WEEK SIX gives us at last, a good break in the weather and we are up and out. Covid means that the local ski resort along the valley from us is shut, so we take the opportunity to drive up to the top of the plateau. To our surprise, many people have already gone before us, making the first tracks in the snow after walking up the pistes under their own steam. Still the place is uncannily quiet for this time of year; the wind whistles along the ridges and blows snow in drifts down the slopes slowly covering the ski-tourers’ tracks.
I am surprised to see along the side of the piste, where the basher has taken off the top layer in order to groom the snow, the sand that blew in last week, exposed like a soft fault line in a strange white rock formation. Up close, the white mixes with the orange silt in a swirling pattern, almost as if the sand struggled to settle in the high wind that brought it in; wishing to be somewhere else perhaps. I think about the time, millennia from now, when the rocks will display tiny glistening fragments of silica, deeply embedded within the schist from this Saharan Storm.
Thinking about this makes me reel – distant time, distant places and nothing is ever as it seems; sand found 1500 metres up the mountain, thousands of miles away from the nearest desert, a place which, at this time of year is usually heaving with people but is right now, deserted and I suddenly remember that the night before I dreamt of a strange supermarket where everyone is herded together without masks in order to propagate COVID-19 throughout the population.
Everything seems topsy-turvy, out of place right now; I need to take stock.
I am finding it hard to write this week. I thought that the confinement would not get to me. I had been happy in my little groove of valley, watching the sun come over the ridge each day, penetrating the depths, crossing our narrow slit of sky – seeing it set each evening, knowing that it will be back again the next day, even behind the clouds. I thought that this world was all I needed but coming up here, looking for miles and miles, not seeing a single airplane’s trail, fancying I can see the curve of the earth itself, makes me yearn for other places, makes me yearn for new horizons and to be on the move to somewhere new.
I watch my daughter make her first tentative curve on her new snowboard and float softly into the cushion of snow underneath her and I think of my life that has gone: the two girls I raised and taught myself, my time working as a designer in China, in Italy, in New York, other times I was called back to my family the UK, me and my husband’s grand adventure moving to the French Alps. I think of the things we have done here; the times we spent in these glorious mountains, summer turning to winter and back to summer again, year after year after year, curled up safely in its folds, never needing to go anywhere else. Then my thoughts turn to these strange times and I still feel safe in my dead-end valley, where the road gets smaller and smaller, until it is nothing but a track leading over the high passes into Switzerland. Safe.
I scan the range in front of me with my finger, point to the mountain peak we live under, lenticular clouds covering it in a halo of crystal light. Our little house is somewhere down there. I am happy that lightning cannot find it, in fact, seeing it from this height, I know that not much at all can find it and that makes me smile. It is just the three of us now, my eldest daughter already having flown the nest; three of us left, still bringing twigs home, continuing to shape the house around us into something that resembles a home. I let my finger drop and then bring it up to my forehead and lips, in some symbolic act of thanks.
It will not always be like this. Everything changes eventually; the crowds will come back, the planes will start to fly again and one day, far in the future, this layer of sand will have transformed into its silica sprinkle on the rock face, as it makes its way towards the sea. On that day, you and I will no long exist – not in this form anyway.
Until then, in this little gap of sunshine and wind, high up in the rarified air somewhere above the fold that holds my little house, I see it all. I understand that this too will pass; everyone and everything will be set free in the end, rising up into the endless blue and I again can do nothing but smile.