Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Majella: light on the mountain

“The idea of wilderness needs no defense, it only needs defenders.” Edward Abbey

Today I live and work 3/4 of my time in Abruzzo, and in my life I have spent countless days among these mountains. Still, my vast knowledge of this region and its nature always suffered from a large blank spot. I never ventured deep into the wildest and most mystical mountain range of all, the Majella massif – the “Mother” mountain for the locals. (The second peak of the Apennines; valleys even 20Km long with no human living in them; the largest wolf population in Abruzzo!) So, when the environmental organization PAN Parks*, which in Italy has given its prestigious certificate only to the Majella National Park, contacted me last September to purchase some images from the area, I was a bit ashamed to say that I didn't have any good picture of it, but I would have been eager to be assigned to cover some spots for them. Excited as seldom before, I began my first explorations in this unknown wilderness (this is indeed Majella: a pure wilderness in the middle of Italy) with several maps in my backpack (there are 4-5 different versions of Majella’s paths network!) and two months in front of me to accomplish the work. I will skip mentioning all the problems I experienced with the weather (this year we had snow already in October), or with the very long distances and demanding, steep slopes, carrying a heavy backpack on some trails that vanished into nothing. But I will say something of the wilderness.
Majella gave me the healthy shock of encountering a wolf 50m from me on a mountain path one morning and the thrill of having two golden eagles soaring above my head another day. I flushed partridges, crossed streams, found primitive handicrafts, spotted chamois on inaccessible cliffs, walked on tundra-like plateaus, heard the call of the wallcreeper – many times, camped at 2790m asl with -10°C, touched two walls of a canyon by stretching my arms, saw the milky way cross the whole sky and had the incredible luxury of getting lost – three times!

I don’t know many other places here in Italy where all these things can still be found and experienced at such level. I commend the National Park for the groundbreaking commitment in preserving and rewilding these mountains, against all the odds and the public opinion. Come to visit Majella to see this with your own eyes, and give me a call, I would be happy to show you around.

*PAN Parks is a cool organization, working hard to find a way both to protect Europe's wilderness and help the local communities to develop a sustainable economy. I am really glad to have contributed a bit to their mission with my work.
Click on the bear to visit the PAN Parks website.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Echoes of autumn

"He not only lives in the wild, wild woods and moors - he grows out of them, as the oak grows from the ground. The noble stag in his pride of antler is lord and monarch of all the creatures left to us..." (Richard Jefferies)

As the light of summer gives way to the clouds of autumn, in the mountains is the time of the Red deer.
The alpine prairies of the Apennine, golden of sunburned grass, host the traditional arenas of the deer rut.
Dozens of large stags confront themselves, then, all day long for the supremacy of the female herds.
And, while battles are rare, the wild sound of the males bellowing echoes continuosly at dusk along
mountain ridges and valleys.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Light in the darkness

"...I will call that "something" that happened ten years ago the "disappearance of fireflies"..." Pier Paolo Pasolini

More than 30 years ago, the Italian poet (and prophet) Pier Paolo Pasolini wrote about the disappearance of fireflies as a famous metaphor of the profound and rapid change underwent by Italy in its economic and social structure. This quick change from a peasant land into an industrial nation happened in the '50s and '60s and was called Italian economic miracle. The reality is that this phaenomenon involved mass exoduses of peasants from Southern Italy toward the industrial centres of the north, class differentiation, chaotic urbanization, air and water pollution and, above all, a sort of cultural genocide, which changed the face of this land and its people for ever.
Now, almost 50 years later, I feel as if we are facing a new "disappearance of fireflies" in this country, and, perhaps, in many others, as well. The same old threats maybe just with a new look. Everyday, as a photographer working on the territory, it hurts to witness among most of people a widespread illegality mixed with an absolute lack of interest toward environmental issues. This absence of any sort of "healthy" relationship between Us and Nature makes easier for speculators and exploiters to encroach up the last patches of wild land. The so called "clean" windfarms of today are like the chemical factories of yesterday. The golf courses, the sky grounds of the past.
Windfarms are, in fact, growing everywhere in the highlands of Italy, and especially on the precious ridges of the Apennines. The golf courses subsititute mountain meadows and old fields. Dump sites and quarries pollute the water and the soil for a long time. Behind their appearance of necessary development and quick economic reward, these are just new ways to sell out the land and destroy what most important has been left to Us: the chance to still live and enjoy the world of our past as our ancentors did.
I still want to drink water from a stream, walk on a mountain ridge with an eagle soaring above me, ride my bike across blooming fields, sit down and look at the fireflies sparkling as darkness comes. These are things I enjoyed since my childhood and cannot see disappear without doing anything. Each of Us must have a place of his own, his "homeland", and to protect it, I guess it is important to live it as much we can; get to know it; understand it and learn to love it. Come on, it's still summer outside!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Portrait of a myth...

He who would learn to fly one day must first learn to stand and walk and run and climb and dance; one cannot fly into flying.” (Friedrich Nietzsche)

One never knows when dreams can become true...
Just this morning I had my first photographic opportunity with a true myth of the mountains, here in Abruzzo as elsewhere in Europe, the wallcreeper. I ran after this acrobatic and restless flyer for half hour. Up and down on a very steep slope, partially covered by snow and ice, holding the breath to not shake the handheld camera, I obtained a couple of nice images of this rare and elusive creature - a little milestone in my commitment to document the wildlife of the Apennines! Then, suddenly as it had appeared, the bird flew away, straight into the blue mountain sky.

My images from Morocco are featured in a 12 pages article in the German magazine Naturfoto.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

No peace for Italian wildlife

"Fox in the snow, where do you go
To find something you can eat?
Cause the word out on the street is you are starving
Dont let yourself grow hungry now
Dont let yourself grow cold...
(Belle & Sebastian)

The past weeks have seen me often out in the cold, well before dawn, to work on a few remarkable photographic opportunities. I wanted to write about eagles, vultures, rock partridges, foxes and all the nice animals that somehow shared their life with me. But there is a more urgent and unpleasant matter to report. A few days ago, an Italian senator, Mr. Franco Orsi belonging to the governing party PdL, came out with an ominous law proposal which plans to completely change the hunting rules and therefore affect the destiny of the wildlife in Italy.

Among the many wicked points of this law are the opening of hunting in the national parks and nature preserves and that of the hunting of "pests" such as wolves, bears, swans and many other rare and protected species. For more information (only in Italian, unfortunately), you can visit this webpage and sign the petition here. If you would like to get more information in English, please feel free to write me as I would be eager to spread the word about this horror.

Unfortunately this is not an isolated case. This is just one of the many horrible things I see happening everyday here in Italy (or elsewhere) against nature and against people. One of the many attempts to limit our freedom and the one of whom cannot speak. Today, I can still retreat in my hermitage of mountains and old beech forests, smelling the silence of the snow and waiting for a fox to appear in the morning. But for how long?