The internal combustion engine rattles into silence and I get out of the white rental Škoda fabia. The drive didn’t clear out all the dead leaves. Yellow-brown, speckled with red-black and grey blotches. I rake them out from the car’s cowl with my hands and they let them fall like a shower of dead butterflies onto the grey gravel at my feet.
It is July 2022. I am floating on an inflatable dinosaur on an Alpine river. The Soča is pleasantly warm and very shallow. The sun is scorching hot, the air is like a furnace. A breeze blows. I watch dry yellow leaves swirl like cherry blossoms off the suffering trees. Fantastically crinkled, the leaves settle on the turquoise water. I pick one up. I close my hand. It crumbles into tiny flakes that fly away like golden dust.
I walk away from the river. My feet kick clouds of bone-dry soil to swirl away into the yellow, sun-fired grass.
It is July 2000. The valley is green and lush. Comes August and it rains every day. Remember: this land was wet just twenty years ago. The trees a riot of greens. The grass a verdant sward. Mornings heavy with dew. Nights thick with mist. Rivers high with snowmelt and afternoon storms.
Three years ago my father died and the world changed forever.
On his death day we gathered again; me, mother, and sister. No brother: he hates us now, I think. I do not know, he does not talk.
Three years between then and now, thanks to the covid pandemic. A strange word, covid. Doesn’t seem quite English, but it rhymes with Ovid, so I guess it has some class.
We hold a little ceremony.
A friend says, “the patterns of your life and relationships were built around him. With him gone, you’re struggling to find new patterns.”
I don’t think it’s a struggle, but it’s a process. It always is.
Dolmen and Denial
I am happy I made a dolmen next to the linden tree. It is perfect for libations to my Dad.
I am sad the linden tree is struggling in this drought and heat. It is ironic, I suppose.
Dad planted the tree many years ago and now his ashes are there, at its roots. Yet in his later years he succumbed to the lies of the climate deniers. He wanted to have a secret truth, a better knowledge, something to keep him special. I’m not sure I can burn all the denialist books he bought because of the drought and the fire warning. I suppose a recycling bin will do.
Next year I may have to put in drip irrigation for the tree.
I never thought that things would get so hot here that the clouds off the Adriatic would not be able to precipitate. But there you go. I was wrong. It got that hot.
In the year 2000 we had no tiger mosquitoes. Now we have them. The little monsters bite all day, from 9 o’clock in the morning to 8 o’clock at night or so. We’ll be putting in nets on all the windows soon.
Soon the little monsters will start spreading malaria and zika and dengue here, I wager.
I haven’t seen our local mosquitoes this year at all. Perhaps the striped horrors have out-competed them.
Remember: we used to have no tiger mosquitoes here.
When I was young, when I first climbed the local hill, the Billy Goat’s Edge (Kozlov rob), the castle was a ruin. 180-odd metres of elevation from town to Castle. We call the hill “Castle”, but it’s not all a building. The hill is only a little larger than Cheops’ pyramid. That one used to be 147 metres, now it’s a bit less than 140.
But castle used to merge imperceptibly into hill. Trees and brambles cloaked the crumbled walls and the walker stepped unknowing from dirt to stone to shattered weed-wound keep.
Now the masonries of keep and outer wall are rebuilt, a fence rings the top to guard clumsy visitors, and a flag flies against the sky. The crown of trees is cut, and from all about the stone and concrete husk looms across the valley. The skeleton of a castle. Not ruin, certainly not castle. An undead tribute to the counts and the tribute they exacted.
I am not sure I like the look of the castle restored as I drive towards Tolmin. I preferred the victory of trees.
There is a place near behind Billy Goat’s Edge, between that isolated hill and the mount of Led Peak (Vodil vrh), called Countswater (Grofova voda). I must have visited it sometime when I was younger. I know folks talk of it. Say the water has mineral or healing properties. Perhaps it is just its association with aristocracy. I remember nothing of the place.
There is a new parking lot for visitors and a sign, “Grofova voda”.
Well and good, I still remember nothing of the place.
But I suppose, even those who know the place well, remember nothing of what was there 300 or 3,000 years ago.
I took my nephew to visit the local museum. It was not very well organised. I couldn’t tell where a room’s exhibits began and ended. Still, it is good there is a place to worship Clio, for Mnemosyne’s grasp is weak in our post-oral culture. Beyond Clio’s scroll, which muse would best account for archeology? Perhaps Melpomene and Thalia on a swing, playing with our imaginations.
Whichever muse, old or new-imagined, it is good to visit the temple of deep time. The memories of communist and fascist rule over my town. The older documents of Austrian empire and Venetian domain and Aquilean patriarchate. The shadowy fragments of late antiquity, of Slavic and Germanic and Roman times. The iron burials of bare-known tribes, Celt or Illyrian or some more local variant. The bronze and copper and stone burials of even earlier, of the first farmers 5,000 years ago. The microliths of arrows and harpoons and tools of the neolithic hunter gatherers before, stretching to the ice age’s end, when the ice retreated from the land. Further back, the bone flute of controversy from one valley over, testament to some neandertal human with perhaps a hankering for a tune.
Queer feeling, a tremble of deep time’s ghost, a shiver of a dead glacier’s ghost, to look back over the ten-thousand years and more captured in just one small valley, drifted up against just one small stretch of mountain.
How will our time look in the holy house of the future’s muses 4 million days hence?
Three years, a thousand days, enough to train the mind. This is now home. This. Here. This is home.
Returned, after so long, my eyes look at the family home of ten years ago, twenty years ago, and it has been swept away by the river of time.
There are memories and faces and patterns everywhere, but home’s cloak is swept aside. Though there is nostalgia, there is also judgement.
This is made well, this is made poorly, this no longer fits.
Three years ago, short on after father’s funeral, everything in the family house looked to be as it should. Now it looks as it was by force of accident and a time gone past.
And I judge and find wanting and throw out. Out the old chair, out the useless crockery, out the clutter and accumulated accommodation.
The memory remains, but the house breathes again.
Still, home feels elsewhere now.
Soon, time to travel again. I do not look forward to it. I truly do not. Time zones. Covid tests. Transfers. 24 hours of door-to-door discomfort if I am lucky.
Still, lucky that I can, home to wife and hound.
Still, the glamour of travel is faded. If travel were an elf, it has long since gone West across the Rainbow Bridge for me.
No more to say for now. I must have missed some things, but if so, they wanted to be missed. They may wait there turn or be forgotten.
After all, I need to visit the bathroom now. One can’t write well on an urgent bladder.
Late August, Tolmin, RS, EU