Beginning of August in the Cantabrian Mountains, weeks of extremely hot weather. We start walking at sunrise, climbing up and down the hills while the heat gradually intensifies to unbearable levels, having left us completely exhausted.
With the sun in the zenith life halts and the trills fade away substituted by an increasing sizzling: crisp, crisp, crasp! The broom crackles and disperses the seeds all over the burnt ground.
It is the time to find shelter, hang the hammock between alders and swim in the crystalline waters letting the fresh stream wash away the sweat, and with it, the harshness of the last ascent.
“Slowly advancing through a mosaic of beeches and prairies, hills and rocks…”
The afternoon brings some relief, the temperature lowers and we can restart the march. Slowly advancing through a mosaic of beeches and prairies, hills and rocks, we attentively stop every few steps.
There are tracks on the dry mud, strands of hair in the barbed wire, backlit shapes flickering in the distance…
Hours pass by among those blurred marks and fleeting silhouettes, until the end of the day is announced by a sky saturated with sunset colors. Vultures glide towards their roosts and so do we, initiating the last search – a piece of land flat enough to build up the camp.
It appeared the next morning and we did not see it until we were literally over it. It was laying in the very middle of the trail, as big as if it was almost blocking our passage. Still warm and with semi-digested cherries, the excrement rose in front of us as an organic sign, announcing that finally, after hundreds of kilometers, we were entering the bear zone.
Bit by bit, other hints appeared: traces marked in the vegetation, broken branches and tree trunks scarred with claws. Even though the possibilities of an encounter were very scarce and even scarcer of an attack, an atavistic fear crippled our subconsciousness. After all, we slept in his territory, we drank the water from his fountains and we shared the fruits from his forests.
The bear was here and we were as conscious of his presence as he was of ours.
“…finally, after hundreds of kilometers, we were entering the bear zone.”
“…by taming Nature, we felt apart from it.”
The natural surrounding, the isolation and the stillness sharpen the senses and emphasize the presence of every single creature around us. We are completely abstracted, indifferent to the social alarm raised beyond these sierras, in the villages and the cities infected by fear.
For how vulnerable we are and how much we ignore it! All it took to feel this fake sense of safety were just a few generations fenced in the metropolis. By exiling hunger, war and plagues, Western societies felt untouchable. And by taming Nature, we felt apart from it.
Now, the consequences of our delusions are threatening us and the survival of men and women has become again a matter of luck rather than wealth. All of a sudden we recover the animal condition and it comes accompanied by the same fear that we instilled in other species.
But these very same mountains had suffered dramas much more significant than ours. The hills have been mined, springs contaminated, forests burned or logged and their inhabitants massacred with rifles and snares and traps and poisons and…
No, up here no one will sympathize with the human tragedy. Up here life thrives and celebrates the fact that we finally reflect and begin to feel again.
From the tiniest grasshoppers to the heaviest bears, everyone silently waits to see if our suffering brings us humility, respect and empathy to overcome the challenges we all face as a species, or on the contrary, it will amplify the behaviors that lead us to such an abyss in the first place.
Whatever we decide individually and collectively will determine our common fate.
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