January 16, 2014

Winter in the Mountains, pt. II


These words are born from movement. Bus, train, plane, car. Four months ago, I left France to find a new home in Ireland. Today, I pack a bag with my camera, lenses, and a few gifts for my family, and I leave for the airport. It is always strange going backwards. I watch the narrow sea unfolds from the irish shores and I am dazzled by the view. In just a few hours, I'll be back in a place that has slightly faded from my thoughts. Going through Paris, I remember the chaos this city means to me and I unconsciously hold my breath all the way to the train station. It is a relief to see the city disappear from the train window, and into the sunset we go. My journey ends with the light.

It is december and winter has settled in the mountains. Our house is cold. Every morning, we gather woods and light a big fire to keep warm. I find old knitted sweaters in my wardrobe, a ghost of what I used to look like, and I wear them over my own clothes. They smell like my life used to smell, my blind, young, quiet life – like lilies and ashes and the bark of the oaks after the rain. In many ways, the rooms here have frozen the day my father left us. There are still many memories of him – pictures hanging from the wall, his work satchel crammed under a table where he used to put it at the end of the day, a pair of spectacles in a drawer – not a grain of dust on them, untouched. I look through boxes of withered cloths and torn papers, and I finally find what I am looking for. My father's camera, tucked away like a secret, with two of the lenses a photographer friend gave to him as a wedding present. I hold the heavy body in my hands and remember how it used to weigh, the leather strap around my neck, when I was a kid and he would let me watch it while he swam in the sea. My mum allows me to take the camera with me when I leave, and that is all the christmas gifts I need. There is a old roll of film in the camera. I take it to be developed and the results are beyond anything I could imagine. My dad, who photographed the memories of my childhood, took pictures of the last days we spent together as a family. There is a picture of my nephew playing naked in the garden, of my brother laughing, and one of me, holding my baby niece into my arms, looking away at the summer night sky. I stroke the colors with my fingers and it feels like such a blessing, to be able to connect with my dad's spirit through his eyes.

We take the car up in the mountains to visit a family we've known for a long time. I used to spent summers with their daughter, slightly younger than I am, and I remember looking at her in awe, the fairy child – tall, slender, with hair like golden fields and the fairest skin. Now, there we are, two women grown. She cut her hair short while mine grew to brush my loins. We are both leaving for far away journeys later this year. One morning, we wake up very early to watch the sun rise over the field. When we go out on the road, it is still very dark, and nothing but silence whispers. Slowly, light comes, and mist fills the valley before our feet. We wait a long time for the sun to rise, but the sky is cloudy and only a frail purple light escapes from behind the hill. We spend the day walking around in the rain, warming up by the fire, and drinking tea while her cousin, the magician, entertains us with magic tricks. The next morning, we leave. I look one last time at the forest drenched in gorgeous sunlight, and I am grateful for this place, one of the most beautiful I know.

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