The Old Forester…

Last Saturday, Rumpole and I were babysitting Mousey.  She had just gone down for a nap, he and I were sitting on the pation writing up the grocery list so Rumpole could go off shopping. We were expecting Andras, an old friend of Anyu’s to come and bunk with us for the weekend, and were concerned about feeding him the right Hungarian foods during his stay. Rumpole insisted on Paprikas Csirke (Chicken Paprikash) with Voros Kaposzta and Nokkedli. This is an old standby recipe that we have fed to many friends and visitors. Poor Andras, he not only had Hungarian food to look forward to at his Sopron Foresters Picnic on Sunday, but also for the main meals at our house. Rumpole went off, humming, to buy the necessary groceries.

Later that evening, with dinner assembled and slow cooking in the oven, we waited for Andras to arrive. He was two hours later than anticipated, so we were beginning to worry that he had troubles with traffic or had got lost on his way to our house. When he finally showed up, we were relieved and made him familiar with the facilities of the house, got him settled in his room and poured him the glass of wine he requested.

I had not seen him for twenty years, and during that time both of us had changed considerably.  He was shorter than I remembered, his hair all white yet he was straight and spry and full of energy at 78 years of age. The last time we had met at Anyu’s I was bald and skinny, having just got out from the Leukemia ward. He now expressed amazement at my shock of curly grey hair.

After dinner, Rumpole and I asked him questions about his early years in Canada, and of how he and an organized group of students and faculty from the Sopron School of Forestry managed to arrive en masse after leaving Hungary. He talked about the differences in forestry practices in these two regions, and of the impact a European model of forest management had on Canadian methods. My head was reeling with so much information later that night after we had all gone to bed.  I lay in bed, tossing and turning, thinking, trying to process all he had told us.

The following day, he went off to his day-long picnic.  When he returned later in the evening he was full of stories of friends he had seen there, of how they were coping in retirement.  He was full of energy and wanting to share his impressions of his day. He shared with us a video of the 50th Anniversary of the Sopron arrivals; showed us photographs of his latest horse-back riding adventures in the Coastal Range.  There he was, in these pictures: looking dashing on horseback as befitted a man trained in the Hungarian Cavalry more than 60 years ago; energetically pitching a tent in the wilderness; and poking about among the vegetation on talus slopes, studying the flora. I brought out all the Hungarian books I had retrieved from Anyu’s book collection after her death and showed them to Andras.  He picked out two that were classics of Hungarian literature and which he did not have a copy. “Take them to read” I suggested, “returning them will give you an excuse to come and stay with us again”. Andras was frustrated that he couldn’t read them in bed that evening because he had misplaced his reading glasses in his travels.

On the way to bed Rumpole whispered to me “That Andras is indefatigable. I just hope I have that kind of energy when at his age!”

The following morning, as Andras was loading up his car and warming it up, Rumpole and I were sipping our morning coffee. Andras came in all aflutter and announced there was something wrong with his car.  Rumpole went out in his pajamas and discovered that the car’s radiator was leaking like a sieve. We conferred in the kitchen, made phone calls to our local garage and determined that Andras would have to stay one more night with us.  The old fellow dithered about not getting home, after all he had been away visiting for the past 9 days and was missing his footing. “You go with Rumpole to the garage, and I’ll figure out a way to entertain you the rest of the day while we wait for the car to be repaired” I told him.

Andras and Rumpole went off in convoy to the garage.  Meanwhile Martha called and we discussed what might be a good distraction and entertainment for Andras. We hit upon the solution to take him on a hike at a local nature trail, and then afterwards walk the shores of a nearby lake. Martha was going to drive and accompany us on this excursion after lunch.

Andras was thrilled to be taken on an outing outdoors.  Later, as Martha was driving us to the forest, Andras identified first and second growth forests for us. At the nature trail, he hopped and cavorted like a delightful wizened child, loped along from one fallen undergrowth to another, identifying mosses, fungi and other understory vegetation. He was in his element, enjoying himself tremendously and being a patient and informative teacher.  Martha and I poked along behind him inspecting and touching tha various natural growths. It was magical. The filtered light dappled the rich green of the mossy forest floor; the coolness of the forest was a welcome relief from the hot day.

Afterward, at the lakeshore, we wandered around enjoying the many small brooks that meandered off the mountain and learned from Andras the identity of the mixed vegetation. We basked on the shore and took turns tossing bits of wood for Martha’s Jack Russel to fetch from the water. On the walk uphill to the parking lot, Andras got out of breath and we stopped frequently to look around at all the life around us.

On the way home, Andras was quiet, his energy run down. Once we arrived home I made him a good pot of chai, which he had never tasted before and found much to his taste. Then he lay down on the couch to rest, and fell into a snooze. The garage phoned to let us know his car had been fixed. I arranged for someone to come and fetch him and take him to pick up his car, and woke him from his nap.

By the time Andras came back with his car, Rumpole had arrived back from work.  They were both peckish, so we sat down to a simple bableves, salad and fruit.  Andras was quite tired after supper, took a walk around the neighbourhood and went to bed upon his return. I went for an evening walk with Kay and her sister and Rumpole retired to read.

The following morning, Andras left us early in the morning.  He had a 250 mile drive ahead of him. He gave us both vigorous hugs, popped into his car, waved and drove away.

Rumpole and I sat over our morning coffee, ruminating.

“There is something amazing about persons who live their lives following a passion. It fills them with so much energy and love of life.  Andras is one of these fortunate people” I said, and described to Rumpole the walk in the woods with Andras.

As I do, Rumpole also hopes we again, soon, have the pleasure of Andras’s company. Twenty years is too long a time between visits,

5 Responses to “The Old Forester…”

  1. ybonesy Says:

    I am at a leadership conference, G., and one of the themes that comes up is the joy that grows when one recognizes a passion in life and pursues it relentlessly. I bet Andras was one of those teachers who inspired others to go into the field of forestry. That’s what great leaders do. They inspire us.

  2. joefelso Says:

    Sounds like a wonderful visit—I’ve been the beneficiary of some of those accidental extra day visits and have always found them special and precious. Wouldn’t it be great to have such gifts enforced every once in a while—a national the-airport-is-closed day or the stay-home-from-work-and-call-an-old-friend day?

    You need time to notice how special the people around you are.

  3. grievingallthelittlestuff Says:

    Andras’ vigor and your chai – I hope this combination occurs again soon.

  4. QuoinMonkey Says:

    It is so wonderful to spend time with people who are in their element, excited about life and the good, green earth. This is a great piece about friendship and the gift of relationships over time.

  5. suburbanlife Says:

    ybonesy – the leadership conference sounds fantastic – a great opportunity to learn. You are so right, passionate people infect us with their enthusiasm. G

    D – it never ceases to amaze me how lengthy time spent with individuals reveals their uniqueness, every time. An enforced spend-some-time-with-someone- new-day would indeed result in some interesting perceptions, and maybe should be instituted. G

    QM – it was lovely to spend time with Stephen – it felt as if we were children poking about in the woods together, a lovely ageless feeling. Such good fortune! G

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