In German it means the little owl. On that first night the käuzchen came to me in my dreams, the sound of his piercing call penetrating from the waking world into my dream world. When I awoke the next morning, just before sunrise, he was perched on the balcony, facing my bed just a few feet away. He stayed just long enough to establish our relationship, then flew up the mountain side, perhaps to rest in a tree until sunset. During the following months and years, in my heightened state of awareness, I had to acknowledge that the owl was always there in the background, calling, during each intense spiritual experience or transformation in my ever changing new life.
A pattern began to emerge. When the owl’s call would penetrate my dreams, I would awaken with a sudden sense of energy and purpose. There was no use trying to go back to sleep. I would quietly pull on my shorts and shoes and walk outside, careful not to wake Rob. Then the owl would hop from tree to tree, calling, then waiting for me to come closer, as if leading me to some important destination. On nights when there was no moon, I was surprised to find the path up the mountainside lit by the Milky Way, and perhaps all the other stars that seemed to hang from the sky like millions of tiny droplets of light, ready to fall down upon the earth. Each time the käuzchen would lead me to another destination to have a different experience. Each time I came closer to nature, to my self, to my true path! When I came completely away from the influence of the artificial light of the modern world, I connected to the timeless energy of spirit. The olive trees had stories to tell. I could feel the energies of humans who had walked the same paths perhaps centuries before. In that state of peace, even my clothes and my shoes seemed like the last links in the chain of possessions that obscured my view of true spirit. The only material possession I had left to cling to was my dense temporal body. If I let go of it, I could surely fly!
One night on a full moon the käuzchen came once again, but this time, instead of the mountain path behind Pandalitza’s house, he came to my balcony. I put on my shoes and shorts and began the familiar routine of chasing him from tree to tree. But on this night he led me down through the village to the path that follows the coast west to Phoenix. When we came to the ancient Minoan ruins, just beyond the chapel, the käuzchen flew up the hill leading up to the tower above Loutro. There was no path to the tower. It was strewn with huge rocks, a dangerous way for anyone but a goat. I stood on the Phoenix path below, bewildered, staring up at the tower that was illuminated by the bright moonlight. The käuzchen was persistent in his call to me. His short pierce screeching now echoed in the empty chamber of the tower. My heart began to race and I was reintroduced to an old friend called fear.
But then something or someone touched my left shoulder and the fear was replaced with an all consuming peace. I would swear I heard the sound of Lucy’s bell clanging as if she had just absconded with someone’s backpack. Without forethought I jumped onto the first rock and began a quick and deliberate ascension to the tower above. My ascent was accompanied by the sound of Lucy’s bell as if it were attached to my own neck. I flew from stone to stone without fear as if my feet never really touched the rocks, but simply brushed by them in flight. The next thing I knew I was standing in the entrance of the tower, looking up into the moonlight. There on the ridge of the tower sat the käuzchen, looking down with what seemed great approval. Then he flew off into the White Mountains and I never saw or heard him again.
It was the beginning of another beautiful sunny day in paradise. My husband Rob and I had risen just after sunrise as we did every morning in Loutro. This gave us plenty of time to prepare for the morning yoga class in the castle ruins. As we sat on the balcony enjoying our morning cups of getreidekaffee, we noticed a sailing yacht had appeared in the bay overnight. It was rare but not unheard of, so we paid it little attention. Off we went up the hill to greet the next German, British or Dutch yoga enthusiasts. As soon as the bay was out of sight, thoughts of the yacht disappeared.
Two hours later, as we descended down the path to Pandalitza’s, we noticed some commotion in the village. This too was not unusual, so we dismissed it, then prepared our late breakfast. If anything is wrong, we though, someone will tell us eventually. After breakfast we smudged the room with native American sage, a gift from Arizona. Just as the room was filled with the aroma of burning sage smoke, our landlord Geórgios walked by the door, as he did every morning. But on this morning Geórgios failed to deliver his usual morning greeting of Yassou! Instead he seemed to increase his pace as if to deliberately get away quickly.
