September 11, 2011
I have no idea what just happened.
It started when our lazy day took an active twist.
Liam suggested that we go for a walk. Wiley and Virginia decided to join us. I assumed that we would walk down the scenic single-laned road by the olive trees and vineyards that is near our pension in the Tuscan hills. We started at 6:00 and headed out as a team. We left the house, turned right and started walking down the road.
We stuck with the scenic road. We stuck with it for 5 minutes.
We then saw a field leading to an abandoned shrine and a hillside. I would like to say that, like Robert Frost, we took the road less traveled.
But there was no road.
We came to the shrine. It was clearly once a fountain. It had a covered area where a statue would have once sat (the Virgin Mary? a patron saint?), but now stood sadly barren. It was rested at the base of a heavily wooded hill.
After contemplating the memorial, we started an as ascent. This climb was not the sort of thing that smart people do. It was steep (probably a 35-45 degree ascent) with thick trees, brambles and undergrowth. There was absolutely no path at all. Nothing said “please climb me”, but we were hungering for an adventure, so we entered.
The Arthurian legends (King Arthur and his knights) often described great adventures and quests. Each would always begin by entering the forest. “Each knight would enter the forest at the place pleasing to him.” The forest symbolizes uncertainty and danger and challenge. We felt like knights.
The climb was tricky. Dead leaves made the footing exceptionally slippery. The trees that blocked our climb fell into three categories: solid trees that provided stability, solid-looking trees that broke when grabbed (unfortunate if a climber requires support) and thorny offerings. This reminded me of the walks I took as a young man at the camp I attended. Yet here I was as a father.
I felt an odd dilemma: should I retreat to assure 100% safety, our should we do something a little crazy in hopes of a memory? I loved the chance to channel my inner Huck Finn when I was a boy. But the standard of parenting today seems to focus on safety much more than challenge.
We chose to climb looking for the adventure. We did well for ourselves.
We climbed for 45 minutes. Thorns grabbed our clothes while our hearts raced. We left rock markers to record our route. We were in the middle of nowhere.
Or so we thought.
We kept hearing the occasional sound. A voice? A cow? A motorcycle? Was the sound above us or below us? Each time, we would stop and listen, yet the sounds never seemed to repeat.
Virginia noted that the sun was close to setting and that we should head down. As we began our descent, it got interesting.
We were close to the top of a hill that I am guess was 1000 feet above the base level. That is when we heard the accident. Actually, I am not sure what we heard.
A vehicle (cycle, a 4-wheeler, a small truck?) was traveling somewhat rapidly alone some road 50-60 feet above us. It then hit something. I guess. We heard a discernable crunch above us, like someone hit a speed bump and and something valuable was thrown from the vehicle.
We then heard a woman yelling loudly. We saw a form running from left above us toward the right. We assume that this was the yelling woman. We also heard lots of brush being moved and cleared to the right above us at the point where whatever fell from the vehicle landed. We also heard a calm woman say something to the excited woman.
They were trying to extricate whatever fell from the brush. My instinct was to help them, but Virginia was extremely uncomfortable. Whether it was the impending darkness or the odd circumstances, she was highly agitated. We stood there for 2 minutes to assure that they were alright.
They were clearly calling someone on the phone. While scared, no one was injured. I knew that I could not do anything to help the situation, and we needed to get home. And it was getting dark – fast. While my curiosity begged to complete the climb, the wiser side prevailed and we started home.
We descended. The kids were rattled. What just happened? Will we get home before it gets dark? We made great time on the way down, emerged within 30 feet of our entry point to see the full moon and the last of the light.
I love the fact that one of our best memories will come without the aid of ruins or art or history. A great way to end a wonderful day.