By Avery Davidson, LSU AgLeadership XV member
“We will ride this thunderbird. Silver shadows on the Earth.
A thousand leagues away, our land of birth.”
—Coming Home, Iron Maiden
There’s a look people get when they’re at the end of a journey. Eyes stay focused on something in the distance. Smiles only come when those tired, weary gazes meet those of a fellow traveler. There’s a moment there; a special connection. The exhausted relief of knowing the trip is over and the shriek of rubber meeting concrete will signal a homecoming. Our homecoming.
I’ve been blessed to travel a fair amount in my life. I’ve found the following to be true about every trip I’ve taken. You leave a piece of yourself there. You take something new back with you. When you’ve made that journey with a group, you have a shared experience that will connect you the remainder of your days. Years may pass between your meetings, but the connection will resume; the one you made in a strange, distant land. This is already true for Class XV.
The rows of drab green olive trees which rise and fall with the hills and mountains of Spain. The rocky shore, sprayed by the blue-green Atlantic Ocean, where boats sit in dock in a small fishing town on the coast of Portugal. The reddish-brown trunks of trees, stripped of bark from the ground to, the lowest branches, wet with early morning fog and rain. These are the vivid images anyone in Class XV can see just by closing their eyes and imagining themselves on the Iberian Peninsula.
For this group, the words panoramic, calibration and citrus (said SY-tris) all have new meaning. Not because of a change in the dictionary, but because of a slender European man with eyes and a smile like Mel Gibson’s, minus the tinge of crazy, who led us around his adopted country for two weeks. Jurgen Nolle is a Dutchman who met his French wife in the Dominican Republic and now lives in Málaga, Spain. He speaks Dutch, Spanish, French, German, English and at least a little Portuguese. Jurgen guided us on many panoramic tours of splendid, old cities like Madrid, Seville and Lisbon. He told us how food products were put into into climate control for calibration to a certain temperature. And when we asked if the brilliant, bright oranges we saw hanging from trees lining Spanish streets were good to eat, Jurgen informed us that the SY-tris (citrus) was bitter and that it was against the law to pick them from the trees. (We didn’t)
Members of Class XV will also never look at ham the same way after seeing the tradition, care and hard work Spaniards put into curing meats the way their ancestors did 2,000 years ago. Aqueducts, the structures created by the Romans which stripe the landscape and cities of the Iberian Peninsula, will now provide chuckles for this group, rather than life-giving water, all because a couple of people on the trip, obsessed with all things ancient, got excited with each arched sighting. (*Cough* Me *Cough* Neil *Cough*) The green, viscous liquid served with bread at most restaurants will not be an overlooked bottle in the future. Olive oil is now a reminder of the pride the Spanish have for its top agricultural product.
As I sit in the airport typing these words, listening to Iron Maiden on my headphones, I look back on the past two weeks fondly. I’m now enriched by the people, history, sights, sounds, smells, experience of the Iberian Peninsula. They are now a part of me. I’m leaving the physical experience behind. Yes, the memories remain vivid. I will cherish them. But, my eyes are heavy. My heart longs for my family; to feel my boys’ arms around my neck. My mind needs the familiar. So, it’s time to ride this thunderbird. We’re coming home.