Fortified with espresso and chocolate, we climbed
the limestone mountain, chatting as we went, stopping
twice to pass around the trail mix of salty nuts and raisins,
chased it down with water from our
many times refilled plastic bottles that grew crinkly with each
day we walked the Sicilian countryside. Gorp
Never tasted so fine as on those trails– I confess to being
A bit obsessive about collapsing, then reopening my aluminum
Trekking pole, very confident when the path was, luckily,
smooth, then leaning on the pole hard when becoming a
Three-legged creature worked better than staying a biped.
We walked around sharp bends, through overgrown brush, past asphodel
–I tried in vain to remember the poem Asphodel that Greeny Flower—
We saw the acanthus flower, the blueprint for Corinthian
Columns, an elaborate floral construction supported
By an ambitious green stalk. I remembered them from
art history, those leaf- layered, ornate capitals.
We stopped for our picnic in Piano delle fate,
A name suggesting magic, calm– a peaceful vale.
But instead, we heard the roar of engines as the
Targa Florio rally zoomed past us—we ate three
Succulent salads Martina had prepared, sliced the
Charcuterie and the Sicilian cheeses, poured local wine
Into real glasses, sat on flat cushions on the grass, talked
–when the sounds of race cars accelerating,
squealing to a halt on the road just meters away
didn’t drown out all else. We extended our repast as long
as we could. It was time to retie our hiking books, shoulder
our packs and get on to Cefalu, and to the sea.
But first, we stopped at the sanctuary at Gibilmanna, ducking
out of the hot dry day into the white marble cool of
this holy baroque place, one of Gregory the Great’s monasteries,
then ruins, then hermitages, then a reconstructed church– like
all of Sicily, this edifice survived conquests, invaders, was
reinvented time and time again. Inside it was so cool, I wanted to
stay there all day and ponder all this. Instead, we ventured
out into the arid courtyard, into the hot sun. Three of our members
rode in the van to Cefalu–their bodies craved a respite.
Onward, I thought.
Easy enough, this last walk appeared to be, as we ventured
Away from the sanctuary and its cool white marble
Off the paved road and down a rock-encrusted dusty lane.
Then the grasses were more profuse, taller, fuller, brushing
Against our legs, our forearms. We became quiet then, endeavored
To keep up with our leader, we might glance at the back yard of a villa
At a small garden, mostly flowers. Then more
Lemon trees, olive groves– we walked along a defunct
Game preserve, its fence still standing, opposite villa after
Villa where no one seemed to live, though occasionally a
Dog barking told us some human must be around.
The road disappeared, we were on a path, overgrown, wild, with
Flowers of yellow, pink, white, the path so narrow we must
Trampled the flowers sometimes, the tall grasses ambitious
To take over the narrow path entirely. My legs began to
tell me I would never make the last four or five]kilometers,
but I kept thinking how I’d unlace and pull off my boots and socks,
Immerse my feet in the Tyrrhenian Sea. That was hours
Away, and we walked on, reached the point where we could see the
Roofs of Cefalu, the city I’d seen only in photos, red roofs and
Cream colored houses, thin ribbons of streets leading down
To white beach and the sea. I thought of it as Mediterranean
Blue like the crayon in the 48 Crayola box, the one with
Risers built in so that the new crayons stood like glee club
Singers in ascending rows. No–it’s Tyrrhenian blue, I said,
And walked on. We were sweating now, it must have
been after four, but the heat rose from those
hills of wildflowers and tall grasses. I felt my left instep
tweak a little, decided to ignore it, trying hard
to keep up with Charles and Phil, just ahead of me, single file.
I went into a sort of trance state, looked down to be sure I was
Walking where I should be walking, but no longer thought
About my feet, the heat, the sweat dripping down from
Forehead to chin. We descended this grass-crammed hill
and reached the paved road. Another forty-five minutes,
Stephen said, though Cefalu and the beach were so far away
I hardly believed him. We came onto a street of beach houses,
Backyards, fences, signs — terreno in vendita.
Just when the day was so hot, the sea so distant
that I was near giving up, we came upon a cherry tree,
low branches, every one stuffed, it seemed, with ripe
sweet cherries. We picked them by the handfuls, ate them,
juice running down our chins, we passed them around,
came back for more, swigged the last water from our
battered plastic bottles. One more hill, up, up, then
slowly we began our final descent. I won’t
bore you with how long it took for those with bruised black
toes, blisters, twisted ankles, aching feet to finish
the trek. But I can tell you this—
The waters of the Tyrrhenian sea were the finest I have ever
stepped into. I rolled my pants up above my knees, tread
carefully around the slick rocks, pushed my feet
into wet Tyrrhenian sand. I felt such triumph —
Martina stuck bottles of Prosecco into the water
To keep them cool till all of us had gathered on the sand.
I cupped my hands, scooped up the sea, bathed
My face and arms with the blue water, the same
Sea the Phoenicians, Normans and Carthaginians
had sailed. Martina popped open the Prosecco.
The wine fizzed in my mouth, I held out my glass
for seconds. I hadn’t felt such an endorphin-fueled rush
Since childbirth. Anything after this—the superb dinner
posh hotel, slower pace—was sure to be a letdown.
Di piu, per favore, I said to Martina, and
She refilled my glass to the very brim.
That night we would feast, at an outdoor osteria-–
At long tables, we would delight in the pasta, sea bream, contorni,
And we would toast one another—to fellowship, to reaching Cefalu,
And to the perfect, eternal blue Tyrrhenian sea.