We made our way slowly north through the steep Priorat valleys adorned with crimson and amber leaves – that year end enchantment of patchwork vineyards, almond and hazel groves and cherry orchards flaming before the fall.
It is easy to romanticise the farm, especially on days of champagne air and such palettes of fleeting colour when the year holds its breath. Deeper still, the rural life can be especially beguiling in these maelstrom climate and COVID days of doubt that tilt the normal order of things.
I caution against longings to head for the hills. Life can be arduous, maybe too raw – and quiet – for many. It can be too distant, too much of one’s own company. But my words fall to whispers and dry up. For it is a life I never want to end.
Once more, during olive harvest, we met up at the cooperative mill at dusk with the proud, stoical villagers with their strong backs and steady hearts. There is immeasurable worth in their wisdom and that quiet pride – pride in community, in knowing this land of their deep roots and how to work and sustain it. Trust, cooperation and humour water the many challenges of long days and labour.
That specific memory of the enchanting colours was reinforced by the reason we were making that journey north. We were heading up into the lee of the Montsant mountain range, that majestic wave of smooth, mellow rock that dominates this astonishing landscape. We wanted to walk a path our friend Deanna loved. She has left us. Too soon. She was an extraordinary soul, part Persian, part English, of an African childhood, worldly wise, multi-lingual, curious and effortlessly kind; a singer, a shining light in our lives with the most wonderful laugh. Maggie had known her since university. Music brought them together. That day on the mountain Maggie had dried rose petals to scatter in her memory as her funeral took place 1000 miles away.
Scala Dei, ladder to God, stairway to heaven, is well-named. It is not difficult to reason why, in the 12th century, Carthusian monks from Provence established their order’s first monastery on the Iberian Peninsula here beneath the massif. It is overwhelmingly beautiful. Climb a little and you can see forever. There is ample air and nature to contemplate, whether you are religious or not.
The monks were here and the priors ruled this county for seven centuries, hence the name. Theirs was a decisive contribution in the cultivation of the vine, so in a fundamental other way the legacy lives on.
We walked up behind the monastic ruins, now being gradually restored, on that trail Deanna knew, to a lush bowl of growth, to La Pietat, a now derelict building with a spring pool that was once a resting place for visiting prelates.
We sat and, yes, contemplated. We listened to life-affirming Kenyan music called Obiero, by Ayub Ogada. We gave thanks and counted blessings.
That is why, should you have also made the climb that day, there were rose petals and teardrops in the spring pool.