When our landlady Pandalitza appeared in our doorway with a concerned look on her face, we knew something was terribly wrong. As soon as the first words left her lips, we knew the day had taken a swift turn away from the ordinary. The words that stood out from the rest were “Police ask about Rob, Bob.” Then in her best English, as she made the motions of a person smoking a joint, Pandalitza made it clear that she and Geórgios didn’t care, BUT the police ask about Rob, Bob. Suddenly the image of Geórgios running away made sense. I walked over to the ziplock plastic bag that held the two smudge sticks from Arizona, with the intent to explain to Pandalitza. When I raised the bag from the table, Pandalitza raised her hand in the air, then disappeared as quickly as Geórgios had earlier. Five minutes later I followed Pandalitza down to their residence, knocked on her door, plastic bag in hand, still expecting to be able to explain that it contained sage, not marijuana. Pandalitza took one look at the bag, then slammed the door.
In situations like this, we would walk down to the Hotel Porto Loutro to ask for advice from Alison, the British wife of the hotel owner. Alison had a way of condensing her opinion into a succinct, never to be misunderstood response. She responded to us with a question. “Did the police come to talk to you? Don’t worry, I took care of it!” She explained that the Yacht in the harbor had been pirated by drug smugglers, perhaps in North Africa. They unloaded during the night then disappeared into the White Mountains. The police then focused on the two long haired yoga teachers, the perfect stereotypes of drug users, I guess. Alison explained that the entire village came to our defense.
That still left Geórgios and Pandalitza thinking we were using marijuana. We couldn’t let that stand. So I devised a plan. Each evening Pandalitza would sit on the wall near her mother’s kiosk. That was the perfect place and time to ambush her. I decided the first words from my mouth had to be the words that would end the confusion once and for all. I stood before Pandalitza and her mother, raised the plastic bag containing sage, pointed to the bag and said the Greek word for incense. The I said the word ecclisia, (church), then repeated ecclisia, California incense. Suddenly Pandalitza put her hand to her head to indicate that she now understood. She smiled, turned to her mother to explain in Greek, then we all laughed together.
The next morning Geórgios greeted us through the back door with a very friendly Yassou! Then he laughed. The kind of laugh that says, “okay, I get it now!”
THE MINOANS AND ME
From my story “The Tower Above Loutro”:
“Was there ever a time when the knowledge of the castle was not within me? My memory of Loutro is as old as the oldest ruin. In that first journey from Sfakia… we rented a fishing boat with four other tourists to bring us to Loutro.
I was startled to see the Venetian castle ruins ahead as we approached the village on our fifteen minute ride from Sfakia. As Loutro's buildings finally came into view on that warm evening in 1991, I instantly felt that my wandering soul had found a sanctuary in this tiny village clinging to the rocky coast of southern Crete.”
From my story “The Käuzchen and the Full Moon”:
“But then something or someone touched my left shoulder and the fear was replaced with an all consuming peace. I would swear I heard the sound of our goat Lucy’s bell clanging as if she had just absconded with someone’s backpack. Without forethought I jumped onto the first rock and began a quick and deliberate ascension to the tower above. My ascent was accompanied by the sound of Lucy’s bell as if it were attached to my own neck. I flew from stone to stone without fear as if my feet never really touched the rocks, but simply brushed by them in flight. The next thing I knew I was standing in the entrance of the tower, looking up into the moonlight. There on the ridge of the tower sat the käuzchen, looking down with what seemed great approval. Then he flew off into the White Mountains and I never saw or heard him again.”
Standing in the doorway to a building that was probably built more than three thousand years ago, I tried to imagine what life was like then. This was different from the pages of the encyclopedia I devoured in my wanderlust as a teenager. I could actually place my hand on the doorframe, knowing that a craftsman in another millennium had proudly constructed it. At first I simply closed my eyes, imagining children laughing and playing in gardens beside the buildings. Then I began to see the inhabitants of another time with my eyes open. Once I had opened my heart, they were always there. I felt their presence as I stumbled up the hill to the castle in the midday heat. They came often to my dreams, telling me secrets about their lives. Sharing their fears.
