Your Mountain Friend

My husband and I returned home from a memorable trip to Italy at the end of October 2019. We were shocked a few weeks later about the flooding where we had recently been in Vince and then again a few months later about the Coronavirus in Italy.

One of the marvelous parts of our trip was a tour of Rome by native Francesca Caruso. Francesca’s passion was like that of an excellent professor. We have stayed in touch. The following is my most recent email to her and then Francesca’s email to me before that:

From: Julie Stephens: Saturday, May 23, 2020 12:05 PM
To: ‘Francesca Caruso’
Subject: your mountain friend

Ciao Francesca!

I read that Italy is opening up her borders. Do you think this is good or too soon? What does opening the borders that mean to you personally?

I’ve been reading about the Spanish flu of 100 years ago and the best way to have control over something we don’t have a cure for was and is social distancing

There is such unknown about this virus. A 71 year-old woman from our village went to a bigger, nearby town in March, as we all do, for gas and groceries and errands and within a few hours of arriving back home she fell very ill. She was on a hospital ventilator for many weeks and is relearning how to swallow. It sounds so very horrible. I was there doing those same kinds of errands, in about the same time frame as she was…

My gut feeling is that a proven vaccine is still far away…

Crystal Peak the other evening – she ‘lives’ with us – visible from my writing nook, our living area and front deck                                                                     

Our border collie Hope as we walk up in the mountains, with Crystal Peak in the background                                                                                   

Our little mountain village has been hit three years in a row. Most of the businesses: restaurants, shops, fishing trips and rental cabins rely mostly on the summer months for tourism to make a living here. In 2018 nearby wildfires caused smoke from winds and fear of fires spreading here and tourism and summer people (many people have a 2nd home here) was way down. Last winter we had an unprecedented amount of snowfall which caused unprecedented avalanches and fears of spring flooding which kept visitors away. Now in 2020 it is this Coronavirus which is much worse. Unlike before schools and all those connected with schools are also affected.

My husband is the engineer at the electric company so, while we have made sacrifices, his job is essential. I write a column for our little newspaper. I don’t feel safe about working in the little gift shop this summer, where I’ve worked for years, even if it reopens. My experience and teaching skills connected me with a special needs little girl back in September 2015 when Elsa was 2-years-old. She’ll be 7 next month.

Elsa playing in our garden fountain. The cords on her back are holding her hearing aids in place, so if for some reason they fell out, these expensive hearing aids don’t get lost

Elsa’s hand with flowers art


Elsa is very smart with a long attention span but has several physical challenges that have caused her to be emotionally and physically delayed. Because of the concerns of the Coronavirus Elsa and I weren’t together for 5 weeks but her mom asked if I was comfortable having Elsa again and yes, we have been reconnecting again. Over the years I’ve taught Elsa a lot.  We add a lot to each other’s lives and my day is better for the structure of preparing for time with Elsa and being with Elsa a few days a week. She is a lot like having a grandchild here. Our own grandchildren live far away.

Elsa and I are mostly outside now or in our sun room – balance between trying to completely stay away from others and living sort of normal – the ‘new normal’ – our bodies need some exposure to others to be able to fight off germs – balance is the best way to live

Last week – Elsa, our dogs Joy and Hope, walking on the nature trail by our cabin with Crystal Peak in the back ground. Our temperatures vary a lot. Our mornings are still around 20 degrees Fahrenheit and with cloud cover and winds with days can be very cool – though we also have very warm sunny afternoons, getting up into the  low 70’s in direct sun

                         On yesterday morning’s walk

Since my husband is only home on the weekends now and I can’t travel back and forth like I did before the virus, my days were very lonely and much more difficult when I didn’t have Elsa for those 5 weeks. I am less depressed and use my time better now.

Through it all I have been walking the mountains and photographing nature.

 A gift from Mother Nature!  Heart cloud on a walk the other day~!

The pictures of flowers in the park near your home are so pretty! It is still too cold here for flowers, though the perennials in our flower beds are coming up!  Do you get outside now regularly? Do you have a balcony or courtyard at home? How do you spend your days?

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         Just a few weeks ago, April snow

Now, when I feel the rosary I bought from the Vatican gift shop in my pocket as I walk, I not only think of Rome but of you. I pray you are doing well  

Love from your friend in the mountains,


From: Francesca Caruso
Sent: Tuesday, May 5, 2020 3:40 AM
To: Julie Stephens
Subject: Re: FW: October RS tour connection

Dearest Julie,

Thank you so much for reaching out to me and for sending those pictures, they really transported me and I could almost feel that mountain air in my lungs, what a splendid place you live in!

Yesterday was the first time we were allowed to go to walk in the park after over 50 days here in Italy. We have to go alone or with one family member, no friends yet, but it felt like a milestone. I went to the park near my house.

I love that you take a bit of Rome in your pocket when you walk, I find that very comforting. 

Am I a dog person? Yes yes yes! I haven’t had one in a very long time so cuddle everyone else’s. Yours is a real cutie!

Please take good care and thank you again, so much, for reaching our to me!



3 thoughts on “Your Mountain Friend”

  1. What a lovely note & photos to your new pen pal!
    I’m glad you are getting to be with Elsa again. Good for everyone. ❤️

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