Thursday, November 10, 2016

Forested hills above Stignano prove to make a satisfying excursion

I took advantage of a good weather on a day that was predicted to be rainy by taking a hike in the hills above Stignano—the little hillside town where various Spadoni families had lived throughout the
A great view of Buggiano Castello from the road above Stignano.
1500s and 1600s. Lucy was busy making a quilt for Juniper, so I went on my own, leaving home right after lunch.

I hadn’t really noticed before that a single lane winding road continues up the hillside past Stignano. I also noticed that a similar road goes up the valley between Stignano and Buggiano Castello before turning left and going up into the hills. I figured that since they were somewhat parallel routes into the hills, at some point there must be a crossroad that joins them, and I could take a giant loop. I started at Stignano and had walked about a two kilometers when I noticed a good dirt road that went off to the right—which would be in the general direction of the valley road. Meanwhile, the better paved road looped to the left, away from my destination.

Chestnuts in their fuzzy outer shell, with a tiny mushroom starting to grow
in the center of the one on the left.
So off I set on the dirt road. It’s always more satisfying to go where cars can’t go anyway. And then the dirt road, which by now had become a trail, forked. For the second time, I took the advice of Robert Browning and chose the road less traveled, the one to the right. Thanks a lot, Robert, be
A delicious looking fungo, but not knowing if it was
edible, I left it alone.
cause the trail soon became overgrown and almost impassible—though I soldiered on, sometimes going under, sometimes over and sometimes around the barriers of trees, branches and blackberry vines that periodically covered the trail. No one had taken this route for some time, it appeared, except for the cinghiali—wild boar—which had left numerous signs in their search for edible roots. I even found a mud-hole where they sometimes wallowed.

This one I went under, trying to move aside
the blackberry vines that hung down.
I saw no wildlife, save for a few ducks, but the forest was full of edible treasures—hazelnuts, chestnuts, mushrooms and strange little fruit that I couldn’t identify. I set down my jacket to take some pictures and continued on, accidentally leaving the jacket behind. Eventually my path led me near a little creek, with moss growing densely on the surrounding rocks. I scrambled down to take photos of a couple of waterfalls. I realized that I had descended quite a distance into the forest, and at some point I would have to cross the creek and go up the other side. However, I saw no trail on the other side, and it was also pretty steep. I kept going upstream until eventually the creek disappeared underground.

I would have missed this waterfall had I taken
the more traveled trail. 
I crossed over, thinking that I must be getting close to the other road. But then a tall fence with a locked gate barred my way. I tried going around on the lower side, but the hillside became too steep to pass. I turned back and went up the valley while following the fence. It was around then that I heard a rumble of thunder and saw dark clouds rolling in. That’s when I noticed that I no longer had my jacket. It looked like I was in for wet afternoon. I had to find the valley road, because I didn’t want to pick my way back through the forest and all its obstacles.

This church dates from the early 1200s.
However, I soon realized that the thunder was actually a jet airplane, and the clouds weren’t as thick as they had seemed when I had first heard the “thunder.” And then, after another 200 meters and a steep climb alongside the fence, I came to a trail, went to the right for another 300 meters, and I had found the upper part of the valley road. I soon passed a church with an interpretive sign stating we were in Campioni. It was the Chiesa di Santo Stefano in Campioni, and a sign said mass would be held there on Saturday, November 5, a date already passed. I saw no indication of when the next mass would be.

I had to go all the way down the valley road to Borgo a Buggiano and then up the Stignano road to my car. Then I drove back up the hill to where the dirt road had branched off, parked the car and went back to retrieve my jacket. I passed some woodsmen along the way, but they were busy collecting firewood and didn’t see me—but as it would turn out, it was providential for me they were there. The little Fiat I was driving spun its wheels as I was turning around and became stuck. Not badly stuck, but since I was only a foot away from a guard rail, I couldn’t take a chance on trying to rock it back and forth without the risk of having it slide against the rail.

I asked if I could take a photo of the "angeli della macchina,"
the angels of the car, and they consented.
I walked back into the forest and told the woodsmen that I either needed a car with a tow chain or quattro uomini fortissimi, and they looked to fit the bill, or words to that effect. They pushed the car out in a jiffy, no tow chain needed. What a blessing to have found them. As I drove off, around 4 p.m., it started to rain and continued throughout the evening—another near miss. All together, it was a very satisfying hike.

Postscript: The unidentified fruit turned out to be from a strawberry tree. How could I have lived all my life and gone to Italy a couple of dozen times and never heard of this? According to Wikipedia, “The Arbutus unedo (strawberry tree, occasionally cane apple) is an evergreen shrub or small tree in the family Ericaceae. Arbutus unedo is widespread in the Mediterranean region.” Unfortunately, the only one I brought back got squished in my backpack. Not wanting to lick the inside of my pack, I can’t tell you how it tasted.

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