On the Lake
'And into the forest I go, to lose my mind and find my soul.’
- John Muir
© Yara Zgheib, All Rights Reserved
The sun is setting on the Lac Léman. From the terrace of a palace in Caux, it looks like it is on fire. The air is purple and orange. It smells of orange as well, or perhaps that is the lingering taste of the fruits we have just peeled and shared. Happily full, time for a walk.
The path leads off the terrace and into the impossibly green pine forest. A narrow, dirt road ribbons around the mountain, sometimes barely wide enough for one of us. Intersected by thick, tough roots, a stream, some slippery rocks. At one point it diverges: up or down the mountain?
Down this time. Tomorrow we’ll go up.
In between dense foliage and sturdy, centenary trunks: the sun, the lake scintillating. Closer to the ground: wildflowers, snails, wild strawberries.
One for me and one for you. But of course, you give me both. A pause for the deep, red taste and a deep breath. Tomorrow, there might be a storm. But at this very moment, all that ever was, all that ever will be, is strawberry. The quiet nobility of this place, this present we are witnessing.
I was told that once, in fact many times, the Empress of Austria-Hungary came here. Morning and evening walks in this forest. Sunrises, sunsets on this lake. She would come seeking quiet and refuge in these mountains that never change, the simple hospitality of a place that does not ask for your name.
She was not the only one: kings and writers and monks and feuding heads of state; life-weary, heart-heavy travellers; backpackers; philosophers, honeymooners, grievers, actors, have come here and come here to look at this lake, walk this path, breathe this air, breathe. Leave the past and future for a while, both artificial constructs anyway.
Caux is evergreen through the much awaited first snowfall of December; past its unwelcome lingering in April; through sticky, humid prologues of August showers. Steadfast through world wars and global crises, oblivious to time and human suffering. All that ever was, and all that ever will be, streaming through the fragrant pine needles.
We reach a turn; the path continues, probably all the way to the lake. We let it go ahead without us; the sun has nearly set. Perhaps tomorrow, if it does not rain, if we are still here, we will make it all the way down to the Léman. It will still be there.
That simple fact makes leaving this place to face the world and life easier. That it exists, like North and gravity. A pure and noble, constant place, that kings and queens and you and I can come to, with our own mountains, storms, and picnic days. That those and we are all beautifully fleeting, like the sunlight on the lake.