Drawn into the light, drawn into the picture as an afterthought, I told her I would say I love you on top of a mountain.
We walked for minutes to get there, the endless stop, up the unmarked road, over the lichened five-bar gate and onto the track, no public access for us. World heritage means nothing to youth, clambering upon crumbling archaeology for the sake of a Polaroid, those pale squares of revelation, fading into existence moments after the moment.
Miles lie to minutes, minutes lie to miles.
We were a group, a slightened dynamic, rescued by an obligation towards calendar dates, a timely celebration of age. Cold and thirsty and not without hunger too, but we managed, and the rock face actually welcomed us before the rain, perching upon the dying slope, one by one we picked our way through the stones, cigarettes thrown behind boulders when the way grew irksome, the defences of the wall bolstered by the dashes of rain, slants into faces, resting now at the top, resting a while.
After consecutive hills, three of them and three shouts of encouragement, looking back to see the party thrown across the hillside, spaces between individuals enforced by temperament and laughter, we descended into descent, going down that means, shouting back.
The tree an obvious metaphor and the subject of films, now the subject of a pause in proceedings, a gathering of friends and belongings, a close turn of people collected at the foot of the tree, silently vast, unimposing reach, it became the sky. Forays broke off, making the land our own, mapping hills and templating the wall, naming landmarks as landmarks and marking land with possessions.
Geographers and waifs, conquistadors and tramps, emperors and vagrants, we ate and drank and thought of the ardour of journeying, the hardships encountered in distances. We sat, in the past tense, unusually quiet, reflecting. Nothing was forthcoming. An attachment of meaning or significance did not appear, like a night that never darkens.
And as the night began to darken, and a return became more urgent we took photos and left, tracing our steps but quicker, looking at the view less, looking at each other more.
Halting for a moment on an unassuming patch of grass, fragmented by weathered grey rocks, she stood still. I could see the valley below, and the peaks behind us, a lake just from view.
I turned to her and meant it.