The Featured Writer this time is Alasdair Paterson with his acrobatic poems that both intoxicate and challenge. Meanwhile in my own library of paths…this one being high in the Argentina Valley in SW Liguria, we were on a very thin path, strung like a spider’ s thread from one rocky outcrop to another, linking two villages, the furthest, Drondo, long abandoned. The way ahead becomes unpassable at one point … unless you are a chamois. The herby scents of thyme and wild lavender on the sun-warmed rocks were intoxicating. Our own scent must have run before us because two chamois (in Italian camosci) appeared and ran down the face of the rock, closely followed by new-born kids. They are very sure-footed being connected to the goat and antelope families. Funny how they always seem to pause and look back at you even when in flight and that’s when you see the two black stripes on their faces. They sent a scitter of small stones as they plunged on downwards.
A minute later an enormous pair of wings circled way up high above us. The wings were so long it merely balanced in the air, and the feathers ended in fingers that seemed to lift in the wind, or to be stroking it. Golden eagle, we wondered. Within seconds, two more had appeared from the mountain peak and they wheeled and plunged on the air currents above us for no more than a couple of minutes before they slipped over another mountain into the next valley. What a benediction.
Drego is a village in a different location but at similar altitude, below the Pass of the Half-Moon. Last week its terraced meadows were filled with vetches of all colours, asphodel, scabious, ragged robin, thalictrum, toad-flax, and saxifrages of many kinds, so many I can’t name them all. But the Heartsease looks just like tiny butterflies.
By next week, new flowers will have appeared and later still the herbage will be cut for hay to provide winter-feed for the goats and Bregaschan sheep (very tall) that graze the mountain tops. They are accompanied by one of the last goatherds in the region, Giovanin, who runs headlong as fast and as sure-footed as a chamois down the steep slopes. He lives with his goats, and milks them to make cheese.
Many kinds of butterflies danced among the alpine flowers and occasionally a swallow-tail made its stealthy appearance. Our presence disturbed two other residents because a bird looking much like a raptor flew overhead, cuckoo-ing loudly. Its wings were shaped like a bird of prey, curved, sharp, used for speed and flying huge distances. Its feathers from above looked surprisingly charcoal-coloured. Seconds later, another cuckoo darted through the air and its answering call was like someone laugh-gasping, gurgling, spluttering out a final ooo-cuck. This made us feel we were being watched and were not welcome. The weather was very animated last week and as cloud puffed down from the pass above us like a change of day we could barely see more than a metre ahead of us any longer. The cuckoos won their territory and silence back.