I tell you of a “European Love Affair”. One in which I hint at a beauty that is indescribable, one in which I taunt you with the enamored feelings that I embrace, and one in which I still try to hide the whole truth so that many may never know. I see glimpses of the moments that I have had as I retrace my memory, and smile upon the fortuitous day that is bringing us back together. There is magic in the air as my foot is stone heavy upon the accelerator; racing for my final destination- racing for my new found love-racing for Annot.
A sublime drive that meanders along the Verdon River valley eventually delivers me to the entrance of my desire. Annot is a French village about an hour north of Nice; where one main street is lined with patisseries, cafes, and butcher shops. Whereas when I peer to the heavens I am interrupted with mountain ridgelines that intend to hide its true identity from the chaotic scrambles of the real world. Where old men sit around smoking cigarettes and offer a nod of respect as I stumble through cobblestone alleys that breathe a medieval life that is far beyond my comprehension. Warm smiles and welcoming conversations are handed out from the local merchants as I dream of an espresso and a bag of pastries saturated with the most delectable butter I have ever placed upon my tongue. However as much as I am enthralled with the quaint local lifestyle; I have truly come to be enlivened within a passion amongst the forested hillsides that are littered with magnificent sandstone boulders.
2 kilometers north of Annot; a dirt switch back road jostles its way through the depths of Mt. Argenton. I see small foot paths leading into the hidden cover of autumn painted trees as I peer through a dust covered windshield. As it is the off season for this mountain village; I seem to have the quieted wilderness all to myself. I ramble along kicking my bare feet in the eroded sandy trails keeping my eyes keen upon boulders that tower above me. As there are no exposed cliff bans or towering peaks within Mt. Argenton these stately stones seem to be a mystery as to how they have arrived throughout this hillside; clustered together with no real rhyme or reason. Some are still cloaked with velvety layers of green moss, and others have been dappled with white powder markings that a certain breed of individuals takes as a welcoming. I leave my mystical notions of creation behind as I ready myself for why I am truly here. Today; being my last and final farewell I have come to indulge within the natural beauty. I have come to climb. With my hands blanketed in chalk and my toes scrunched tightly within their shoes I can feel the sharp grip of my first hand hold. My muscles clench and strain as I work my way strategically along the rock faces, dancing upon my tip toes and finger tips. I am bewildered with distress as I fall to the ground below with a thud, but then I am met with an elated triumph as I stand atop each boulder hardened with accomplishment. It is a personal relationship that I encounter while in my natural surroundings; in the wilderness of choice. I am at peace and I can hear the clarity of my thoughts as my heart speaks. There are no judgments passed or fears formulated; it is a world that I embrace and become everything that I have always intended to be. I have been blessed to have found such an attraction, to have been able to open my heart, and to have been able to share a moment in time.
Even as I say Au revoir; I know that at some point I will return to bask in the beauty of Annot- my “European Love Affair”.
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Intimidating storm clouds churn in over the western hillside as they release thunderous grumbles from within. The shattering crack of lightning in the distance exclaims that I might not have enough time to climb on the boulders dubbed “Hunter’s Rocks”. I am racing against the clock as I take my first steps across a barren creek bed littered with dried leaves that crumble under foot. The age-old weathered sandstone that covers a majority of Pennsylvania leaves its sediment washed along the forested ground conjuring up reminiscent thoughts of a hike leading to an isolated beach. As I crest the top of the trail; I catch my first glimpse of the natural jungle gym in front of me. My finger tips are tingling as I can feel excitement radiating throughout me. I am a kid on Christmas morning with an adventure wrapped in a large red bow sitting before me. I purchased my first climbing shoes 2 weeks ago, and with every opportunity I have had to use them I have been beaten by summer storms. Today I make my first attempt at breaking them in.
A cloud of chalk envelopes me as I clap my hands visualizing my route along the bulbous stones that stand in front of me. With my first grasp upon the textured rock it slightly cuts into my palms as if I were rubbing against sand paper. My straining muscles slowly pull my feet from the ground, and I begin the problem in front of me. With a deep breath in I move from one finger clenching hold to another, and with a deep breath out my feet follow. It is a puzzle that lies in
front of me with no clear direction other than up. Several moves from the top I am filled with a
slight uncertainty as my fingers strain to hold true to the stone. My mind races as I contemplate letting go to fall to the safety pads below, but I soon look past the direct problem of fear and find an overwhelming calmness from within. One more breath allows me to focus as my body moves with an assured agility reaching for the top. A blind slap of my hand over the final hump locates the closing piece to the puzzle. My fingertips anchor around a nub, and with all of my might I strain to pull myself over the top.
With an elated sense of accomplishment I gaze breathlessly over vast hillsides and into a pastel pink sunset. The first drops of rain from the building storm moisten my hair and begin to trickle down my face. The cool droplets are remindful of a champagne shower while standing on the champion’s podium, and standing victorious atop “Hunter’s Rocks” I was indeed.