Clouds over a valley

Shadows were his only companions as he traversed the ancient colonnades. It seemed as if all life had vanished from earth, all the sounds and images of humanity purged from perception. The wind still rustled the treetops and grazed the dancing heads of crops, but no other voice was to be heard for miles and miles. Magnificent cork oaks lined the dusty roads that led into the distance, just as they did hundreds and hundreds of year ago, when other people passed them with different thoughts and dreams. Gentle hills rose where the sky met the intricately ordered lines of vines that faced the sun. No longer must he seek perfect solitude and oneness with a nature that flourishes, far and hidden in the valleys of this region. He depended on the goodwill of the forces that steered the clouds. Exhausted after this day of work, and with a sigh, he sat down on a rocking chair on the porch and opened a bottle of wine he always kept for this purpose, as he withdrew from this heat-weary summer, his face tilted towards the westerlies that rolled over the valley. What shall become of this year, he wondered. His interior was teeming, stirred by the taste of the wine. It reminded him of the past. Here in the countryside, time passed slowly. As the days went by in the perennial rhythm of the soil, any perception of time faded. The recurring seasons marked the years, not the name of consuls. Many months had passed since he had last left this place. Everything he experienced around here appeared more intensive. The bickering of the rain on the roof, the dark, sonorous thundering in the distance when the skies turned pitch-black, the colour palette of his estate. His existence was palpable and yet circumscribed by the things he touched, tasted and viewed. Later that day, he had a simple dinner and went to bed early. A nightbird began his somber song that carried the man to sleep.

As he awoke the next morning, he felt compelled to visit a special place. The fields were still covered and that beautiful morning mist. He put on a light coat and ventured into the fog. It was not a difficult place to find for those who knew where it was, while for others it was impossible. Down by the gravel road into the hills, there was a little forested area that was set against a rather sharp slope covered in shrubbery. The mist hovered amidst the ancient trees. A quiet place. As the man approached the forest, a flock of birds rose into the sky. The morning air was fresh and yet treacherous, not betraying the scorching heat that would be generated during the day. A weak smile appeared on the man’s face. In the forest there was a glade that was fed through the crystal-clear water of a nearby stream. It was an eerie place, an anomaly. The treetops formed a cover over the water. Few sun rays touched the water surface, but where they did the water sparkled like a precious stone. The man was reminded of a saying his grandfather used to murmur when he walked with him in the mountains in the North of the country. »Where are those who were before us?« He then pointed to the vetust pillars of an ancient structure and hummed some lines of an old English poem. The melody had stuck in his head ever since. They climbed higher up and over rocks to reach the derelict structure. His grandfather always sought out these places when they were in the mountains. In perfect solitude, high up, the younger self of the man touched the textures of the ruins, the expensive marble or granite that had been shipped with considerable effort to these remote places at the edge of the world. Already then, beauty of these old places that have been forgotten by time and people fascinated him. Knowing that they had once been frequented by people like himself, with hopes and dreams and a rich life invoked a sense of sonder. Sometimes, these imagined scenes felt more real than everything else. In his dreams, he recreated the temples and villages he saw, with people walking to and fro. They talked about their worries, loves and families. And he felt closer to them than to anyone else. With these memories vanishing, the man was once again in the forest. This treasure did not convey the grandeur of a ruin, but its serenity and quietude inspired his imagination that was otherwise accustomed to the repetitive imagery of country life, which nonetheless brought comfort to the stressed mind.

The man sat down at the shore and closed his eyes. He listened to the water’s tranquil passage. How often he had heard the river’s bittersweet melody, a song unlike anything else. It befitted the dolorous parting of lovers, not this lonely stream in a vast, empty landscape. Opening his eyes, he looked into the water, solemnly watching his own reflection, himself. But what he saw was not truly himself, but a self of days old long since. A sudden realization of the time that has passed struck him like lightning. He was no longer the one he had been, not anymore. Years had gone by, as the pain in his heart had withered, but so had he. Who could he remember from his past? From his youth, his playful years? All faces, their smiles and tears, jolly laughter had vanished into ashes. He thought about all those lonely hours in the summer, when only oaked wine talked to him during hot evenings. His life had become much more empty since everyone he once loved had passed away or simply left him stranded. It is strange to live when there is no one to share experiences with, no soul for a meal together in lovely, colourful summers and no hand to hold when life is on its apogee. No fiery words but the pitch black winter night without light and entry. Everyone seemed so far away. Without human company, all memories seem to slowly fade away, becoming feverish dreams, disjointed from the fact that they had once been real. The self becomes the gravitational center of existence, but so too does the tragic awareness that the self is as elusive as its understanding is the ultimate promise. The man realized that most of his life was over now, that everything he had experienced lived in the past. It was not few years that he had roamed the earth, sometimes with ambition, sometimes with resignation. And yet, being alone had devalued all of his rich past. There was nobody to tell stories, no friendly expression of recognition at the sight of him. No greetings of a familiar passer-by. He had sown the seeds of his condition as a young man, involuntarily. Striving for knowledge and an aesthetic mind, he had disregarded society. He had not taken people as his peers, but had created ideas of them in his head, mutable by a single thought. Their idea had remained in his mind, only to grow ever further apart from the way they really appeared to him. And then they eventually withered away, reminding him of the finitude of his own existence. Their images were still there, but time had taken them away in a breeze, it seemed. One day he would join them, out there in the country side, when vines will climb to the skies and every edifice will be devoured by nature. He watched the scene in his mind as if it was happening this same instance. Everything he built — vestutate labetur. The men wept for the things that never were. He wept like he had not done for a very long time. All the pain, the disappointment flowed from him, coalescing with the river that now appeared like a sea of tears and sorrow.

