Refuge is a word for which there are many synonyms.  Consult a dictionary and a thesaurus and you are presented with a rich list of alternatives; there’s a safe haven, a sanctuary, bolt hole, retreat, a shelter, a place of safety, a harbour.  But the challenge this week is to choose an image to represent it.

As in previous weeks, a couple of photos I have already immediately came to mind.  They represent different aspects of the feeling of refuge or comfort and safety that are the predominant emotions that I associate with the word.  You’ll not be surprised that they also come with a story.

This is my flat.  A real fire. It sounds like something out of a retro advert from the 1970s, but there is nothing quite like it, is there?

It’s a lot of messing about in making sure that I have all the bits and pieces needed to get it going because I am far from proficient in managing it, as I came to its joys late in life, and there’s the tidying up afterwards, but I can sit for hours and watch the dancing of the flames and absorb the comfortable wintery aroma of burning wood.

The second picture is from about as far as it’s possible to get from that hominess.  This is Nepal, high in the Kumbu, the area of the Himalayas around Everest.  A few years ago I did a trek here, off the beaten track away from the more well trodden routes.

After four or five days during which we saw no other trekkers we were descending and the plan was to camp in the grounds of a lodge.  The attraction of the lodge was that we would be able to sit in its large dining area near the stove instead of huddling all together in our sleeping bags playing scrabble by the light of our head torches until it was a respectable time to go to bed.

When we arrived in the village, the lodge camp site we were aiming for was already occupied, so we had to search for an alternative. 

This young boy ran up to our leader and smiling, and tugging gently on the sleeve of her jacket persuaded her to go to inspect his mother’s lodge.  In the absence of any other viable alternative we accepted.

We all tried to put a brave face on it with only moderate success.  The lodge was dark, unheated and a bit grim, but the boy’s mother had beer for sale.  As we were on the descent it seemed like the best way to survive a cold evening: we all contributed a little of the secret stash of treats each of us still had, a tin of salmon, some almonds, biscuits.  Our chef made us some popcorn and we broke out the Yahtzee die.

The boy, whose English was modest, but whose eyes and comprehension beat that of one of our group who, even after nightly games of dice throughout the trek, still couldn’t grasp the basics of the game, played game after game with us.

It was still freezing, but there was something about the fun of it that makes it the perfect response to ‘refuge’; that anywhere can provide it, and that it is the people around who can make it.

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1 Comment

  1. Trevor

     /  February 22, 2011

    To me, refuge means cuddling up on the sofa with a good book and maybe a few biscuits, at least I can escape the realities of my life for an hour or two that way.

    As you say, refuge means something different to everyone depending on the circumstances.


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