From the Mountain to the Beautiful

Losing oneself between Rome and the Dolomites

Sempre caro mi fu quest’ermo colle (Always dear to me was this lonely hill)”. So begins one of the most famous poems written by the young Giacomo Leopardi two hundred years ago[1]. Let’s rest awhile upon the hill. Not a Roman hill: we need to journey somewhat further, somewhat higher, onto that hill, that mountain, that human desire to rise up, to reach a higher vantage point, both protecting oneself and breathing deep of the infinite, of the contact with that which is beyond.

I’ve always lived under the shadows of the mountain. Since childhood, I’ve been taught how to climb mountain paths, find mountain refuges, orient myself, all while drinking in the colours and life of the mountain. Yet it is with the awareness and the autonomy of youth that I have truly been able to go to a deeper level: the struggle with my limitations, the experience of gratuity finding a flower among the rocks, the effort needed to go on at the pace of another. One climbs the mountain with his feet and his heart, almost as though one helps the other. Distances and thoughts, past experiences and dreams are ground down to a fine flour, shared, perhaps, with someone, or processed alone, on that knife-edge between fear and courage.

I don’t believe I’m alone: how many of us try to escape into the mountains for the silence, the pure air, or our own well-being? How many of us climb seeking thrills and adrenaline? Yet what happens when we’re back home?

If you aren’t too opaque to your own thoughts and feelings, you’ll sooner or later realize you’ve changed. You’ll keep going back to the landscapes, the colours and the sweet sounds that the daily life cannot easily offer. Yet you may still notice their signs at home: hidden flowers, plays of light and shade, the tenderness of two lovers who show a tenderness towards one another that seems almost out of place among the frenzy of the commitments daily life throws at them. It takes but little: “e come il vento odo / stormir tra le piante … (and as I hear the wind / rustle through the plants …)”, we are moved to another place, pushed towards that immensity in which “s’annega il pensier mio (my thinking drowns)”.

Even in the city, then, we can find a bit of that magic more evident and abundant up in the mountains. Our senses are recharged, attuned to find life in what may appear dull. We are then readily amazed by the forest shorn of colour, white snow upon blackened bough. We delight in playing with the wind that catches you one moment and runs away from you in the next. It becomes natural to turn towards the Lord and thank Him for all of this, imagining him perhaps a tender of trees or a gardener who has designed a plant or a lawn. To be left open-mouthed before a valley, thinking of God who created it, or walking among the peaks, your feet illuminated only by the moon, asking oneself before this wonderful: “Lord, who am I, so important to you, beyond all these works so great and so terrible? “.

The mountain is dear to me, a walking prayer, a silent contemplation or a prayer shared with companions. Yet it would remain only a parenthesis if I did not also marvel at all that which surrounds me here in Rome, where it is sometimes easier to see the roads as full of holes as swiss cheese rather than the sky streaked with purple and gold. In this wonder and beauty, yes, “il naufragar m’è dolce (to shipwreck is sweet)”!


[1] L’Infinito (The Infinite), by Giacomo Leopardi (1798-1837).

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