Recently, my Orvieto program got to go olive-picking at one of our director's friend's olive groves--off we went into the Italian countryside. Olive picking was not what I had expected it to be; you don't pick olives. You actually comb the tree, pulling off great bunches at a time, stems and all. This required a great deal of tree-climbing, which we were thrilled to do. Whatever olives were out of reach, the "tree-tickler" (which is the dumbest name I have ever heard attributed to any machine) flung the remaining olives from the branches.
While we did help with the olive harvest (to some extent), the best part of the day was really just walking through the countryside--we befriended stray dogs and fenced-in horses, made laurel-leaf crowns, and admired the countryside views. As much as I love the cobblestone streets and tight, winding side roads of Orvieto, these open scenes of hills and greenery made for a rejuvenating afternoon.
About a month ago, our program went on a day trip to Assisi, which is a couple hours drive from Orvieto. As a huge St. Francis fan, I was particularly excited for this trip. And I wasn't disappointed. We visited San Domiano, where St. Francis as well as St. Clare and the Poor Clares gathered to pray, fast, and fellowship. We wound through the Eremo Della Carceri, the caves on the outskirts of Assisi where Franciscans retreated to meditate. Our jaws dropped in the Basilica Papale San Francesco, where century old frescoes continue to speak of the life and impact of St. Francis. We saw the Basilica di Santa Chiara, Santa Maria degli Angeli, and the Porziuncola--all spectacular churches that honor monastic dedication.
I was particularly struck by the presence of women as leaders depicted all over Assisi, through frescoes and icons of the Poor Clares, as well as of the Virgin Mary as mother of all. Though Assisi is typically associated with St. Francis, the emphasis on women in this city cannot be overlooked.
Right in the middle of our trip to Assisi, we gathered in an olive grove to share stories and sing together, inhaling the aroma of lavender and mint. Before coming to Italy, I don't think I had ever even seen an olive tree, but this symbol of peace, present throughout the country, is a constant reminder of the vision of unity that St. Francis as well as St. Clare had for all creatures great and small.