Dispatches From Italy -  Hiking near Radda and Greve

Monday early morning, 3 July 2006.  Outside Siena

The early morning quiet is being shaken by a hidden clattering.  I can’t quite see the source, but the clatter is moving, and maybe into view.  I’m standing at the end of a street near the Siena campground, overlooking a hillside garden of fruit trees, grape vines and vegetables.  I blink.  Peering into faraway fields, but still unable to spot the intrusion, I return my attention to the tendrils cradled in my rough hands, hands that are burnished and browned by years of dirt and sun.  The cool of the dusk is receding - soon I will be mopping my brow.  My worn work clothes crinkle and rasp over my aging skin as I walk the fields, bending over to crumble soil or caress a plant.  The plants feel happy.  A smile gathers the crows feet around my eyes as I continue through the rows.  The hesitating sun finally dashes from behind the eastern ridgeline, impatiently prodding me in the eyes.  I blink to clear the spots.  The camera in my hands is following a clanking, rattling tractor spraying mist in the faraway fields.

Monday mid-day.  Outside Radda

Mad dogs and Englishmen.  Considering I’m not ‘English’ by absolute definition, I guess that makes me a mad dog, especially considering I’m in the company of English ’men’.  Today is our first real hike, our first real sweat.  We’ve walked on ubiquitous cypress-lined roadways, on paths foraging through wooded hillsides, through fields, past farmhouses and even through a small church being restored, the workmen snoozing under a nearby ancient oak.  We’ve walked through lovely heat.  I could get used to this.  A shaded patio replete with hydrangeas is providing a respite from the mid-day sun.  Blues and pinks tint the air, tint our breaths.  Karen is sitting on the patio ledge absorbing a view; Kevin is splayed on the cool floor napping.  He opens his eyes.  “Lunch?”  Karen and I grin.

Monday night.  Radda

We so often measure things.  The per capita use of gasoline, per capita kids, cars, dogs.  The number of cell phones sold last year.  The population of cities.  Sports stats reign supreme for number kings.  Numbers are so easy to compare, to claim status from.  But we don’t measure culture, its density, its quality, its batting average.  Truthfully, I don’t know anybody who actually specifically measures culture, but being aware, being conscious of differences in quality and availability may have to suffice.  We are watching a play (in Italian, of course, so we are guessing the plot twists) from a broad stone patio overlooking Radda’s main piazza.  It isn’t a Broadway production nor does the storyline appear to aspire to anything grander than mischievous humour, yet it is still theatre, art, culture in a small Italian town.  How do you account for that with numbers?


Rattling, clattering, misting the morning

Shadows, curves and colours

Beautiful stone

Vines, rows and rows of vines.  Beautiful!

Cool floor, hot sun - a church parked in the middle of a field

Gorgeous stone house, vines and grass surrounding

I was once a favourite…

I am blue!

more images...

Tuesday morning, 4 July 2006.  Outside Radda

I’m awake with the light, as usual.  Once again, Karen has found a campground to remember.  Pool, diving board, warm showers, gently wooded and perched at a cooling 600 metres elevation.  The campground is half filled with ‘permanent’ residents, people who come to escape the lowland summer heat.  The canopy of trees is rustling above my cushy dried leaf mattress.  I have time to read and maybe for a short exploratory walk before we depart for our second enjoyably sweaty hike near Greve.  What an excellent way to welcome the day.


I see you; you are sweating

Olive trees roasting under an open fire

Traffic = small cars and big tractors

more images...

Wednesday mid-day, 5 July 2006.  Above Stazzema

What is it about high open spaces that so enthrals me?  I have fond memories of standing in Southern France, firmly planted on a stone plateau in precarious biking shoes, overlooking a massive valley wide enough to haze the far sides.  Now I stand before a massive Italian view.  The joyous sense of openness – is it ease of navigation, that I can see pathways, routes, possibilities?  Is it seeing so much nature spread before me?  I get an echo when I’m on top of a building or in a plane, but this joyousness is no more evident than when I’m moving along a ridgeline, making me feel like an excited puppy, wriggly all over, wanting to see everything and do everything and with no lack of energy.  I’ve always loved ridgewalks, and this one above Stazzema is no exception.  Though the horse standing in front of me is an exception.  Is he longing for a dip in the Mediterranean, just visible in the distance?  Or maybe just trying to figure out which side of the ridge leads home?  Nonchalant ears flick in my direction, indicating neither – ‘This horse is just fine, thank you.  I live here.  I know exactly where I am and you, well, you look funny staring at me.’

Wednesday afternoon.  Above Stazzema

I have two hands on a rock outcropping, gazing up a towering cliff face.  We were up there, on top.  We’re on our way down, down to the car, down past the workyards with massive marble chunks scattered about, down all the way to the beach and our campsite.  But first, I’m thanking this mountain, sending a pulse of gracious thanks into the rock, into the mountainside.  I know I’m small, an inconsequential visitor for this mountain, but even with my fleeting geological existence and far briefer time with my hands on this rock, I still want to say thank you.  I tried to leave little physical trace of my time there.  No garbage, no destruction, only footprints.  From our hiking path today I have a pocketful of other people’s traces; candy wrappers, pieces of paper, torn bits of plastic marker tape and more.  A long time ago I experienced a phrase that stays with me every day: Leave No Trace.  In the mountain wilderness where I learned it, campsites were selected not only for shelter and comfort, but how well they could be returned to randomness after a night of flattening occupation.  Cooking was done on sand or rock or snow – something that could ignore high traffic better than grass or moss.  When walking through untracked meadows we would spread out rather than walk single file.  We went to the extent of pouring water from pot cleaning through a sieve, putting the detritus in a ‘trash’ bag.  Take this Leave No Trace concept out of ‘nature experiences’ and it can become very powerful.  Everything you buy, find, take, remove, throw away, leave behind, lose, or even send down a drain comes from or goes to somewhere – leaving a trace.  Flick on a light switch – that power came from somewhere and got to you through something.  Both the somewhere and the something require human impact and consumption of materials.  A city is a collective trace.  Much like the footprints we leave behind, many traces cannot be avoided, but the impact of those traces, that footprint of your presence, can be minimized… and at some point can become sustainable within the earth’s ecology.  That is the key.  Sustainable has become such a buzz word, almost a cliché to some, but much like the word love, it still has meaning when used truthfully.  I close my eyes and exude a warming positive flow into the rock, leaving a trace.

Wednesday really late.  Outside Forte dei Marmi

In Seattle, I live amongst noise.  Dumptrucks, traffic, yahoos in shiny cars.  I can’t say I’m happy about it, but I am somewhat used to it.  This is even worse.  It’s 2am, and I’ve only had snatches of sleep as the party of trucks and trains carouses past the campgrounds.  I think this is a bit much.  No pool, iffy showers.  I’m becoming a campground snob - I hope we can find somewhere else tomorrow.


Morning sun at altitude is so very nice

Morning flowers brings a smile to my face

A determined fern

Enjoying the view

Kevin stands proud

The view from the tippy top

Billy the goat with his two buddies, looking for some cliffs to hang out on

Karen and Kevin ridgewalking

We went around this - there was also a trail up!

An orange fallen star

Sheer faces of rock basking in the sun

more images...

To RomeRome Day IRome Day IISiena • Radda/Stazzema • Azzano/LericiCinque Terre/World CupRome/EnglandSeattle

Peter Newbury's Published Adventures