I knew my life was at its best in those days in Loutro. I had seen the rest of the world. I knew I would never again find the connection to spirit that I found in this small village on the south coast of Crete. I had known about it as a child. I had dreamed about it as an adult. On that first boat ride from Sfakia, I recognized the portal, a tear in time, that revealed all moments as one moment. Sometimes, back in my homeland, in spite of all the distractions, I catch a moment’s glimpse into that timeless portal. And I wonder if I try hard enough, can I get back to that place of peace and acceptance again without actually dying?
THE RIDE HOME
Being in Loutro early in the spring means being cut off from the rest of the world even more than usual. We hired a small fishing boat from Sfakia to bring us to Loutro with all our bags. On the second day back we heard a rumor that there was a store open in Anopoli. We hiked two hours straight up the mountain only to find white bread and chocolate. Someone advised me to take the 2:30 p.m. bus from Sfakia to Hania to pick up supplies. Each day for the following three days I hiked along the mountain path to Sfakia, two hours in each direction. Each day I was told by the locals that a bus would go to Hania at 2:30 p.m. but each day there was no bus. On the fourth day three different people came to me to say there would be no bus that day. At exactly 2:30 p.m. a bus arrived and I began the journey through the White Mountains to the north coast.
I stayed in a cheap room overnight in Hania. The next morning I got up early and went out armed with my large backpack ready to buy supplies for the next two weeks. It turned out to be a national holiday and everything was closed. I had to laugh at my situation following an orderly winter in Germany. In Greece I was once again forced to live in the moment, forced to give up stressing about schedules. I did my shopping the next morning and arrived at the 11:00 a.m. bus to Sfakia, my backpack splitting at the seams. I was afraid to wait for the afternoon bus for fear it would be another phantom bus.
There were only three passengers on the bus, two women from Loutro and myself. Chrisoula ran the small kiosk on the beach next to the school house. She was also the mother of our landlady Pandaletza. Katina lived in an original Cretan house at the end of the dock. She lived a 19th century life with her mother, who dressed in black with a black scarf covering her head. They still cooked on a stone wood stove outside in front of their home. They are direct descendants of Daskalogianis, a Cretan hero who’s statue stands in the square in Anopoli.”
Chrisoula and Katina understood about as much English as I did Greek. Somehow they were able to convey to me that I could ride back to Loutro with them in a boat from Sfakia at 4:00 p.m. Rob was supposed to be waiting for me in Sfakia the day before, to help carry the supplies back by foot. I was sure he would be waiting on this day also, even if he didn’t know about the holiday the day before. As the bus pulled into Sfakia two hours later, Rob was waiting. We spent the next three hours with Krisoula and Katina at a taverna. At 4:00 o’clock Krisoula was screaming into the pay telephone. We had no idea what was happening, we just laughed when Katina laughed. We were really laughing at ourselves for the situation we were in. By 5:15 nobody was laughing anymore, but Krisoula was still on the pay phone screaming. When she came back to the table, she motioned for us to put our bags into a nearby fishing boat.
We had all positioned ourselves for the ride to Loutro, as the boat slowly pushed away from the dock. Just as we were turned around in the middle of the bay, pointing out to sea, we could hear the faint sound of a horn in the distance. Suddenly Chrisoula was standing in the middle of the boat, rocking it back and forth as we clung to the sides. Chrisoula screamed at the fisherman as he turned the boat around, while rolling his eyes. We headed back to shore, with Katina sitting beside us laughing hysterically. We could not help but follow her lead. The truck drove through the village still honking his horn in rapid succession. The driver jumped out and began throwing cases of cigarettes into the boat. Rob and I looked at each other, smiling cautiously. Who of our friends would believe that we, brightly dressed, long haired Californians, would be sailing off into the sunset with two Greek women in black dresses, one of them the tobacco baroness of Loutro. The fisherman tried his best to keep his masculine composure as his four passengers laughed all the way to Loutro. We were home!
