Tuesday 22 May 2012, 5.30pm, Zalanpatak, Transylvania
Having been in Transylvania for over a week, I feel as though I am just starting to live at a more natural pace. Whilst I normally love nature and wildlife, I tend to appreciate it only fleetingly and on a grand scale rather than taking the time to notice and love the smaller, frequently overlooked delights. But today’s walk was an opportunity to immerse myself in those small details.
We headed the other way out of the guest house this morning, fording the small river twice before setting off up the other side of the valley. The rough track was lined by trees, and we stopped to see a small volcanic spring nestling amongst their roots. Shrouded behind grasses and framed by the gnarled roots, the little muddy pool burbled, gurgled and spluttered to itself quietly.
On up the track we headed, breaking into the treeline and meandering into a wood of beech, birch and hornbeam. After a short time we peeled off to the right, directly up a steep embankment of trees, to look for the rare Lady’s Slipper Mantle, a yellow orchid-like plant. We crawled through the undergrowth and waded in deep leaf litter before hitting a rough track along the crest of a small ridge. Sadly, we did not spot the blooms of the plant, but we did see a few plants about to burst into flower which could possibly be the species in question. Photographs were duly taken to check later, but to be honest the climb was fun and I don’t think any of us felt disappointed at having missed out.
We continued up the crest, and eventually hit the main ridge. There, in a series of pools formed in the ruts of cart tracks was a whole variety of life. There were ordinary-looking toads which, when flipped onto their back, sported a bright yellow-orange belly designed to make predators think they are poisonous. It’s a trick which seems to work with the storks which apparently never eat them. Newts abound here too, in grey and blue, darting into the muddy shadows as we approached. And beside them all lurked an apparently solitary frog, blending almost seamlessly into the earth and vegetation.
The path along the main ridge finally led into open hilltop pasture, where we lounged beneath a tree and feasted on soft white bread and butter, pork schnitzel in a light but crunchy coating, giant pretzels, boiled eggs and the ubiquitous caraway brandy.
We had just made out the figure of a cow a few hundred yards ahead of us, so it was no great surprise as we moved on to be greeted by the barking of the huge shepherd dogs. They bounded towards us sporting, as usual, the long bars around their necks which prevent them from chasing the wild animals too far. The call of the shepherd rapidly calmed them, and one sat to bask in the sun while another sat at the shepherd’s side to get its ear scratched.
From there we began our descent, taking time once again to inspect the teeming life crawling amongst the grasses. There were squat, fat-bodied spiders, one in a dusty yellow colour and one entirely bright green like a grasshopper; there were little black beetle-like creatures with vivid red spots; and caterpillars and butterflies galore.
From the tiny to the huge, we stopped to inspect the bear watching hide, complete with deep claw scars some six feet up the side where the bears had tried to break in to steal food. A little further on, birch saplings had been snapped just a foot or two from the ground by bear cubs at play. There are more bears in this region than in the whole of the rest of eastern Europe but, perhaps rather fortunately, we saw no actual bears despite these legacies of their presence.
We are now back down in the village, so I am holding on to that relaxed feeling of being part of nature. Sitting at the window, I am looking out over the valley across which the evening sun is falling. And although I am indoors and arguably on the cusp of civilisation once again, I can still hear the song of the grasshoppers as they call their evening curfew.
This is the ninth in a series of posts based on diary notes written on a recent trip to Transylvania; but being posted now owing to the lack of internet access at the time!