At the monastery, the monks are preparing for winter. The big barns are filled with stacks of hay. In the lobby of their bookstore, visitors can buy cider made from their apples, candles made from beeswax, and mittens made from wool. The trees in the orchards have been picked clean, and the vegetable garden turned over. The sheep that graze outside the chapel are fat and healthy, with thick wool coats.
Nurse Friend and I arrived on Friday evening just in time for Compline, the last prayer of the day. The bell was already ringing as we hurried through a cold wind and up the stone steps of the chapel. I pulled open the heavy wooden door and stepped into the warm, musty air. That familiar smell of old incense and melting wax always makes me feel at home.
The evening prayer service ended downstairs in the crypt, with the monks in their dark robes standing in a semi-circle around a low stone altar that holds a fourteenth century stone statue of Mary, the room lit by the flickering flames of votive candles that visitors have placed on the altar. When the chanting was done, one monk climbed back up to the ring the bell, and the monks left quietly to return to their living quarters. Nurse Friend and I went back out into the night to go unpack our car and get settled at the little guest cottage where we’d be staying.