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...)