Walking through the Maltese countryside in the winter, I cannot help but feel a sense of sadness at the fleeting beauty of it all. Because soon, all too soon, the lush greenery and pretty wild flowers will be replaced by brown earth and dry weeds. Winter is a time of growth as nourishing rain falls from grey skies. There are a few reminders that it really is winter, like the stark beauty of leafless branches stabbing the sky, the forlorn look of empty nests and the straggly creepers of the vines. In contrast, carpets of moss give life to the silent stones while gaily-coloured flowers in shades of gold and blue break the austere lines of the rubble walls that act as boundaries in place of leafy hedges.
But no matter where you roam on this small island, you will come across traces of those who have walked these paths before us – in an old farmhouse with crumbling walls; in an isolated chapel; in a solitary reminder to pray for suffering souls; in an abandoned cemetery once used to bury victims of the plague – unmarked graves of nameless, forgotten faces.
I often wonder whether these numerous relics scattered across our countryside are there to make up for the dearth of wildlife that is so common and abundant in other countries because, whether by chance or by design, traipsing along hidden foot-paths will often bring us face to face with our past.
And when we do stumble across these places, it feels like one of those fabled moments when time stands still. All of a sudden you get the creepy sensation that you are on the other side of a looking glass and about to cross a boundary – one more step and the glass will shatter and we will tumble headlong into a different world; a different time. So we tiptoe around these sites with bated breath and an almost reverent stance, eyes darting here and there, always careful, always cautious that we do not cross that dividing line that will force us to face our past or dwell forever in that world between the worlds, that world of swirling mists – the magical world of Faery.
Because that is where reality ends and fantasy begins …