There was something distinctly different about that spring of 1993. Perhaps it was because we were comparing it with the spring before. Both of our hearts shuttered when Pandelitza kept saying Kastro Kaput! Pointing to the castle on the hill she was trying to tell us that part of the west wall had fallen during a winter storm. We were relieved when we came to the castle to find that only a small portion of the wall had indeed fallen. We were treated to the usual spring storms and rainy days spent inside our room. Between storms, Rob and I worked to prepare the castle floor for the yoga students. Once again the floor had become a blanket of grass and wild flowers. We reconstructed the spiral for the walking meditation in the circle of stones at the entrance.
On April 1st the ferry began service and the tourist season began. Our good friend Barbara arrived from Switzerland on the 3rd. We greeted the regulars as they got off the ferry each day from Sfakia. Easter is always like a family reunion in Loutro, because many of the same tourists return each year. On April 8th Jorg and Ingrid returned and took a room in Pandelitza's house. The family was together now with Wolfgang and Andrea and Johanna from Berlin, and Uli and Manuela also from Berlin. We all prepared for the celebration of Easter and then the Greek Easter again one week later. Indeed, now we were truly home.
ON THE WATERFRONT
Living in a village that is only accessible by foot or by boat puts the world in a different perspective. Growing up in the midwest, my imagination of space was always drawn across vast flat plains of corn and soybeans. Standing in one of those fields, one could turn around 360 degrees and see as far as the eye could see in every direction. Standing on my balcony in Loutro, except for the cove connecting to the Libyan Sea, we were surrounded by hills that became bigger hills until they led to snow capped mountains on the other side of Anopoli. In that environment, even the concept of time is altered by the dependence on ferries. We did not measure time from hour to hour, but from ferry to ferry. The ferry landed directly in front of our balcony on the other side of the church. Rob once said, “everything I need to know about the world I can see from my balcony.” But then he would add with a smile, “but if something really big happens somewhere in the world, a tourist on the next ferry will be more than happy to bring us the news.”
The ferries were our lifeline to the world. Not only did they bring the next tourists, but each morning they brought new supplies for the entire village. Of course I would be remiss if I failed to mention my childhood memories of the trains pulling into the C&EI station on their ways to Chicago and New Orleans. But those trains were bound by fixed tracks. When I looked out over the water of Loutro Bay, my imagination was no longer tied to fixed tracks, but was fluid like the water that carries the boats. I was allowed to imagine infinite possibilities. In the springtime, the sands of the Sahara Desert, carried by warm rains, fell on whitewashed buildings turning them brown, to remind us that on the other side of the Libyan Sea is Libya. And on the other side of Libya is the entire continent of Africa. Knowing that we shared our early morning red sunrises with people in the middle east, brought home the fact that we were just one country away from the beginning of exotic Asia. And stories of the Sfakia battle against the Nazis brought memories of my father’s stories of sailing from North Africa to Sicily during World War 2.
Sitting on the balcony each evening, we patiently awaited the last ferry from Agia Roumeli, carrying tourists from the Samaria Gorge to their waiting buses in Sfakia. It was always a solemn occasion for us, because we saw our other selves on those boats. The selves that once waited for those two weeks each year to enjoy our dreams before returning to our jobs. So just before walking down to our yellow dinner table at Maria’s, we would give thanks for all the life struggles that gave us the courage to jump off the cliff and embrace the life we now lived.
On May 13, 1994, standing on our balcony in Loutro, Crete, I was watching the ferry approaching the shore when I saw a man and woman with a baby waving from the deck. Soon Stefan appeared in the doorway to room #8, excited and out of breath. His head was covered with a long scarf that was tied in the back like a pony tail. Rob and I met Stefan two years earlier when he was still a medical student doing his internship in a hospital in Salzburg, Austria. I had met Stefan at Sweetwater Beach. One night he came to our room to play his guitar and sing songs. Stefan had told me he only played alone in his room, because he wasn't good enough to play for other people. After hearing him sing and play his entire repertoire we decided he was wrong. The evening was definitely about male intimacy. I was discovering a kind of male intimacy I had only imagined when I saw the way women interacted in America. I assumed, as American boys were taught to assume, that this was not the kind of behavior that would be tolerated between two men in America.
