A Vertical World, The Mountains of the Apennine Chamois

by Bruno D’Amicis

Often I find chamois by following the sound of stones rolling downhill, breaking away from rock walls and tumbling into the void. There, between tiny ledges and scree slopes, at the center of my binoculars, are my animals.  They are completely intent on grazing on stunted seedlings as they move confidently on paths that are invisible to me, but are  well-etched in the memory of the chamois hooves. Every so often, one of them, perhaps tired of the monotony of the rock, stands out presumptuous against the sky and clouds and can remain solemnly in that position for hours: this is my favorite thing to see when I am in the mountains!

The lives of these chamois play out in a vertical world, a world of mineral indifference, where uncertainty does not exist and where the rock is everything. Jumps, chases, feeding, horns, coupling, sleep, birth and death, all happens in this vertical world. But there is not only the force of gravity to mold the biology of the chamois; they are fashioned also by the wolf’s teeth and the eagle’s talons, the temperatures in mid-autumn and the distribution of clover. The chamois, a perfect product of evolution, is born to live on the highest mountains of the Apennines.  Its hooves fit perfectly on small holds and slabs of rock, the only time I don’t slip on the rocks is when my boots are new. The long winter coat is storm-proof at night, but I need three layers of clothes and a heavy sleeping bag. It takes me half an hour to climb a slope which takes a chamois just two minutes – and without puffing. A big heart that beats powerfully, blood rich in red corpuscles, muscles tense and sharp reflexes, keen eyesight and an excellent sense of smell.

Sun beats down on limestone and blinds you; sea on one side, snow on the other. Prickly cushions of juniper and solemn, solitary beech trees that grow on the edges of the forest. Choughs and rock partridges provide the soundtrack for these rocky gorges. The fine hair that grows on the edelweiss and the blue of gentians. A viper, sunning itself and the stones overturned by a bear in search of ants. The silence of the wind and the tinkling of the bells of a far away flock of sheep, and i am alone with the chamois. A chamois is born to the mountain as the mountain is born to the chamois.