Seeing Both Small and Large
I had what I can only describe as a “big” experience yesterday. Stephen and I visited the Chateau de Boneguil, about 40 minutes by car from Pujols, where we are staying. Boneguil is a fortified castle, built at the top of a rocky promontory, first in the eighth century, and then modified and amended in the fifteenth. Our visit was full of exquisite vistas, from towers, both round and square, onto the verdant valley below, dotted with farms and fields of sunflowers and rapeseed, both cultivated in this region of France for their oil. We spent a great deal of our visit climbing up and down spiral stairways created of rocks, exiting at each landing into rooms once serving as everything from the count’s chapel to the bread baking kitchen, with one huge wood burning oven—made of stone, of course—and a smaller oven for the ashes.
The chateau is a monumental structure in every sense, and its largeness certainly didn’t escape me. Nor did the infinite creativity of us humans, as Stephen and I marveled over the size of the rocks used to construct the various rooms and the intricacies of their placement. But if you were to look at my camera and the photos I took, you’d see that it wasn’t the vastness of the space or the builders’ mastery of available resources that captured me. Instead, I was attracted to the small moments, often where human ingenuity and time came together to create what I see as beauty.
For my first photo, I zoomed in on weathered wooden door, the paint peeling, naked wood peeking out in many places, to a large iron hinge on one side. Looking closely at the hinge, you can see the work of the creator, as he hammered away at the forge, lengthening the molten metal, fashioning the knuckle, then the barrel of the hinge. You can also see the work of time in the rust produced over centuries of rain and shine.
I zoomed in on a section of peeling paint on the same door for my next photo, capturing the ribbons of over-seasoned gray paint, along with several spots of now naked wood, smooth and bleached over time. In the States, peeling paint signals neglect, but not here. Instead, I read in it survival and endurance, the ability of us humans to build structures that can last over time, through wars, epidemics, and natural disasters.
As we were walking up a long ramp to another level of the chateau, I noticed a tiny fern growing out of the rock wall next to me. Imagine, a fern taking root hundreds of feet from the ground, and managing not only to sprout but to grow in and on rock, each tiny blade perfectly formed.
We walked all the way up to the top tower of the chateau, where we gazed out over fields that spread around us for miles, then began the trek down. Halfway to the bottom, I snapped a photo of a smattering of orange and yellow lichen, in pastel shades I’ve never seen in the U.S. The patch itself, which took up about a half-foot square of space, was beautiful, as was each of the individual algal cells and fungal hyphae when I zoomed further in. Small becoming smaller.
The Chateau de Boneguil is monumental and very beautiful. But what I took away from my visit was also the moments of small beauty that exist within the tremendous space of the chateau. The large spaces are daunting and exciting. The small are uplifting.