I recently made a long overdue visit to a friend who lives in Старцево (Startsevo). Startsevo is a small village located in the Rhodopes just a few miles from the Greek border.
The trip was the epitome of bittersweet. On the one hand, it was a glorious fall weekend. The best of all Bulgarian smells, the smell of smoke from wood-burning stoves, filled the air and left a haze over the distant mountains. Skies of blue hung over fields and forests of green, brown, yellow, orange, and red caught in transition from summer to winter. Traces of the season’s first snow lingered in small patches, barely noticeable against the patchwork of colors covering the surrounding hills. And incredibly hospitable locals made sure we felt entirely at home. Everything about the weekend was glorious. Everything except that part of my mind that kept telling me, even while I soaked it all in and savored it, that the end is near.
Barring an unexpected turn of events, this will be my last fall in Bulgaria. And I couldn’t help but feel a profound sense of loss as I took in deep breaths of the smoke-filled air and marveled at the surrounding countryside.