This past month, I spent a lot of time outdoors in places where history was alive. As the days tremble with a bite of cold and the curtains close in sooner than before, it usually forces many inside earlier in the day and more often. I remained resolved to try and fight this notion.
My first attempt at this was a visit to some of my Italian family in the far north of Italy. My mother, born and raised in Guatemala, had a father who was Italian. He emigrated to Guatemala a long time ago and was unfortunately, never able to make it back to his homeland permanently. This part of my history is something that I have been piecing together as I have visited them.
At the time, they had a large chestnut festival going on that weekend called La Castagnata. Their town is known for their chestnuts and, typically, this event involves several days of lots of good, local food, music and dancing. It was a time for me to remember the way in which we connect with the earth. Their town, nestled quietly within the mountains just 15 km to the Swiss border, still very much feels entangled more intimately with the earth. Many in the area pick mushrooms, cure their own meats, plant various things and are much more affected by ‘bad’ and ‘fruitful’ crop seasons.
This connection also has a strong history and culture. While at the festival, walking in crisp, chilly air on hardened cobblestone, I visited a space where the town had set up various pictures of the many people and events that represented their home and history. As I walked through the room, seeing crinkled pictures from the past, I noticed a photograph of my grandfather.
It was then that I was directed to a book where there was more to be seen. I noticed that his life’s story had been essentially turned into a story! There were drawings and a retelling of my grandfather’s voyage to Guatemala, as well as photos of my aunts and uncles who had returned many years later to connect with their roots.
I was astounded to see it and became a bit emotional.
Nature connects us all, in many different ways. Walking around my grandfather’s old town later that day, made me more acutely aware of the details of the place. Surrounded by the snow tipped mountains, entrenched in their fog, wrapping and shielding myself from the bitter cold, it all made me feel closer to him. Here I was, half way around the world from where my mother had started and I had come full circle. The trees he had seen many years ago might have glimpsed him running by as a boy before he had gone. The soil beneath my feet, felt much more like home than ever before. As one of my cousins had said, “His story really is like a fairy tale!”
It’s hard to connect to a culture you are not familiar with at first. Languages can be difficult to manage and situations can be complex to understand. But, running along the grasses he might have once passed on by, laying eyes on the same tree line, the waterfalls, that he grew up with, were all so much easier for me to understand right away.
Nature connects us all. With ourselves, with out past and our present. As the days grow shorter and colder, I am challenging myself to not shut myself in, but dare to venture out. Amazing things can be found in these places and new histories, always made.