Thursday, October 6, 2011

A Most Beautiful Place . . .

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I'm not sure that I will be able to find any words to express what I felt when I stumbled on this magical place. I had sought it out, it is true, having seen symbols on a map which suggested there might be something worth seeing there. Symbols of the slightest, vaguest sort, which simply indicated a handful of ruins. But oh, the distance between maps and reality can be infinite. No map could have prepared me for the sight of these ruins as we came over a crest of ground and beheld them there, where they stand in majestic silence, near the edge of a high cliff, overlooking a deep valley beyond.
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Hundreds of years ago men from the valley below climbed those cliffs, found a path to the plateau above, and built these rudimentary, rustic shelters where they could pass the summers peacefully alone with their small herds of sheep and goats, in an idyllic, remote, thoroughly secret place. Their women from the village in the valley would have made the hike up there as well to keep the men company, bringing food and other supplies. Who could imagine the summer nights under star filled skies there, a fire burning, the smell of sheep, their wool, milk for cheese-making. Who were these people ? Of what did they die, where are they buried ? And how did they live ? No electricity, no computers, no phones, just survival at hand. Work or starve.
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And yet they built with beauty and grace; arches that still stand when all the stones around have fallen, conquered by gravity. The sense of wonder I felt there, almost overwhelming, is unlike anything I've ever felt, anywhere. This was real. This was alive. Though no one lives there today, the place never died. It will haunt me for a long time to come, maybe forever. Already I want to go back there. To just sit quietly among those stones.
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An ancient iron hinge piece to hold up a shutter, long ago disintegrated.
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A butterfly on an acanthus bloom, looking as though he'd flown through a storm.
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27 comments:

Lady Mondegreen's Secret Garden said...

Dear Owen,
I can feel the warmth and the peace, and wonder what it would be like to observe the transhumance.
You'll go back I'm sure, drawn...

Nadege said...

It is a gorgeous place and I hope you will go back there very soon (les Cévennes again, right?). My brother in law's father had built the most beautiful wall made of stones over 100 years ago. It still stands the passage of time and harsh weather conditions.
Whenever I see ruins high in the mountains in France, Alphonse Daudet "les lettres de mon moulin" always comes to mind. "Les étoiles" is one of my favorite stories along with "installation".

Owen said...

Lady M., You are truly the early bird today, your prize is the chance to contemplate the butterfly before another less early bird snaps it up in their beak and flies off with it... Yes, I do hope to return there before long... take care... oh, and yes, the transhumance must have been simply awesome in those parts. There are still some places, I saw a couple, where the old stone paved transhumance paths are visible. There is one by the town of the Pont de Montvert... near le Mont Lozère

English Rider said...

Contoured to the land and of the Land. Abiding by its Nature and the nature of the rock that was born there and of which it was born. For support and structure and shelter. Magical indeed.

mythopolis said...

Oh, yes. It reminded me of stone settlements in Chaco Canyon in New Mexico built long ago by the Anasazis, predecessors of the Pueblo people. I have camped there several times, and the place has such a reverence about it that visitors all seem to talk in whispers.

Steve said...

Built with care and love... and a sympathetic eye to the geography. A skill that has much been lost in the modern age.

the fly in the web said...

Built to last for ever, nothing ephemeral.
Wondeful photographs, thank you, bringing back memories of visits years ago.

Stickup Artist said...

Oh Owen! This is so close to my heart and your written commentary along with your amazing photos brought me to tears! I feel the reverence, hear the prayers and the whispers, and have a sense that nothing ever really dies, that time is only an illusion, we are all connected, and that there is an unbroken bond of which I feel the tug in my deepest recesses, here and now, thru this post. Truly excellent on many levels...

Le Journal de Chrys said...

La dernière photo est formidable!

Catherine said...

this is indeed a beautifully tranquil and serene scene - wonderful sequence of shots...

Céline said...

C'est beau Owen, ce paysage magnifique me laisse sans voix, alors j'admire en silence...
Bises

Roxana said...

