Out from the slipshod earth of the pine forest, where the needles are pushed aside for the marks of a tractor, you will come to a gravel road, bleach-white limestone, empty and gently curving to your right. Ahead an impossibly green pasture rises gently to the birch forest that straggles up the hill before the limestone cliffs defeat it in the rise of the Hohe Wand – the high wall.
Up there on the plateau we walked together through the cathedral atmosphere of a summer woodland. Blazing sunshine reduced to a mere dappled suggestion of the day. We strode upon springy humus, over tree roots and up hills, through a meadow in the lee of a picture perfect Gasthaus, flowers in a riot of pinks and purples spilling from the window plant boxes. We walked a wide circuit, in a clearing that housed a herd of deer in a large enclosure.
Turn left and walk parallel to the fields and rearing hills, and stop where you see a thorny tangle of brambles, and pick some of the heavy drupes that hang between razor-wire canes, some taste bitter, others so soft and sweet that the taste is like coming home. A few metres ahead is a dilapidated hunters’ hide, graying timber secured to a wizened oak tree that sits on the steep slope below the road. Test the strength of the ladder and climb carefully to the little platform. The timber protests a little but feels secure.
How many times we came to this same valley as a family, during the depth of winter, during the spring to drink cold water loosed from the earth. Down the road is the inn where a distant relative would play the zither in the evenings, and where we would sit in the beer garden by the little roadside. Waldmeister leaves carpeted the ground there, like little parasols of green. If you picked them and rolled the stem between your palms they would take of like a little helicopter rising and falling in a arc prescribed by gravity and air. Or collect them to brew a tea, or cooked down with young nettles into a acerbic sauce enriched with cream.
No one knows that you are here. You came out here to the place of the tree, seeking a portal back in time. Now you perch in this tree that was ancient long before, when you ancestors first crossed into this world and made it their home. The gentle hum of insects fills the air, and as you peer through the viridian leaves you can see a ruined fortress, and beyond, the hills, hazing to blue, to gray, to the white beyond. In the grass below a marmot insinuates its way through the swaying grass, and the trail of a high flying jet leaves a scar across a sapphire sky. A cow is calling in the field and you turn and see the roof of the farmhouse nestled to your left, huddled between field and cliff, the forest holding it in a tender embrace.
Sometimes it’s so easy to think of time as a straight line, the way history is a river, moving through from birth to death. As we get older we see those we knew and loved leaving us and this world. Learning how to define eternity a little better every time makes it hard to understand that time could be a circle, easy to forget those cycles we chanted as children. Summer, Autumn, Winter, Spring. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday… The rising and setting sun, the waxing and waning moon. All these cycles harder to see, when death and loss makes us think about endings.
Eventually you will walk on from here, either back to the right, the way you came: through the forest and towards the church where you parked the car. Or continue to the left and up the little path you can see climbing up to a series of stairs, and hope to find a path on the clifftop back to the right and the ladders you know descend back past the Unicorn cave where your uncle found narwhal bones preserved in the limestone. Either way, you will be walking in a circle, looping around and back. There are no straight lines or clear defined paths outside of the page and mind of the mathematician. There will always be a time where we return and revisit, loop back upon ourselves, our lives, our loves.
Life cannot be anything but a circle, a cycle. There is no beginning and there is no end. Rather our souls, our matter, our being, will continue to circle around this world. The very atoms that you were will return to the earth and be reborn in the soil. The way you brushes the leaves here, or the butterfly that landed on your arm to drink from the perspiration there, the way your soul will divide into the memory of loved ones, and then the way a certain tree leans by the influence of your hand on its bark, or the flow of water in the river by the stones you threw in as a small child. Your imprint is everywhere in this world, and will continue to resonate in a loop, until beyond the end of all things.