I forget for a while and then remember. There is bear here.
I remember yet still I walk. The chances of meeting a bear are remote. The raise of a paw and a smoker’s ciao. Long as it doesn’t chow down on me I’m happy. I’m too slick with sweat in any case, I’d slip out of those claws; a slounge and then a flee. I stop on the steep switchback through the woods. Look up to the dapple of easy-shifting beech leaves. Blue beyond and a silence broken only by the uneasy scrawk of a hidden bird. Like it knows something. I look round. I stop looking round. I am grateful for my breath as I move on. Only after I pass a tree with the bark stripped do I wonder more seriously about the sun-faded picture of the Madonna pinned to another tree which I passed earlier.
In the open I am safer. That step from tree to grassy slope like a curtain being parted. Fairy tale greens flow all-compass around and down, quick-plummeting hillsides an enchantment awaiting a kiss. I hear a chainsaw in the far, far distance but imagine an axe, the woodsman hacking his way into the overgrown castle, a regular thwack-thwack that follows me up the slope, becoming muted as the mist sweeps in.
The low-slung lodge at the foot of the summit ridge is utterly deserted, three long buildings in a u-shape and a wide courtyard between. I peer into the absolute dark of a window, daring myself to stay long enough to see what white abomination will inevitably become manifest. There is snow in cold corners, a scatter of logs that haven’t been stacked, as if someone was interrupted, or got out of there in a hurry.
As I walk on towards the ridge path a mountain cyclist appears from nowhere. He too ponders the near-vertical path up. I have the oddest feeling that I must get ahead of him, to let him go first would be to watch him glide like a spectre up the slope, legs not moving at all on the pedals. When I stop a few minutes later to catch my breath he has vanished.
Only myself and the ridge now. Not quite the knife-edge but near enough. The mist rolls in from the south, up to the lip of the ridge before furling back on itself, as if spooked by the steep, steep fall away to the north, which is bathed in fantastic sunlight. I watch the goofy scudding cumulus. I try not to think. I am slowly filled. I’ve got to stay here. I have to ever-straddle the sunlight and shadow. The realisation makes me smile and makes me laugh, I laugh with my echo and then I hear another, someone else, a light and gleeful hooting. Way back along the ridge, just where it dips back into the mist, I glimpse a dark figure who is quickly swallowed up. Han Shan, I guess. Han Shan on another of his cold mountains – if he comes back he can have some of this chocolate bar, sure he can, every hermit has a sweet tooth…
Later, I wander off the track back down the mountain. As the rain begins to softly fall I take off all my clothes. I lie in the grass. Sink into the earth. Deeper and deeper. I am not cold. I dream of berries and bears.