Have you ever been to a place that just puts you in awe? Often places that take our breath away involve God’s lovely nature. Tall, majestic mountains; sparkling, shining waterfalls; panoramic views from high cliffs; and mighty forests of gigantic trees are a few of these. But sometimes, it’s not the magnificent, almost intimidating places that command your respect for God and his creation, but the smaller, more peaceful settings. One example that comes to my mind is Mount Arranoitz in Zegama, Spain.
I first climbed this little mountain in December of 2016 at a Teen Retreat at an old, rustic farmhouse. Arranoitz is not even 900 meters tall, so you can easily see the peak from the bottom. If you stand in front of the farmhouse and crane your neck well enough, you will see some rocky crags jutting out from a clear space at the top of the mountain. The rocks look like jagged teeth, or maybe a fleet of dolphin’s fins. That mysterious grey crown of granite is the goal that makes the hike worthwhile. In December, it is sometimes still quite warm in that region, making puffy winter coats unnecessary. Sometimes the sun will shine too. This short window of time between the torrents of autumn’s rainfalls and the invasion of winter’s white forces provides a perfect opportunity to ascend to the peak.
Most of the time, you are hiking on a seldomly used path in the wooded hillside. Clear puddles on the path - remains of November’s rain or snow falls - are densely populated with frogs’ eggs, which look like hundreds of little eyes staring at you inquisitively but fearlessly. You occasionally pass the quiet, ancient stone remains of century-old farmhouses or walls. When you see those crude stones stacked on top of each other, not even a foot high, you stop to wonder who used to live there. I personally picture an old Basque shepherd, leaning on his staff as his wrinkled face peers out from under his wide-brimmed hat.
All vegetation, from scrubby little bushes to the dark green, red-speckled holly bushes to the tall pines, is prickly and unpleasant to the touch, but this only increases the sense that you are in a place not many other people visit. Finally, you leave the faint path and hike starkly uphill, grasping branch and bush to steady yourself as you go.
But at last, you reach the open spot that you could see down at the farmhouse. It is quite steep, and the going is very slow because you become short of breath, but you never realize how “breathtaking” the hike is until you reach the top, like I did.
Standing on the rocks and scanning the horizon, I saw why it was worth it. As I stood there, my lungs stinging from the exertion and a cool breeze brushing my face, I started to get a better picture of what the Basque region of Spain is like. Behind me, a little beyond a fenced-in cow pasture, a forest of stout little evergreens stood at attention. But in front of me lay all the rolling hills in their peaceful glory. The hills are painted in varying, simmering shades of green, brown, and gold. When I leaned against the rocky outcroppings and looked down into the valley below, I could see the farmhouse. Occasionally the little bright orange roofs of other houses peeked out of other folds in the rolling hills. A little further away from the cow pasture, the ground was very rocky, and here also the old stone foundations of farmhouses long abandoned slept contentedly. I wished I had gone there in my childhood. It would have been such a fun place to play in! There was no noise up there. Except for the whispering of some slumbering breeze, or the loud drumming of the occasional bursting wind, it was very quiet. The air smelled very clean. Wispy white clouds glided silently under the azure sky, being the ships of the heavens that they are. I hope to go back there one day, but it will probably be years before I do. Until then, the climb will remain a wonderful memory.