Jean Luca was a singular man. His life was that of a roamer: not aimless, but free nevertheless. He was a stout man, salt and pepper hair, a beard prickled by the elements, and a stomach rigid with a diet of salame and fontina. His skin was leather, his fingers thick and the nails lined with earth, his eyes were a deep brown. In their reflection, an eternity of snowcapped peaks hiding starkly blue lakes and spotted with green pines. Jean Luca belongs to the Alps, he spends his life caring for his cattle, tending to their every need, walking alongside them as they graze the prairies of green. Every day his alarm rings at 3. The morning greets him with a sky of constellations and herds of fleeing mountain goats. He walks to the corral, close enough to still hear the breathing of his cows throughout the night. Water, feeding, cleaning, milking. Cerise follows loyally behind, wagging his tail as he assumes his responsibility of gathering his hooved companions. The sun emerges from the depths of the valley and the cows reluctantly trundle out of their evening pens. The cacophonous ringing of their bells echoes the squeaks of the marmots, scrambling through rocks and ducking back into their underground cities. Jean Luca mechanically folds his loaf of bread and a half eaten wheel of cheese into a cloth, tucking it away into his satchel alongside some logs of salame and his opinel knife. He has wandered these mountains since he was a boy. He knows them well enough now to realize just how insignificant his presence is in all of their magnitude, how menial his existence is in this flourishing and vast ecosystem of life. Despite this internAlized realization, he walks on. Along his way he tends to the hiking paths, adjusting the signs, repainting the colored wax indicators on rocks and trees. People come from the world over to walk the trails of Valle D'Aosta and Lucano treads solemnly ahead, his work unknown, his footprints concealed by the changing flows of a nearby stream, the colossal destruction of a hail storm, or the imprints of a German tourist's crampons. Most days are the same, bringing him a few hours closer to the advent of a new season or another cattle competition.
Giorgio is his companion in training. A young man, from Cogne, sturdy shoulders and the pressure of having no other means of sustaining himself, Giorgio has come to learn the trade of tending to cattle. More than a trade, this life required immense sacrifice. He wasn't ready to live in the bivacchio with Jean Luca yet but he had been following them for months, silently absorbing the harsh yet simple realities of the rest of his life. On this day the sun was shining brightly above them and the cattle were nawing a particularly outgrown mountainside. Jean Luca had finished eating and gruntled off to sleep. Giorgio looked out to the water of the lake ahead, like a clean sheet strewn across the bed, an unmoving blue, unwilling to concede what lay beneath the surface. Suddenly the violent moaning of a dying animal and a brown mass being swallowed into the depths of the water. Jean Luca awakens, furious to the blatant ignorance of his subordinate. Giorgio hadn't known that the cows could not be let near this lake to drink because of the strong riptides that pull from the ground up, slolwy suffocating its entrapped prey. As they stood and marched on, Jean Luca could feel a welling pebble in the pit of his throat, remorse for the loss of one of his own, a carrier of so much of his livelyhood- gone.
On one of the rare days in which he descended to the village, Jean Luca had received notice that his aging father's condition was worsening. His mind not often troubled by the normal woes of man, he finds him self inconspicuously concerned, mostly with his inability to reintegrate into habitual human functioning, to feign familial comportment and devotion. His older sister greets him with a warm plate of polenta concha, and his nerves settle. His parents raised him harshly, his father was a stern man, unforgiving, least of all with him. In fact, his sister was the only person from whom he had ever received true affection, perhaps even glimpses of love. When their father grew ill, she had decided to take both of her parents into her own home, to better care for their withering needs. Donaldo, their father, had smoked his whole life. Now at 94, even the cancer in his lungs was too exhausted to progress any further. With barely enough air to fill his tarred lungs he inhales another puff of his cigar on the bed where he was soon to lay cold. In his final movements he frailly places a little black notebook in the hands of his son. The leather bound pages weigh heavily in his palm as he watches his father slowly slip into the great beyond. He kisses his sister goodbye and shuts the wooden door behind him. Jean Luca looks above at the same stars he had seen first thing that morning, now dimmed from the lights of the village all around him. His satchel around his waist, he walks behind the house to a path, commencing his 3 hour journey home.
The notebook occupies his thoughts, his mind floating high above him like a kite carried by the winds of words written by his father, the possibility of all that could be concealed within those pages. His thoughts are only interrupted by the occasional sound of a wolf howling into the cold night air or the steady hum drum of his boots against the rocky pavement. He sees the lights of the corral in the distance and opens the door to his chalet with a creak. The lights flicker on and he nervously pulls out the book. He immediately recognized his father's meticulous cursive. One of the few educated men of his time, his father was one of the last writers of their village's patois. With every ink letter, Jean Luca could hear the sound of his father's voice resonating through his mind, selfishly unloading his secrets before his peaceful passing.
Donaldo had fought against Mussolini for the resistance effort during the second world war. He wrote of his escape from prison and his participation in an elite ski team helping Italian villagers escape the occupied cities, and hide in the mountains to avoid the oppression of the fascist regime. During the war he often crossed the border into Switzerland. There, he stayed with a young woman who frequently hosted Italian resistance fighters. He wrote with intricate detail of their love affair, his instant infatuation the day their dark eyes first met, the inconsistent passion of their sordid romance. Jean Luca read on, the trepidation building with every word. His greatest fear was realized with the discovery that she had given birth to a child. In the bitterly cold winter of 1944, Jean Luca had been born in the warm water tub of a Swiss woman. For fear of leaving his son behind, Donaldo had pulled him out of the water, cut the cord with his opinel knife, gazed longingly at his exhausted lover, and escaped into the night. With only the bundle of life in his arms to remind him of the pain he had incurred, Donaldo never crossed the border again. As Jean Luca grew, so too did the resentment towards him. His father detested the deep brown eyes that reminded him so much of the one woman he had loved and abandoned. His mother despised every gene she knew was not her own, every feature she could feel had grown inside of the body of betrayal. And so Jean Luca bedrugingly left, feeling unwanted by the age of 16, he had saved money to buy his first cow and volunteered to move into a nearby farm. He finally felt he had a place, with the cows, hills, streams, marmots, and cheese. That night, he had not so much as slept a minute in the last 22 hours, when he put down the journal and opened his front door. The heavy metal clanged shut behind him and his feet seemed to move without thought beneath him.
After an hour of mindless treading through the crispness of the night, he found himself at the lake. He realized for the first time what a stunning scenery layed out before him. The crystal pool enticed him with a blue so bright it almost could not have been natural. Jean Luca knew he should stop but thought of the cocoon of abject hatred in which he had been engrossed, the silent vengeance both of his parents had taken on the growth of an innocent child. Most of all, he thought of the painful feeling of not belonging, of having noone and nothing he knew valued him above all else. Even his sister had her own family, her own worries, her own cares. Jean Luca knew in that moment that he belonged to the Alps. With his first step forward he felt his boots well with the tears he could not shed. His waist became wet with the fresh water and his body heavier as it pulled with it the weight of the moisture. The riptide circled beneath him and firmly wrapped around his stance. The sand spiralled beneath him and the cold grasped at his chest. The outgrown seavines clutched at his pale hands and suddenly all of the heaviness washed away. Jean Luca became one with the Alps.