I am in Crni Vrh. Or am I on Crni Vrh? Crni Vrh translates literally as “black peak.”
A very small, somewhat elongated village, it is to the west of Ljubljana, Slovenia, about one hour by bus. Elevation is approximately 800 metres. The view, from my traditionally-styled, timber-structured accommodation is to the south, with the sun rising to my left and setting to my right.
Immediately below me, and down a very steep incline, a small valley opens up. A stream, thickly forested on either side, snakes its way around the undulations within the valley. The road to Polhov Gradec weaves its way ever downwards, playing hide and seek with the trees and smaller sloping hills. Clusters of farm buildings occupy lush, cleared areas where agribusiness prevails.
Tractors haul gigantic bales of fodder from fields to farm sheds, chainsaws make short work of fallen timbers for winter heating, the last of the summer fruits are gathered, and gardens are being prepared for the winter season. Here and there cows dot the landscape, moving slowly as they graze on grass and carry out their roles as milk-making machines. The scene looks like a giant golf course, the only difference being that the bunkers are green, and the players are vehicles and animals.
Beyond the valley receding rows of hills and ranges, there must be at least five that I can count, stretch into the hazy distance – probably into Croatia. At night I can see the lights of Vrhnika which lies on the road to the coast. By day I can count three churches perched precariously on distant hilltops. If I walk to the top of the hilltop nearby where, you guessed it, there is a church, I can count another two looking in the opposite direction. Time passes and things change, but it is said that from any vantage point one should be able to see seven churches. And that’s across Slovenia!
So why am I here? Well, it’s all because of a story. And even before I get into that story, I happened upon a quote from Jungian analyist, Clarissa Pinkola Estes, just this morning: “. . . go out and let stories, that is life, happen to you . . . work with these stories from your life . . . water them with your blood and tears and your laughter till they bloom, till you yourself burst into bloom.” It couldn’t have been more timely, or more appropriate.
This world, in Crni Vrh, is all new to me, except for what I know from Ted Setnikar’s book, The Lacemaker’s Son. I am re-tracing some of his steps while creating a story of my own: two vastly different periods in time, and two different sets of circumstances. Even so, we all share a common purpose – to find ourselves.
As I lie in a warm, cosy bed staring out at the sun-bathed landscape that was home to Metod (Ted) in his formative, early years, I am reminded that his bed was the best he could construct with hay and rags in a farm out-building. It was just after the end of WWII, and things were tough. His working day, as a child, began before dawn. And in the bleak days of winter, rags tied around his feet served as shoes. Nature, and in particular the forest, became his friend, his retreat, and his sanctuary – places where he found peace for his troubled soul.
I wondered what would unfold for me as I ventured out towards the village. As I began the ascent the first of my sensory experiences was the unmistakeable, earthy smell emanating from a dairy. The next was a friendly greeting from one Golden Retriever who decided I was to be his friend for the day, or at least for as far as he decided he would accompany me. This was followed, at the junction of my path and the main road, by an exchange of pleasantries with a smiling, elderly lady busy in her garden (planting asters, actually). I spied the school, the three-storeyed building perched neatly on its rock-solid base at a bend in the road – the school that saw less of Ted rather than more, for reasons that the book explains – and which I will not spoil! On I went, looking this way and that. Round this corner and the next. I wondered which house was the Priest’s, the Priest who would not share a slice of bread for a hungry child. And where was the store? Not there anymore. A crumbling shed caught my attention. It’s timbers were giving in to the elements. But it had character. It spoke of a life well-lived, and not quite over yet.
I passed the bus stop, where someone had installed an upholstered seat from home. I smiled.
At the next road junction I was drawn to the church. Does a church on a hill have magnetic appeal? A hidden force with a beckoning come-hither? This one did. Up I went, around the hill until I reached the top and 360 degree views. For how many people has this been a place of worship over time? Who were these people? How did they view their life here, in this one small part of the world?
Back at the junction I could see Mt Triglav, Slovenia’s reference point. And I walked in that direction, ultimately drawn to a forest path where I found my own place of solitude. No agenda. Just a place to be open. And to receive. To feel connectedness with the ebb and flow of life all around me, and the energies and vibrations of the universe.
Ted moved on. Over the years he watered his story, and to quote Pinkola Estes, “burst into bloom.” His story has touched the lives of countless people, including mine. It takes time and it takes courage to journey within, to let go, and to find one’s true self. And it can start in any place. A place like Crni Vrh.