Friday, February 08, 2008

Climbing the Fortress

Today in my inbox, I got some pictures from a friend of ours (and caving companion) Roberto--pictures from a recent caving-related outing. Some of you might remember old posts about Roberto. He's definitely one of my favorite fellow cavers, in that caving-related activities with him range from crazy cave hunting to serious cave scene investigation, which, of course, included florescent powder. Whenever Roberto asks, "Anyone up for some caving fun?" I jump to respond first to his emails, simply saying: "what's the job this time?"

This time, the job was gardening. No, not gardening in a garden! That would be too easy! We were called, by the wonderful people of San Leo in northern Le Marche, to pull weeds from the side of their fortress. Yes, it's one heck of a job, but someone's gotta do it, right? And Roberto has all the right connections, since we were just in San Leo over the summer, doing actual cave research on the cliffs below.

Have you heard of San Leo? It is one of the most stunning fortresses in Le Marche, situated ever so precariously on the rocky edge of a mountain cliff, where nearby you can find the craggy cliffed republic of San Marino and the other famous fortress of Sassocorvaro, deep in the heart of the Pesaro province of Le Marche. Just seeing San Leo, driving up to it from a distance, makes you wonder if this is a dream, or if you really ARE in the middle of a fairy tale (and that is Rapunzel's hair hanging from the fortress window).

But no, it's not a dream. It's not a fairytale. And that's not Repunzel's hair--those are actually five sturdy, life-saving ropes, tied in one way or another to the iron grating attached to the various windows of San Leo, which, in its time, was once a prison, and those iron gratings the only thing holding the prisoners within its walls. That, and the long drop down. And those ropes, like Repunzel's hair, are meant to be climbed.

We love Roberto, but I started to question his sanity when he began to secure the ropes to those iron gratings. Why did the iron gratings look so rusty? Could they really be trusted? How strong WAS this fortress, after all? I voiced my opinion a bit, but more than anything, I tested all of the ropes, prayed a bit, and started to second guess: Do we really need to be pulling weeds? This doesn't seem nearly as serious as some of our past missions, which were more along the lines of cave-hunting. Weed pulling? On a steep steep fortress wall? Who DOES that?

But I had already committed, and this was the kind of thrilling, crazy thing that sometimes cavers just do because, well, it's actually a lot of FUN climbing up a rope and repelling down it. And who can say that they've been to San Leo, not as a tourist, but as a rock wall gardener? So, we put on our caving suits, our harnesses, and all of our tools. And we stood there, at the foot of the fortress, all of our gear on one side, and garden gloves and shovels on the other. We looked completely out of place--like ninja gardeners or something. We grabbed our ropes and started. Tourists were starting to gather below us as we climbed, wondering what in the world we could be up to.

And the weed pulling began--each of us going after the weeds like this WAS the serious mission. We spent our time cutting and pulling and removing whole root systems from the walls of San Leo, cursing if even a bit of green remained stubbornly on the wall, and, enjoying panoramic glimpses every once in a while of the hills around us. When we were back on the ground, during our lunch break, we plotted and planned out how exactly we would reach that dandelion weed growing out a little too far to the left, or that rosemary-like bush that was clinging with particular strength to the rocks and bricks. So maybe we weren't cave hunting this time but, well, weed hunting? It was a pretty tough job as well.

As we got the last weed that we could reach, we decided to stop. Yes, it's true--there were another five weeds or so, but they were simply unreachable! We had risked our bodies for a bunch of weeds, didn't we realize it yet? And here the day was, coming to an end. Enough. We looked up at the wall, up at the job we had completed, up at the windows where our ropes were still tied, still tight, still ready to support more weed-pulling crazy people. Roberto was still surveying those last weeds, surely wondering what to do, and all of the sudden I smiled at how glad I was to have signed up after all. Who else has this on their resume? It was enough to make me laugh out loud. What a day. What a strange, exhilarating, completely insane, yet completely entertaining way to spend a Sunday in Le Marche.

The sun set while we were getting something to eat at the bar in the middle of town, and I went out to watch it. It was breath taking. It was worth every bit of weed-battling that we had done. Those purples and reds and pinks, the sky all lit up like that, completely taken over by the strength of a sunset--it was the kind of show that I rarely saw in Macerata. Perhaps it was because we were up so high, in these hills, in the middle of the mountains.

Or perhaps it was the happily-ever-after of a day of hard work. The last lines of the fairytale that truly does exist. Either way, the day was over, our mission, as we had chosen to accept it, was complete. It was time to go home. The day was really done.

So, Roberto--any more missions coming up?



At 10:14 PM, Blogger erin said...

wow! This is a unique task you had :) But sounds like fun. I'd probably opt for pulling weeds here than in a boring yard!


Post a Comment

<< Home