Last Sunday, puffy white clouds drifted overhead through a sparkling blue sky. A lovely winter day to take the small hike up the mountain behind us and explore the area beyond our property. With a positive Covid case in our community, we're in "isolation" mode and must avoid encountering people. Not much chance up there!
I passed the three expansive terraces behind the Château, then onto the path that winds up through our land. Overgrown green-oak trees and various wild bushes extend branches across the trail, but it's a relatively easy walk.
Up top, I climbed over a pile of rocks, through the breach in the high stone wall that lines the back of the property. A nice flat piece of land is on the other side, bordered by a massive stone outcropping on the left. I wandered to the right, through to a wide rocky path that continues up the mountain. Fluorescent pink markings, letters, and arrows indicate hiking club directions, or at least that's our best guess.
Lining this trail is a 5-6' tall dry-stacked rock wall. No mortar or cement holds it together, and it's most likely been there for centuries. Amazing. Also, horizontal stone walls create more terraces–why, way up here? They were generally built for agriculture, but I doubt anyone ever cultivated this high up the mountain. Maybe they did; the water source from Mas d'Icard farmhouse and land above us most likely runs right through here. More about that later.
I eventually came upon a small stone shepherd's hut with an incredible view. Was this for the man and the animals or just one or the other? Was it temporary, or did someone live here permanently at some point? For now, only crumbling walls and a few roof tiles remain. Oh, and a weather-beaten, tattered lounge chair. Ancient and modern juxtaposed...guess which one wins for longevity and beauty?
A massive Cypress tree thrives nearby, nestled into a natural rock basin. Most likely, this indicates a centuries-old grave of a Protestant family member, dating back to the late 17th-18th centuries when Huguenots had no legal rights. Cemetery burials were not allowed; they were forced to bury their dead on their land, marking the spot with a Cypress tree.
I also counted at least a dozen flourishing olive trees.
Continuing up the rocky trail, I followed the fluorescent pink markings (what does "P" mean? A quick Google search yields no clarification…) At what appeared to be the end of the hiking trail, a campfire-like circle appears. Above it, a second, larger shepherd's hut rises against the sky.
I made my way up and took a seat on the granite slab bench out front. Surprisingly comfortable! The view was spectacular–incredible sweeping vistas of the plains that run south to the sea off to my left. St. Hippolyte du Fort sat snugly in the valley before me, the flat-topped Pie de Mars mountain rising directly opposite. On my right, Le Cengle mountain flanks the western edge of our little town. I could imagine Monsieur Shepherd spending hours sitting there, especially on a day like that one, when the winter sun perfectly warms the atmosphere. Lucky man!
After spending a few restful moments at his hut, I started my journey back down. I stopped at the "campfire" and prayed a blessing, inviting, acknowledging Jesus as Lord over this spot and the whole area.
Following downward pointing arrows, I continued, noticing it was a different path to the one I used coming up. Sometime later, as I pushed through yet another thicket of overgrown green oak and thorny vines that tore open my down jacket, I realized something was off. Me. Where was that nice wide trail?
I worked my way to the right and down, but it just got worse. Fluffy white feathers poked through several rips in my coat. I stopped to get my bearings and discovered I was standing in a crevice. Water seeped beneath my feet. Hmmm. The Mas d'Icard, a grand home with lands situated above us, had a water source that at one time supplied all the towns' fountains.
Small rounds of bright green moss clung to the stony ridge and the ground around me and blanketed a nearby multi-trunked tree. Hmmm. It had recently rained, yet this was the only place I'd noticed this type of vegetation. Had I stumbled, literally, onto a clue regarding the missing water source?
Nearby a gaping hole appeared in the seemingly never-ending stony ridge. Carefully, I peered down. A cave! At least twenty feet deep. I sat down to rest and ponder. Was I lost so as to find something interesting or useful? Also, how to get back to that path?
I continued for another thirty minutes, still ducking through razor-sharp vines that so sneakily twist through and around other vegetation. I arrived, finally, at the end of the stone ridge to find…a cliff. Straight down, far too steep for me to descend it safely. Or at all.
By now, my legs were shaky, and I couldn't seem to make any progress. I sat down to rest and called my husband. Thankfully, we connected, and he headed up the hill to help me out.
I crawled slowly, horizontally across the massive outcropping until I heard his voice. As I moved toward it, I discovered another cave hole and stopped to take photos. He called again, and–whew– thankfully, I could see him up peering over yet another stony ridge behind me. I scrambled across, over sharp rocks, under scraping branches, up and over onto the main path. Relief!
We descended easily and scrambled over the breach in the back rock wall onto our land. From there, we walked across the highest terrace to the medieval watchtower that marks the corner of our property.
A gorgeous view awaited us. Sunbeams streaked through the sky, across valleys beyond. What's an adventure without a little adversity? Would it even be worthy of the name? We often try to avoid being tested and stretched. But that's where the (eventual!) excitement is, and where there are discoveries.
Yes, life is not always easy but there is always beauty to be found.
La vie est belle...