It was interesting to see our California perspectives of life constantly challenge Stefan’s left brain, absolute presumptions. But in return, we were constantly challenged by the ease with which he shared intimacy. We had eventually gotten him to agree to say "maybe" instead of no, whenever we confronted him with new ideas. Stefan confided in me that he was in love with a nun at the hospital where he interned. He was surprised when I asked him if he had told her that he loves her. I told him he should pretend he’s from California and tell her, then he would have the opportunity to find out if she loved him. He said it may have already been too late because she had been transferred to another convent because of him.
On his final morning, at the last minute, Stefan came to the yoga class before going off to catch the ferry. Up until then he had refused to come to classes. He had come to tell us he loved us, a phrase he seemed totally at ease repeating often. For Rob, Stefan coming to the yoga class was the ultimate act of love. Rob was really moved by this simple gesture.
Stefan had returned to Austria, professed his love for the nun, Marianne, married her, and had now returned to Loutro, with his wife and new born child. It was a story that could have been right out of the pages of the musical “The Sound Of Music.” During their brief stay in Loutro in 1994, a family was born. One day when they were walking to Marble Beach, Stefan had tripped and nearly fallen all the way down a steep section of the trail, leaving Marianne and the baby, Veronika, behind. Marianne was afraid of losing her husband. She later explained to Stefan that if anything should happen to them she would want Rob and Bob to raise their child. Stefan told us he would tell his daughter she has three fathers, Stefan, Rob and Bob.
One year later as I sat beside Rob’s hospital bed in London, watching him struggle to stay alive, Stefan did what family members do in times of need. He dropped everything and came to London to support us. I don’t think I would have survived without Stefan! He took the room just across the hall from mine in the pension. When Rob died, Stefan and I were with him, as well as our London friend Adriano. In that moment my relationship with Dr. Strasser was sealed forever. A few months later I was invited to stay with the Strassers at their home in Mürzzuschlag, in the Austrian Alps. There we planned a memorial service for the next spring in the castle ruins above Loutro, where Rob and I had taught yoga.
The next spring, 1996, I spoke with Stefan before I left the States to return to Greece for Rob’s memorial. His son David had been born a few weeks before, so Stefan told me they would not be able to come to Greece. The evening before the memorial, after the last ferry had departed, I was sure that everyone had arrived for the next morning’s ceremony. As I was walking back to my room I was greeted by Stefan from the balcony at Pandalitza’s. They had gotten a last minute flight, unfortunately arriving in Sfakia after the last ferry had left for Loutro. They had hiked on the dangerous trail from Sfakia, in the dark, with a three year old girl and a six week old baby boy so they would be there for Rob’s memorial. Once again I was overwhelmed by the ease with which they were able to demonstrate unconditional love.
LUCY THE YOGA GOAT
Castle Ruins Above Loutro
Rob and Bob taught yoga classes in a 13th century castle ruins above the village of Loutro, Crete from 1991 to 1994. In September, 1991, we met a goat with a personality very similar to our dog Lucy. Naturally we named the goat Lucy, which immediately drew ridicule from the shepherds as well as many of the locals. Lucy was very well known in the village for her mischief making. The personality traits that annoyed others only endeared Lucy to Rob and I even more. It was not uncommon to see people throwing rocks at this headstrong goat. Perhaps this is why Rob and I decided to unofficially adopt her.
Lucy the Yoga Goat
Early each morning while Lucy’s herd was making its way up the mountain, Lucy would steal away to the castle ruins. This is how Rob and I came to know her, as we were preparing for the morning yoga classes. We both agreed that Lucy was not really a goat. We joked that perhaps she was human in another life, trapped in the body of a goat in this incarnation. So against all the local wisdom, in spite of the counsel of the experts on goat herding, we developed a relationship with Lucy the naughty goat.
