The battery’s not happy. M’s not happy. Stan wants a walk, so he’s not super-chirpy either.
Well, the only issue I can have any influence over is the dog. I leave M on his tummy once more, feet sticking out of the van, up to his elbows in wiring. I think I hear him utter a tight “Okay” as I leave, but I’m not sure. He’s fully engaged in (a) not electrocuting himself, (b) not buggering up the sad battery or (c) damaging the healthier one.
Stan and I explore what I think is the back end of another footpath. I love the European way of organizing country walks. In the UK you get a map and find your way by carefully trying to discern between one large copse of trees on the horizon or that smaller one, whilst holding your compass onto a wind-torn paper map that wants only to escape your frozen-fingered grasp. What fun?
None of that nonsense in France, Spain or Italy. The maps are horrendous if you want detail, but that’s because the paths are signposted (with actual signposts) and have markers all the way round. A colour coding system tells you if youre on the correct route, a painted cross in that route’s colours indicates if you’ve gone the wrong way and then arrows on trees/rocks show where the route changes direction just to clear up any confusion. It’s simple, effective and much, much more reassuring than finding yourself knee-deep in semi-frozen bog that (according to your OS map) should have been 300 yards to the left and not where you’re presently sinking.
So, when the puppy and I get back to find M listening to the radio, putting away all his electrical gubbins and generally smiling, I’m delighted. Brill! We make a flask of tea (just because it’s 22 degrees and sunny, that’s no reason not to have tea) I put together sandwiches and we set off for the walk that I’d given up of having time to do.
The footpath signs take us almost immediately into pine forest. We climb steeply up rocky slopes that might double for riverbed when it rains. The light differs here to that in deciduous woods. At home, the wafting leaves give intense patches pure gold on the dark earth below the canopy. In winter it’s only the skeletons of branches and tree trunks that break up weak yellow daylight. More of the sun’s rays settle their way down to the leaf-mulch carpet underfoot and birds flit in plain sight.
The pine forests that wrap themselves around us here have no canopy as such. We walk through foliage clearings but from little more than head-height the branches intertwine so that the sunshine is diffused, gentler, filtered by many feet of finely meshed pine needles. The air is full of their scent, warmth caresses my cheek. I can hear but have no chance of spying the fauna that invisibly shake branches around me.
Breathing hard from climbing 500m in one long swoop of the mountainside, we can finally raise our eyes from the rumbly terrain to look at the majestic craggy spires, bidding for freedom from their tree-clad roots. I cannot talk. My vocabulary is utterly inadequate for capturing the verdant green set against grey and rust towering rock, set against the crisp cloud-free heavens. I can only drink in this loveliness, try to sate my thirst for such wonder. Perhaps if I gaze intently enough I can greedily keep this soul-food within me, be nourished by it when we must eventually return home.
In this singular space, this moment before the second hand moves onward, I am enchanted. My heart may never have been so full. I look across at M who’s similarly still. Even Stan pauses, raises his snout to test the air and offers a languid wave of his tail.
Gratitude, blessings, fortune has favoured us, does that mean we’re bold?