The Sunday Salon: Washing Ashore

Here in Three Pines they noticed the migration of the geese, and the prickly chestnuts ripening on the trees, and the bobbing black-eyed Susans in bloom. They noticed the barrel of apples outside Monsieur Beliveau’s general store, free for the taking. They noticed the fresh harvest at the farmer’s market and the new arrivals at Myrna’s New and Used Bookstore. They noticed Olivier’s daily specials at the bistro. Reine-Marie noticed that Armand was happy. And healthy. And Armand noticed that Reine-Marie was happy and healthy too, here in the little village in the valley. Three Pines couldn’t hide them from the woes of the world, but it could help heal the wounds.” from The Nature of the Beast, by Louise Penny

Three Pines, oil painting, by Paula Ford, Artist

One can’t help noticing the irony of it, in this season where cards and carols proclaim “Peace on Earth, Goodwill to Men,” that acts of violence and terror seem to abound both far and near. As fear, intolerance, and hatred breed a global culture of paranoia and hate, it’s sometimes difficult if not impossible to find the spirit of our Christian holiday.

This week I’ve been immersed in the latest installment of Louise Penny’s Three Pines series, books I love for many reasons,  but perhaps mostly for the way they transport me to this place in the Eastern Townships of Quebec, this village nestled deep in a valley, marked by three tall pine trees that signify it as safe haven, a sanctuary. 

Oh, do I need a Sanctuary. 

And it’s not that “bad things” don’t happen in Three Pines, because in every one of Penny’s 10 previous novels, something “bad” does indeed happen in Three Pines. While life there may appear uncomplicated, and is blessedly so in many respects, the residents have complex histories that create even more complex situations. It is always left to the inimitable Armand Gamache, a Chief Inspector in the Surete, to ferret out a conclusions, something he always manages to accomplish in his trademark thoughtful and compassionate manner. He is a man who deeply feels the suffering of others, who believes that there is an intrinsic goodness in most people; a  man who seeks to understand and explain rather than rush to condemnation and conviction.

A man who believes in violence only as a last resort, a man whose mind and heart are his most powerful weapons.

In my heart of hearts, I’m yearning for a place like Three Pines, a place where life is not only slower paced but smaller, where everything one needs can be obtained right there, where friends gather to share good food, ideas, stories. To notice “the migration of the geese, the prickly chestnuts ripening on the trees, and the bobbing black-eyed Susans in bloom.” There are days when I’m sorely tempted to get in my car and start driving, searching for such a sanctuary where I could retreat and rest for the remainder of my days.

“Travelers came upon the village unexpectedly,” Penny writes. “They sat in the bistro, having stopped just to relieve themselves and get something to eat. They drank their cafe au lairs and ate the pain au chocolate, and consulted their maps. Never once looking up and around.

And then they left, climbing out of the lifeboat and back into the ocean. And they swam away. In search of the job, the person, the big house that would save them.

But every now and then someone did look up. And around. And saw that they’d arrived. They’d made it shore. Not many, but it was unmistakably and unforgettable when it happened. (The look on their faces) wasn’t joy, it wasn’t happiness. It was relief."

Should I ever be lucky enough to wash ashore in a place like Three Pines, I hope I have the wisdom and courage to recognize it and embrace it. 

In the meantime, I’m grateful to wash ashore in books (like Penny’s) that provide their own form of respite, that allow me glimpses of what a peaceful life can be, and encourage me to seek ways of creating my own sanctuary here where I am right now.

How about you? What books or fictional locations give you a sense of sanctuary?