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March 27th, 2017

Buried Treasure

by Paul Duncan, Learner, Writing Workshops

Going full whine, the handlebars vibrating like hammer drills, I had barely been able to make half the speed of the cars gassing past my two-wheeled vehicle. Lumbering trucks overtook me, downshifting in loud, unrestrained belches like those the locals indulged in on Beaujolais Day, a French holiday dedicated to drinking the cheap, young wine. A few miles later, off the main arterial highway and onto the winding roads, my regret at choosing a scooter for the trip died away. Passed by a pack of lean cyclists wearing colourful jerseys, and then surrounded by the smells of wood smoke and sun-warmed pines, I was glad I’d chosen the small, open transport to take me back up to the peak.

Six years before this return trip, my then-girlfriend (now wife) Hannah and I made that same hike up from a villa we were staying in with a friend, who had offered us accommodation while we were looking for work on the luxury yachts that ply the coast below. Our friend was acting as a caretaker of the villa, and in the evenings we shared bottles of red wine in front of a fireplace so large you could step into it without stooping. The days were spent chopping firewood, cleaning, and taking trips into the nearby town to top up on wine, baguettes, and cheese.

We made the climb on a startlingly clear day, Hannah unaware that a diamond had shifted from its hiding place in my backpack to the linty confines of my short’s pocket. I was leaving in three days to join a yacht in Florida, and the next time we would be together was unknown. Having neither enough time or money left to buy champagne, I’d tucked a carafe of tea and two mugs into my backpack. Together we ventured above the treeline, up to the very top of Les Courmettes. A question was poorly asked. An answer was generously given. It was an indelible day, and we lingered, drinking warm tea and making run-on plans; surrounded by the cascade of notes that followed this new chord. 

Eventually, with the afternoon running out, and the need to tell someone, anyone, our news, we began to make our way down. The lower section of the circular trail leads through owned land, in which scattered groups of sheep graze on scrabbly herbs and grasses. These woolly beasts are herded by dogs the size and colour of young polar bears, and as Hannah and I emerged from the trees onto a dirt road, we were surrounded by a pack of the ancient canines. Large enough to come up to our chests, they milled silently around us, pressing their weight against our bodies as the warm afternoon air filled with musty breath. Their fur was wild-feeling; matted and coarse they had the hides of free things. And, in their beauty, unknowability, and vague threat, the animals seemed to share a duality with life itself: that of being both the shepherd and the wolf.

Paul’s piece was written for Ann Ireland’s workshop: Creative Travel Writing (CWWR 952).