COMPETITION: LITERALLY LOST: 37
Sunday 21 June 1998
As we emerged through the gateway of two mountains, a V of downland opened up between the craggy sides; and, far away at the end, covered with snow from the bottom to the tip, glittered the huge Fujiyama-Matterhorn apparition of the Veronica. A new world, once more.
The mountains drew back on either side of an airy lift and fall of savannah. As our caravan picked its way over the edge and headed downhill, orange-flowered organ-cactus and myrtle and tamarisk rose up and the air began to smell of spice. There was a blazing sky of very pale blue. All the streams and waterfalls that flowed on to the plateau united near this threshold and took the downhill path under the name of Rio Silque; and when the mule track changed banks, we waded up to our thighs through icy jadeite glacier-water coiling breakneck through the boulders over a bed of moving pebbles; then the path soared up over a shoulder of the left- bank mountains through open downland and savannah. Bit by bit, the jaws of the canyon began to narrow again, forcing us more steeply down. The file of ponies gave a processional gravity to our descent. The vegetation grew taller and thicker, butterflies began to hover, the birds multiplied; then shady branches swallowed us up. The path rocketed up and down under the trees, but when the converging sides of the canyon began to straighten into the vertical and actually to impend, it was all downhill: a twisting ladder of rocks and dust and dead leaves that led us in and out of shade, and, at last, alongside the river itself. Reinforced by a score of streams and still blue-green, except where it was opaque with commotion, the river crashed down a staircase of cataracts, splitting and joining round smooth white boulders and hissing through narrows. When the bed sank in a deep basin, the face of the water was still enough, under the shadow of the heightening trees, to offer a flawed and dappled reflection of the branches. The trees were covered with lichen and strung with lianas; and parasites spread tufts along the branches like the head-dresses of caciques. We were descending one of those chasms of water and leaves on which, a few days ago, we had looked loftily down from the glacier.
Literally Lost 36
The action takes place in Sakhalin. The author is Chekov. The winner was C Tyzack, Cardiff.
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