Owen, oh, one of your most wonderful posts... i am reduced to silence, i contemplate, my heart suddenly beats in the rhythm of eternity...

louciao said...

A sense of wonder, yes. I'll just sit in quiet amazement at the vastness of the vista, and the miracle of the still-standing archway, and the evolution of a butterfly that allows it to survive by imitating a leaf, and the hardiness of those who lived not so long ago in the resounding quiet of these worn-down mountains. Hush! Too many thoughts, louciao.
I'll just enjoy the view.

Owen said...

Silence is golden like an acanthus bloom, ear to the ground, golden eye to heaven... (the butterfly was deceased, by the way)

Marginalia said...

Looks like out Coalition government's housing policy but with more taste.

Nathalie said...

Ton meilleur billet depuis longtemps il me semble, ou alors c'est juste qu'il m'a particulièrement touchée, mais en tout cas j'ai été éblouie par ton histoire et tes photos. Tu as réussi à faire partager ton émotion, tes photos sont sublimes.
Pour une fois j'ai vraiment envie de dire du fond du coeur "thanks for sharing".

Gwen Buchanan said...

speechless in wonder here..

Owen said...

Visibly even just the photos of this place have touched all of you who have left a word or two here... what I would give that we could all go there together one day to quietly contemplate these ancient stones, and share our contemplations. I would be thrilled to be the guide for such a small group outing. Maybe if we all wish it very hard...

An excellent weekend to each and every one of you...

James said...

I think I might have left a comment for you on another blog by mistake. Anyway I love these views and that stone arch is amazing! Is this the Dordogne?

Owen said...

This is near the Parc National des Cevennes, in the Lozere department of France... the least populated French department...

Springman said...

"A man is a god in ruins!"
Ralph Waldo Emerson

What is it about ruins? Why is it that a heap of stone, it's face to the sun and rain, has so much more to say than bright new structures of glass and steel? Is a play date with our past, as we lounge comfortably in the present, a half hearted yearning to be at the mercy of the elements again? The virtual world we have come to inhabit, the one where we set the thermostat of our souls at 68 degrees, locking it in there from birth to death, spring through winter, must have it's advantages, hardly anyone is running from it. Perhaps it is our embarrassment of riches, some kind of existential guilt, that has stricken the western mind and like a long hour in the confessional, the moments spent touching stone laid upon stone lightens our grief and our rickety conscience as we contemplate the earth we endeavour not to belong to. Have we,after all this,fashioned ourselves after the third level deities of ancient imaginings,who enjoy at a safe distance the painful machinations of earthly travails yet oddly, and unsatisfyingly remain uncut by the drama?

Mr. Owen, Thank you for your kind regards, wonderful pictures and prolific prose. You are scratching deeply at the cheap veneer of post modern self pity and blowing a fresh breeze up the skirts of polyester sensibilities. It's to bad the job doesn't pay better!

Laurie said...

Beautiful, Owen! What a site(sight). Marvellous.

JeannetteLS said...

Oh, these are beautiful pictures. Just beautiful. For someone who can no longer travel, just having a site like yours awakens the artist in me. I love looking from the clarity of the foreground site, into the misted distance.

I just stumbled in here from Jo's site, A Majority of Two. Yet another place I'll have to return, just so that I can fly around the world a spell.

The Sagittarian said...

Oh a magical place to set down our picnic basket, pop open the champers (quietly of course so as not to frighten the butterflies)and contemplate our navels!

Jenny Woolf said...

What a spectacular place, I have seen places a bit like this in Greece but I'm guessing this might be France?
The butterfly - it's eerie. I thought at first it was some kind of strange little bird because of its "eye" with a highlight

:: Karine :: said...

ah owen adoré, tu es émouvant tu sais !
non seulement tes photos sont sublimes mais ce que tu nous dis en rajoute encore !
je te vois bien finir ta vie ici tranquillement loin de tout sans oublier grenouille bien évidemment :-)
merci pour cette belle émotion

Pastelle said...

Je veux bien rester assise là bas avec toi, à juste ouvrir les yeux et le coeur.
Quel merveilleux endroit... ♥