Monday, May 3, 2010

Bird Song

Himself has been considering cycling to work, a fair distance from our flat on the northwest of Salzburg. So yesterday, a clear day after a stormy night, we decided to bike the route to check it out.

We cycled the now-familiar path along the River Salzach, reaching the Altstadt in about 20 minutes. As we rounded the final bends before reaching the city’s historic core, I looked up to see the Hohensalzburg rising on the Festung, from which it dominates the city. Clustered forest-like around its base were centuries-old domes and steeples. Beyond it stood the green-covered Alps, and I thought what a storybook picture it looked. Salzburg seemed to me in the moment a gem, a wonderful place to live.

We continued southward along the river, a route less familiar but still one I have travelled to reach my yoga class. We were cycling now past moderately sized buildings – municipal and private offices, university buildings and apartment houses – that line the quay south of the Mozartsteg.

The bike path was still crowded, filled with skaters, walkers and cyclists on this pleasant Sunday afternoon. In fact, I found myself manoeuvring carefully to overtake slower cyclists while avoiding oncoming ones. Along the path, people paused in walking their dogs to talk. A man leaned into a car, talking to the driver as he stopped in the street. Two middle-aged nuns stood talking to a man and a woman as they peered into the window of a bright red van. ‘Super!’ said one nun just as I passed her.

As I wondered what had excited her enthusiasm, I thought, ‘She’s just another woman, not much older than me. Why shouldn’t she be pleased by ordinary things on a beautiful spring day.’

About thirty-five minutes along we entered a wooded area, the river still to our left. By now I was getting tired, and neither of us was sure how much farther we needed to travel. We knew only that the campus of buildings was beyond where a tributary joins the Salzach. The trees in the wood we passed were green with the freshness of spring, the ground damp beneath then. As we rolled along I realised there was no litter, unlike in America or, even worse, in Ireland where rubbish is indiscriminately strewn along green lanes as well as  remote tracks. Is the corporation of Salzburg better at picking up rubbish, I wondered, or, more likely, is its population less apt to litter?

Another fifteen minutes along, we passed a beer garden or gasthaus on what seemed to be the shores of a small lake. People sat on the grass or at tables under the trees. Then the trail rose suddenly, and we were on top of a large dam crossing the river, water roiling dramatically in front of it and swelling more calmly beyond it. A few minutes along, we came at last to the convergence of waters, one river pouring into another.

By now, it was as though we had left the city behind us altogether The river here was wide and placid. Swans shone white on its surface. The water was pale, pale blue-green and nearly opaque, a smooth nearly unearthly colour after the clear bog brown of the rivers we knew in Ireland. Rising steeply just beyond, jagged, tree-covered Alps framed the scene.

We passed families playing on the sandy shore and fishermen stretched beside their poles. A pair of women walked behind shaggy Yorkies, one cream and one caramel. A woman in jeans rested her head on a man’s shoulder as they walked along, hands held tightly between them. Along the shore, a small clear stream revealed pale sand and brown pebbled in its shallow depths before it flowed into the opaque pale turquoise river.

We found at length what we had come for and turned to return to the city. Now late in the afternoon, grey clouds, warning of another storm, massed overhead. In the wood to our left, pale green of new beech leaves and broader leaves of white-flowered horse chestnuts filtered the light overhead. It was, briefly, so like Ireland, where the intensity of green seems at times to tint the very air. For the moment, the path was deserted; no cyclist or jogger or skater or dog walker passed us. Other than the murmur of the river and the whirl of my wheels, it was very still. Then I heard from the wood, very distinctly, what it took a moment to comprehend.

Coo-Coo. Coo-Coo. Coo-Coo.

Ahead, Himself wheeled around and raised his hand, pointing to the wood. Stopping and straddling my bike, I nodded. Yes, yes, I heard, I heard.

Coo-Coo. Coo-Coo. Coo-Coo.

Though I  had never before heard the cuckoo's call, there was no mistaking it, two clear notes repeated again and again. It was sweeter than I had imagined, soft but clear and sustained, like chimes, reverberating through the dense green wood.

Coo-Coo. Coo-Coo. Coo-Coo.

Then the notes stopped, and we were freed to continue, northward with the Salzach, toward home.

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