With Neil Young ringing in the ears we glided down the other side of the pass and coasted towards the farm. Hidden by a broad leaf hedge only a small sign indicated the track leading into it. We turned left. Stones in the road popped and snapped under the tires as we crawled along the dirt road before turning right and stopping inside a homemade wooden carport. We got out, stretched and headed for the front door, where two cats kept watch, leaving the car unlocked. We entered the snug office and were met by Rosa, a sturdy woman with thick dark hair within which floated a few wisps of grey. Her skin, tinted from a life spent outdoors, was smooth and glistened with health. Her hands, fully fleshed from working on the farm, were firm and her handshake warm and welcoming. She wore a thick cut short sleeve shirt the colour of rich deep earth and a flowing skirt, tightly patterned and sparkling with colour, that brushed the floor lightly as she breezed between the office and the kitchen. When she smiled her face lit up and her eyes radiated honesty.
Catalan was never going to be the language of choice and our Spanish is limited to “Dos vinos tintos por favor. No, botellas ni vasos.”. Rosa’s English wasn’t much better than our Spanish so we settled on pigeon French for communication and happily massacred that language as we got to know each other. After two days cooped up in a car we were anxious to get out in the fresh air and asked if there was a walk we could follow to stretch our legs before dinner. Rosa gave us a map for a two hour stroll starting from the front door of the farm and circling the village as well as a generous carafe of local wine – straight from the barrel. Armed with the guide and refreshment we wandered off to unpack and settle. We’d taken the garden room which had it’s own entrance and was protected by an old olive tree which had a few long brittle branches close by the window. A bit further off stood a colossal fir tree. One of the first things we noticed were the orange trees. Occasionally, in the past, we’ve travelled well and were accustomed to hotels serving freshly squeezed orange juice in the morning but this was the first time we been to one where they kept their stock on the tree rather than in the refrigerator.
Anyway we settled in, tucked clothes away, arranged boots and picnic gear, covered the television with a towel and had a couple glasses of wine with our scrap lunch before setting off on our walk. We stayed in our, rather smelly, travel togs rationalising that we would scrub up and change after the walk and before going into dinner.
We set off down a rutted farm track lined with wild flowers in full bloom straight into a stiff breeze which sent the flowers whirling and twirling in dance and brought us the aroma of each farm we passed. We walked past olive groves, stately in order and form, and after a while the wild flowers gave way to huge succulents. The wind continued to push us about. It was a gruff wind going about it’s business while it painted patterns in the wheat fields. We came upon a huge open space where the wind continued to nudge, poke and prod us this way and that before pushing us partway up a hill to a farm. Behind the farm a small pasture contained a donkey standing at the top of the hill. As soon as he’d spotted us he came clattering down to the fence as if we were the first sentient beings to have passed in living memory. We stopped and chatted with him for a bit before continuing.
At the top the road wrapped around a corner and led on to a crossroad. There, on the crossroad, stood an ancient olive tree. It’s deeply furrowed trunk supported three strong stems and, as we approached, both tree and crossroad, the atmosphere changed. As at the portal in Valence I was inexplicably transfixed. Gazing at the tree with it’s scarred and weathered exterior it was as if I was peering into time itself. A wave, or something like a wave, passed over. It felt like a question. It was the sense of a question. There was no form, no words but it was clear I had an obligation to answer. The only problem was the question, if that’s indeed what it was, remained obscure and unfathomable. We turned to move on and as we strolled along the road the sense of a question settled on my shoulders like a heavy winter cloak and I carried it back to the farm.
We scrubbed up and got ready for dinner looking forward to a change of clothes. After having a shower I got ready to change and, still being very much a boy at heart, I smelled the shirt I’d been wearing for the last two and a half days searching for a malodorous experience. To my amazement it had been cleaned by the wind. It smelled as if it had just been washed and come off the clothes line. Was it possible that wind alone could cleanse? We toddled off to the dining room, ate a hearty country dinner, returned to our room, and finished off the carafe of wine over cards before going to bed. As I closed my eyes the image of the olive tree came into focus and the sense of a question surfaced. I tried to probe into it but it remained without form, without substance. My hand could reach in but grasp nothing. The wind continued its bluster outside and eventually I became aware of the long withered branches of the olive tree by the window click-clacking into each other like a pair of knitting needles. Slowly the dark image of the olive tree gave way to warmer one of my grandmother sitting quietly in a rocker knitting steadily. Soon I fell fast asleep.