Up a long paved road, past the ancient oak trees that have been cut for cork, for centuries. Their dark, cross-cut bark is interrupted half-way up the trunk by a foot-long deeply gouged ring of white inner cambium. The dates of the cuts are marked into the bark: 1879. 1943. 2001. So that these trees are not overburdened in the service of the global booze corking industry.
Up a winding gravel road, unpassable except in a Jeep like this one, on the hairpin turns you can see the Costa Brava and the edge of the Girona Pyrenees slouching down into the foggy azure horizon. We are in L'Occitanie. Les Pyrénées Orientales, Pyrénées Catalans. Go as high as the Jeep can go, tires spin and bounce on a nearly 40 degree slope upwards. Park. Get out. Walk up a narrow path, one person wide. There are birdsongs layered on birdsongs. The air and the wind and the trees and understory change entirely every 100 meters of elevation. If we didn't have all that delicious food, and the cameras and (!) that wine.. we might have made the summit in an hour. But the trudge was closer to two hours. There were baby adders at nose-level. There were pink drooping flowers with polka-dots on the dripping rock faces. And finally, at the top, about 800 meters above the Mediterranean, what we had come to meet: a true forest, an ancient beech forest: la forêt de la Massane. Our guide and certified high-country Jeep driver is the chief forester, Joseph Garrigue.
And our permission to even be here is thanks to an extraordinary collaboration between 3 ecofeminist-ecological scholars, artists & activists (Bénédicte Meillon & Margot Lauwers from the University of Perpignan, and me...)
and Joseph, who, though he typically guides geneticists and arborists from all over the world up into this magnificent and precious biodiverse heaven in the mountains, is such an extraordinarily open-minded human being, that he saw the unique value of escorting these 3 (who, among them, are dancers, poets, painters, translators and photographers) in addition to having doctoral degrees into the ghostly depths of the beech giants. We carefully approached each one, and spent time with them: heir tangled expressive roots, their gigantic, muscled limbs, theirradiant barkof a shade I would never have met in my life were it not for this visit. We cutmushrooms from the grass inside their dripline. We took off our shoesto meet the oldest Yew tree in the forest: "Grandmother."
She lives up near the source of the water that never stops moving downward. Everyone calls her “Grandmother”, including Joseph. He paid his respects, gave her some news of the world, and went back to the rock hut to start dinner. We soeurcerers took off our clothes to meet the birthing of the Massane river: the single outpouring from a black rock faceat the summit. We swam which is a prayer with the skin. We put our clothes back on in time for the stars to come out. Cosmic modesty. At camp, Joseph had made a fire that was now banking coals. We dried our long hair, swinging it in the night wind. We slept on the open ground so we could see the stars. The stars never stop appearing up through the leaves and branches of that intact canopy: beloved, protected, mostly untouched, accuillante. Me and my forest, sisters.