The Col de la Luère lies 714 metres up Les Mont du Lyonnais: an assortment of low-lying hills to the west of Lyon that I see from my classroom everyday. Roaming in the distance like a caravan of camels slowly moving across the horizon.
I’d always planned to go, but never had. They looked uninteresting. So it was a slight surprise to leave work on Friday and see a leaflet entitled ‘The Wonders of The Mont Lyonnais’ left in the lobby. I immediately decided to go.
As I drove up the road to the top, it was higher and much more remote than I’d expected. From my classroom it looked like a jigsaw of gentle hillsides glued together by forest, hedge and farm. But as I neared the summit, dense forest appeared on either side of the road. The fog closed in, the snow deepened and suddenly the place had an isolated menace about it. It should be an intriguing afternoon.
After parking, I found a path, and invigorated by the freezing cold air, walked boldly into the trees. Once away from the road I saw bright ethereal glows deep inside the forest where sections of it had been felled. The pale sunlight overhead illuminating the thick fog that had settled in the clearings. As though a spacecraft had landed. It was all in the realm of fiction of course. But it felt more real than it should. And intensified by the silence. Not even the sound of a bird or a foraging rodent. The quietest place I can remember. Just my breathing. And when that stopped momentarily. Nothing.
As I continued my slow yet thoughtful saunter I witnessed more strange forest scenes: fine transparent threads coated with ice crystals hanging down from the trees like vines. When I touched them with my stick they broke easily and I realised what they were. Glassy gossamer spun by spiders descending from the cold canopy above. Crystallised by freezing fog and then left like ornamental streamers dangling in the breeze. When severed, the ice crystals flaked off leaving the naked stretched strands of silk beneath to contract back to nothing. Miraculously disappearing from existence.
Later on I found a frozen cobweb at the base of a tree that looked like a cut glass goblet. The weight of the ice having sunk and curved the fragile mesh into a perfectly formed drinking vessel. So real that I almost removed it from its place and drank from it. It was a magical few moments.
An hour later I arrived at an Auberge which was shut. Just hens and geese and a very old donkey in the courtyard waiting for the owner to return in the spring. The path now heading downhill into a section of forest that was even denser and darker than before. Dark pines on either side of the path. Strange hooded eyes cast out their gaze from the darkness. The thickening fog narrowing further my view of the path ahead. At any moment I was going to be ambushed by Orcs. It seemed like that sort of place. Imagination running wild.
My trance was broken by a moped. Its tinny egg-beater engine shattering the ice crystals perched on the gossamer threads like it was a megaton bomb.
I’d arrived back at the road.
Civilisation. A shame. Yet welcome. I couldn’t stay out there all night. I’d be frightened to death. Aliens. Orcs. Goblins. Fog. The Holy Grail. I started walking back up to the car.
This morning when I looked out from my classroom across to where I’d been, it looked as it always had: tame and uninteresting. But I know the secret. Just like the leaflet had said: The Wonders of The Mont Lyonnais. Too true.