A day in the high Pyrenees

Autumn on its way, the equinox a week off, we head inland, to Setcases, and up towards the great bulk of Gra de Fajol, an angry giant guarding the head of the Ter valley. Ulldeter means Eye of the Ter, meaning its source, contracted sometimes to ‘Vallter’. Memory, or the anxiety provoked by memory, mermeros, washes over me: I have been to his place thrice before, though on one of those occasions, with my dear friend Lluís, the cloud was so dense that we walked like ghosts through the swirling mist, having to stop from time to time to get our bearings, and it was with some relief that we eventually found the track that descends past the refuge, the very track that we are climbing now on a clear September day, and it is the fragile memory of those previous walks that settles on me, but memory is a slippery eel, and which of my past selves is doing the remembering, and how can I tell which of these memories is truly mine? I can only clearly remember the last time, three summers past, on a summer’s evening, Venus rising, snow still visible in the furrows of Gra de Farol Petit, and my pervading memory is of hobbling towards the refuge, where I showered, shivering with sunstroke after an eight hour hike from Queralbs in scorching heat, having seen not a single human animal since leaving Coma de Vaca, but animals yes, a few grazing cattle in the lower folds, and then, resting on an overhanging rock a marmot spied on me, not moving from her perch, and the next time I looked she was gone.

And then the isards, those fleet-footed Pyrenean antelopes, one of them leaping with boundless grace, stopping every fifty yards or so to ascertain whether or not I was a threat, but that was then and this is now, and there is neither marmot nor isard to be seen, too many humans out and about on a Saturday in September, many of them taking a stroll after a morning’s mushrooming on the lower slopes, by the stream, hunting for rovellons, their orange-ochre, must-scented flesh, delicious fried in olive oil with all i julivert; and now there is a solitary eagle, soaring high above us, keeping a watch on things and he is far beyond concerning himself with any human visitation, of much more interest are the lizards that hide beneath the rocks, venturing out to sit blinking in the sun, a foolish move, but then again, what else can a lizard to do on such a glorious afternoon; and we climb to the Coll de la Marrana, and on reaching it the landscape opens up towards the Vall de Núria, and the cloud is thick below us, and to the west, breaking away in wraith-like shapes and gliding up the valley and over the ridge, towards the Pic de l’Infern, Pic Freser and the Bastiments. Here we find a place among the rocks and eat our picnic, drink our tea, looking out over the shifting cloudscape below us, the sun on our faces, on a day in the high Pyrenees, a sense of autumn in the air, and for me, tangible sadness that another summer has passed, and gratitude too for all that it has brought, knowing that nothing lasts, knowing almost nothing, knowing that only a fraction of all that lies before me is accessible to my perception, that there is so much more, here on the edge of what remains forever out of reach, here on the edge of what remains unknown.

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