THE BEAR MOUNTAINS. Errant, rugged, and pathless. We spent three mapless days battling our way through them, crisscrossing valleys and ridges, some bare others overgrown, the sun above our only compass. We had but one thought: forge onwards, ever north. It was hot in the south near Tismana amid trackless karst plains. Sweet chestnut trees had been brought there long ago from the Greek monastery at Athos. At their outer edge, an old man stood guarding his beehives day and night. Next, endless beech forests. Our day ended in one of them, blessed day. Sleeping under an open sky, not knowing where we were. What a way to fall asleep! All was still – fire, forest, mouths, moon. No one about but a herd of boar in the dense thickets below us. Blessed was the morning as well: on a fallen beech trunk about four meters off stood a great bear. It looked at me long and hard, silently observing. I was silent too, and happy. Across distant valleys, raspberry covered hillsides reached skyward. The reddest slopes and largest raspberries in all Romania. Wild eastern song, clear and strong, rang from their midst. Raspberry pickers scaring bears, banishing loneliness. Have you ever eaten too many succulent raspberries, little brother? If not, go to the Vîlcan Mountains!
The following day’s toil ended above tangled gulches and valleys at the boundary between beech forests and pastureland. Beautiful, the mapless Carpathian journey following sun, shepherd, and woodcutter. The final night at forest fringe, evening mists descend into ravines. The last campsite of a wonderful holiday – two tarps stretched over three pilgrims keeps the rain off but let sweet breezes in. A pot to feed six pilgrims. A pot to quench their thirst. The next day is the last. We will walk through ridgetop meadows and descend along northern slopes through pine forests to the clear Jiu river. We will wash ourselves in emerald pools of mountain sweat, summer’s scent.