Yoga in the castle ruins above Loutro
Like all the other goats in her herd, Lucy had a bell tied to her neck. Lucy’s bell had a very peculiar ring, made even more distinctive when she was running away from her latest mischief. Lucy liked to steal backpacks. She was very skilled at unzipping them to remove the apples, oranges and bananas tourists liked to bring along as snacks. She had learned that the relaxation segment at the end of each yoga class was the perfect moment to grab a pack and run. So we made adjustments to our practice to be sure she was unable to abscond with our students’ belongings while also disrupting the meditation. We rewarded Lucy for her good behavior by giving her oranges after the class was finished. She soon adapted to her new life, becoming the yoga mascot.
Lucy waiting for her treat at the end of the yoga class
Each March when we returned to the castle ruins to prepare for another season, Rob and I would eagerly anticipate the return of Lucy the Yoga Goat. In 1994, we had been to the castle daily for about a week with no sign of Lucy. I carried her photo in my backpack to show the shepherd on our first meeting. When I showed him the photo he immediately made a gesture with his arm, drawing his hand across the front of his neck. He used the German word kaput to indicate that Lucy was no longer in this world. Of course we knew what that meant in a culture that raised goats for food. We were guests in their land. This was part of the experience of traveling the world. It’s called Sati in Buddhism. Mindfulness of the present moment without judgment. It was not easy, because we really loved Lucy. But what other choice did we have? Obviously she still lives in my heart, 21 years later. She also resides in my character, in that part of me that continues to honor the fact that all living things are connected in spirit.
TO LOUTRO WITH LOVE
I was startled to see the Venetian castle ruins ahead as we approached the village on our fifteen minute ride from Sfakia. As Loutro's buildings finally came into view on that warm evening in September, 1991, I instantly felt that my wandering soul had found a sanctuary in this tiny village clinging to the rocky coast of southern Crete.
Twenty nine years ago on September 11, 1991, Rob and Bob arrived in Loutro for the first time. There is no other single event that has changed my life more than my arrival in Loutro, Crete! That’s where I go in my mind when I want to find peace and spirit. That’s where I go in my mind when I remember happiness, contentment, love and a sense of community. That where I go to remember the last unspoiled paradise, the last place where it was possible to clearly see the connection to our past in an unspoiled environment. That’s the place I dream of going back to just one more time before I die!
photo by Joel Christian Cook
The silhouetted ruins of the castle on the hill were like a constant beacon, pulling us ever closer. Soon we made our first pilgrimage. The grounds were cloaked in an utter and age-old silence. All around us were silvery olive groves clinging to the rugged mountain terrain. Not a single person, neither sight nor sound of modern civilization, marred this unchanged landscape. It was a typically hot September day, so Rob and I decided to lie down and rest in the shadow of an olive tree.
As my back came into contact with the earth I was plunged into a timeless place where the separation between dreams and reality united under the incandescent Cretan sun. I was awakened by the gentle sound of goat bells from the distant hillside. The sun was now repositioned behind the western mountains. A gentle breeze encouraged us to rise and continue on our journey with a newfound sense of strength and perception as we, like so many other wayfarers before us, traced the ancient mountain path back to Loutro.
We very quickly began to feel we were part of the village. We never really felt like outsiders. We felt like part of a large family. Loutro became home in both our hearts. It became the place we always went back to in our minds when we felt homesick. And our adopted family there will always be family!
When Rob was in hospital in London, all he talked about was Loutro. When Rob left this world, I took him home. And my Greek family gave me the kind of support and love you would expect from a family!
Still, 29 years later, when I want to feel the kind of peace and security that makes my heart sing, I imagine I'm on Pandalitza's balcony, of room number 8, with Rob by my side.
One day, if at all possible, I will return for one last visit before I die. But if that is not possible, I will return anyway. Because I do believe that is where I belong!