Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The Bump

(originally written april 22)
Talk about evocative. There are thick clouds swirling about casteluzzo today.
Casteluzzo is a sort of bump on our mountain. The mountain is called, vandalino, the little vandal. The academics have been having a heated debate for years over the origin of the name but the consensus seems to be that it was named because of the Vandals’ presence in the valleys. This bump is present in all the historical etchings of the valley and is something, even from the plane last week, that you can see from far off. A sort of sign: “Here! valley! Look!” The bump could quite easily have featured in one of old Bill Stukeley’s drawings with miniscule people and pendulous clouds or maybe William Turner could have captured it better. The clouds change every couple of seconds, dark to light heavy to fluffy, banded or rounded and suddenly splitting to let shafts of sunlight through to illuminate the bump. I’d love to get up there again. It’s 2, 400 meters at the top. Here we’re at 700 m, so quite a climb. In all the years I have been going, I have never seen anyone up there. Even looking down from the top you can spot anyone coming up an hour before they get there, but never a soul to be seen. It’s funny how quickly absence of humans can make me feel that the land is mine, mine all mine. Totally illogical because it is not but I feel it to be so. We do have a bit of land near by though , but it is so remote and impervious we have never been able to find it.
On the top of casteluzzo it’s quite flat. Many of the trees are down due to the recent winds and lightening. There are exposed slabs of rock and pinecones with coarse grass and a pervading smell of resin. There’s no water up there being the highest point and everything is always tinder dry so there are few animals or traces of animals, except the red squirrels and deer. It’s a favourite place for the ravens. On one memorable occasion I was lying flat on my back, stark bollock naked looking up at the sky and a pair zoomed up from below to scoot a foot over my head. Have you ever smelt a raven’s bum?! It’s an odd place also because the smaller birds you get there you don’t get anywhere else very much. You’d think it would be a place for eagles but here the eagles are storm birds. You never see them unless there’s a storm coming. The bigger the storm the more they wheel and dive and soar and the longer they stay. So if you ever see an eagle on casteluzzo it is customary to get the hell out of there before the storm comes.
Vandalino is not actually a mountain in the classical sense. It’s more a sort ridge cone rather than a single stand-alone mount. So way back the weather gets channelled on one side or the other and whatever weather it is gets whipped along the ridge in no time. Just like Scotland. One minute sun and bees and baaing sheepses and then next totally white and cold. The main worry though are the electrical storms during the summer. You have to choose your day carefully and leave very early in the morning so that you are up there by 8 or 9 because late afternoon the electrical storms begin to develop and being on top of casteluzzo becomes terrifying. Totally irrationally I have only two permanent fears, I mean deep fear, one is meeting a lion in the woods for some unexplained woozley reason and the other is thunder and lightening. It scares the shit out of me. I do not like it. Put me in a snake pit or blindfold in the centre of the M25 but get me off a mountain when a storm is coming. I’m afraid I panic which is in itself more dangerous in the mountains than the thunder and lightening. I’ve only been caught once though and didn’t panic.
The place fascinates me not so much for it’s natural beauty or solitude or because I can stand there and widdle all over the village but because, with all the rock carvings and prehistoric stuff which litters the valley, the top of casteluzzo, which would be “the” most obvious place in the valley to put an altar or do some carvings, or hold rituals (there’s a thought!!) or such like it is totally devoid of anything. Zilch. Just a cairn. The nearest prehistoric ‘altar’ is well below it in a totally unprepossessing place, hidden away even. This has always had me curious and I spend most of my time up there looking for prehistoric stuff. But I suppose others, more qualified than me have already tried and failed. It’s most odd.
Some mormon prophet had a vision here and the mormons have named it mount brigham. Not matter that casteluzzo has been the name for centuries, no, they have to rename it. They also have a plaque screwed and cemented into a boulder on the top explaining the story. If I weren’t so tolerant I’d have chipped it off by now. It’s horrible to reach such an evocative place and then be reminded of how cretinous man is by a bronze plaque.
For the B&B I spent ages walking up and down the mountain mapping out paths for our guests to hike on. Slogging away with my gps and then writing descriptions of the route and what there is to see. Casteluzzo was my favourite walk. I’ve seen it every day for 20 years and it’s something that I will sorely miss if we move. If we change house we are going into unknown territory, There be injuns. Though the new huouse doesn’t have casteluzzo it is in an area with potentially excellent mountain bike trails. So on the one hand I will be leaving behind all my old paths but, on the other I’m going to have to start doing it all over again, hunting out the carvings, mapping out the paths, not seeing anyone all day, noting wildlife haunts, twitching, and just generally ferreting about and getting the walks onto the computer. Tough life, ain’t it? We have friends nearby who have neighbours with ponies. Maybe It might be a nice idea to hire a pony and map the routes out on horseback. But then that is all in the future IF it ever comes off…and if I survive. Today I nearly turned the tractor over. I was thinking so hard about some of the forum comments about letting the third world die a natural death that I didn’t notice the back wheel rolling over the edge of the road. I suddenly felt the tractor violently jerk backwards and I just braked in time to prevent me and the tractor slipping over the edge and dropping 30 feet. The gods were obviously with me because I had forgotten to disengage the 4x4 last time I parked so it was still engaged. If it hadn’t been, there would have been no way I could have kept such pressure on the brake and reach the relevant lever and no way I could have got off it before it dropped. As it is there are now three dirty great holes in the gravel road and a large pile of human excrement under the tractor was well.
Must stop taking things to heart.

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