“Hello, sun in my face. Hello you who made the morning and spread it over the fields…Watch, now, how I start the day in happiness, in kindness.”
― Mary Oliver
For our final Moment Sketchers challenge of 2017, which took place just a couple of weekends ago now, I knew I wanted to sketch from somewhere special in Uruguay; somewhere new, that would be full of fresh inspiration for me and my sketchbook.
As it just so happened, José and I had a friend’s wedding to attend on the Saturday night of the challenge, in a beautiful, beachside neighborhood called El Pinar — a quick 40-minute drive from downtown Montevideo. And as it also just so happened, we had even visited El Pinar for the first time together in late November, where I immediately fell in love with the rural, rustic setting.
Forests of pine trees flowed into sand dunes. Wooden fishing boats rested on the shores of a river called Pando Creek. Even the air itself felt just a little more clear, a little more calm — and so did I.
As the date of our return to El Pinar for the wedding grew closer, I was inspired to see if we could make a weekend of it.
With visions of pine trees and Pando Creek fresh in my mind, I turned to AirBnb, curious to see if there was a place in El Pinar we could rent for the entire weekend of the wedding and our December sketching challenge — and to my great delight, there was. A yoga studio/vegetarian restaurant/retreat center called Espacio Alaluz (To the light — can you imagine a sweeter name for such a space?) had a small eco-cabin available. I couldn’t send off my reservation request fast enough.
When we arrived on Friday evening, night had already fallen and all we could see were candles and strings of white Christmas lights glowing through the woods. The restaurant’s dinner service was in full swing, and its rustic wooden tables were all full, the air alive with the sound of laughter and conversation. A bonfire burned brightly, giving off the redolent scent of woodsmoke; above us, a nearly full moon shone. Our hostess, Silvana, was waiting for us at the end of the driveway. She welcomed us with a smile, before leading us through the darkness to our cabin.
It wasn’t until the next morning that I could see the entire space in bright daylight — but oh, was it worth the wait.
It would have been enough for me that our humble cabin was surrounded by towering pine trees and that our windows were always filled with forest views, but it was as if Espacio Alaluz knew exactly what it took to make my heart sing — for everywhere you looked around the space, there were simple wooden signs painted with words and phrases in Spanish: alegria (happiness); amor (love); sonrie (smile), and my personal favorite, aqui y ahora (here and now).
On Saturday morning, as I looked around for the right inspiration for my first sketch of the weekend, I said to José, “I just feel like one of my last sketches of 2017 should make some kind of statement, you know?”
“How about that for a statement?” José said, pointing to one last sign propped up against a flower pot next to our front door.
I looked down at the sign, which had been painted a beautiful shade of goldenrod yellow. It read two simple but poignant words:
I was only disappointed I hadn’t thought of the idea myself…
El Pinar had quickly won my heart. I loved it for the birdsong. I loved it for the pines. I loved it for the slower, more natural rhythms it seemed to move by — rhythms I was already adjusting to myself. But there was one more reason my heart kept singing in contentment throughout the weekend:
My friends, there was a hammock.
Is there any better symbol of rest and relaxation than a hammock? Especially a faded, multicolored hammock strung between two pine trees, in the front yard of one’s cabin? El Pinar convinced me there isn’t.
I spent as much time as possible in our hammock that weekend. I all but sprinted there the moment I woke up both days, a cup of tea in one hand and my Kindle in the other. I sipped my chai and stared up into the canopies of pine branches and swayed from side to side, wondering when was the last time I’d felt so entirely surrounded and subsumed by the natural world. I would’ve bathed and brushed my teeth from that hammock, if it had been at all possible.
I also sketched the hammock, of course — using the sketching session as an opportunity to study the rugged patterns of bark along the pine trees and the verdant explosion of ivy and ferns framing our yard. And just before we left on Sunday afternoon, I climbed back into the hammock one last time, to spend a few final precious minutes writing in my journal.
“What a welcome respite this weekend has been, here in our cabaña in Espacio Alaluz,” I began.
I wrote about waking up to birdsong in the morning, losing myself in the forested world beyond our windows, and being swayed by the breeze in the hammock — though that wasn’t the first phrase that came to mind. I’d so nearly written being swayed to peace, because that’s exactly what it had felt like; like something had been softening inside me from the moment we arrived.
Just before leaving El Pinar, José and I walked over to Silvana’s house on the property to hand over our keys and say goodbye to her. And it was as we were leaving that I noticed one final hand-carved wooden sign hanging right beside Silvana’s front door — only this one didn’t bear just a single word such as happiness or love, but an entire sentence; a blessing.
May peace be in all who enter my home.
You might remember another weekend trip José and I took recently, to a little town in the interior of Uruguay called Aigua.
We’d picked our guesthouse there completely by chance, but were soon overcome by how beautiful it was, in the most simple and poignant of ways. It was only as we were leaving Aigua, however, that we stopped by a small visitors’ center and learned that the town’s official slogan even echoed what we’d felt there all weekend: “The beauty of simplicity.” It felt like we had been learning a valuable lesson all weekend — but were only told at the end what it was.
So as I read the sign beside Silvana’s front door in El Pinar, all I could do was smile and think to myself, “Universe, you’ve done it again.” For the second time, we’d picked a place to stay entirely by chance, and not only had that place blessed us with a timely lesson — on the very moment of our departure, it had even given us the perfect words for what exactly that lesson was.
I’m grateful for the slower rhythms and rest our cabin gave me — and I hope that wherever this story finds you today, it will leave you with some of El Pinar’s peace, too.