Do I believe that this man’s life had no point from here on? I do not. Once in life, I — the almighty author, creator and destroyer of words — have the power to give company to the lonely, hope to the despaired and inspire a new life. Watching the man from a distance, I feel despondent at having created a character so much embroiled in bitter solitude. Thus, I solicit for compassion from the well-disposed reader. After all, it could be any of the two of us. I will not preclude that our future is known to me and under my spell. But now we have the power to do good and I will use that power for the betterment of this single individual that I have created as a mirror of the things to come, a dreadful future deprived of company. And as I write these words time has all but frozen. Like a precious, enchanting crystal we observe time as it slows down, rapidly speeds up with a fast succession of short, swift words. Let us now turn to the place, where we last left our character, down by the stream.

Time seemed to have made a leap. Twilight fell over the country. The singing of the birds quietly retreated as their echoes still cast their spell. As the man raised his gaze, the clear blue sky had given way to the misty, burning coal fire that was the gloaming of day. Whatever the man had come here for, he had not found it. Other than the discovery of the cruel passage of time that had robbed him of everyone he held dear. He rose and started his way back through the hills. The water of the little stream was still sparkling as the light slowly dissipated in the skies. As the man emerged from the woods, he looked around. Endless fields and geometrically planted trees stretched until the horizon. Man had impressed onto this land his iron mark, forever indelible. Raw force had axed the ancient forests, eroded the rough landscape and moulded it to his design. Yet, whereever he saw the undeniable dignity of a place, he erected a monument to whatever entity endowed the place with its charm. Was this still the place his ancestors had known to be their home? A hundred generations had perished and fallen, leaving their mark on this piece of earth. What did the builders think as they moved the rivers, supplanted the meadows, reduced the forests to scars? The man sighed and went home. Winding through the hills, the path took him back through the more and more suppressed was the light of day. And as he approached the lonely country house, passed through the gate with its ravaged cement, he found it brightly illuminated. Joyous voices filled the air as he slowed his pace. Amid the summer gloom, light emanated from this single source, which must have been visible for miles and miles. A figure stepped out onto the porch and called his name. He did not remember it. Was it really him? Wasn’t his name a different melody? He responded with another name he remembered from the past. Then, he approached the shadow and recognized the face as his own. He led himself into the house, where the pleasant smell of fresh baked bread and sweet wine filled the air. Music played from somewhere. He saw the people that he once knew. They turned around and cheered his arrival, raising their glasses and chanting his name. And the man smiled. He passed the room, making peace with everyone. Then, he went through the back door as the festivities went on. He stepped into the darkness of the night. The sky was adorned with stars, beautiful, sparkling lights. A song came to his mind. One that his mother used to sing.

Over the hills, the rolling hills, I went.

Looking for the life that seethed inside of me,

find me in strange places where the sky is golden

Give me rest, for I am weary and let me see the day 

where I lie to rest 

at the white-grained shores

where friendly voices sing of names 

time and places long past my memory 

and I, oh I, remember the living years 

when I called home a place

But of all things all must part 

all joy must fade solemnly away 

all parts of a whole will separate 

and I pour the liquor of memory 

on this day, in this vessel of me

The man sat down and closed his eyes, letting his thoughts sail adrift. How much the torment had been quelled! His eyes set on the mighty oak tree that he had known when it still was a little acorn. The night turned calm and vast. All land began to sink away, the trees, flowers and fields. All edifices raised crumbled, roads and paths withered away. A last word, gently uttered, resounded in this empty land. And so shall all things end.

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