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One Fine Day

April 12, 2019

Every day has the possibility of being great. The trick, it seems, is in recognizing greatness as it unfolds and before it slips away.

Peering into the forest above the village of Tret, I wondered at the distance to the lake. The sign at the beginning of the trail stated the distance as one kilometer. The late September afternoon was hot and dusty and the lure of a cool mountain lake called to me. So, up the mountain and into the forest I hiked seeking Lago di Santa Maria. Surely, I would be there in less than twenty minutes.

A half an hour later, I stopped and rested on a rock outcropping. Taking stock of my surroundings, I wondered what life might have been like for my forefathers. From my vantage point, I could see the opposite side of the valley and the shadows that were cast down into the heart of the Val di Non. Many years before, this land had been home to my family. While on vacation with my wife, I was drawn to Lago di Santa Maria because of the many stories I had heard about the lake as a child. I wanted to see for myself one of the many pieces of the past in an attempt to learn more about my ancestry. My hike had already tired me, causing my legs to ache and I thought, “Surely my ancestors were more fit than I for this type of mountain hiking.” I imagined my grandmother’s sister Armida Flor and her husband, Emanuele Bertagnolli, walking this same path 80 years before me. Certainly, they did not complain. They had traveled this path hundreds of times, moving up and back down the mountain with ease. Often, even their small children would accompany them. They had a vision and a reason for being on this path. I, on the other hand, was a visitor to this land and a casual observer. The trees were silent as I walked. They spoke not of times nor of people past. They spoke not at all. The path ahead disappeared into the forest without a word and so on I hiked.

I soon met other hikers descending from the mountain. To be sure of my direction, I asked, “Is this the way to Lago di Santa Maria?” They looked puzzled at my question. Finally, they said, “This is the way to Lago di San Felice, not Lago di Santa Maria.” “Where is Lago di Santa Maria? I asked. They discussed the question amongst themselves and answered that they did not know. Off they went on down the mountain and onto a different path toward the village of San Felice.

Puzzled, I proceeded up the mountain, a warm breeze at me back. The fall forest was a rich green and the sky was clear and blue. The afternoon was moving steadily into evening and the late season’s colors were mirrored to each side of my path. After another half an hour of strenuous hiking, I reached a summit of sorts and paused to catch my breath.

There before me, in the shadows of the forest, was a small lake. I surveyed the water for some while. It looked like all the pictures I had seen of Lago di Santa Maria and that name was printed clearly on my map. But I was new to this land and perhaps I had made an error in hiking. Perhaps I had reached some other lake of another name. Perhaps I was lost!

The lake stretched out to my left and again to my right and had a small island in the middle of the water close to the opposite shore. I remembered Emanuele Bertagnolli and his family had once operated a small place to eat on the banks of the lake I was searching for, and yet I saw no building. I remembered the stories of great parties or feste that were held on the banks before me and yet I heard no sound. The tall trees crowded toward the lake from every direction. The quiet water, which lay before me like a mirror in the forest, echoed no sound, no rhythm of the valley far below. There was nothing but pure beauty, uninterrupted by the world around the lake. But then again, there remained the puzzle. Where was I?

Turning from the question, I decided to embrace the day and enjoy the newfound lake. I put together a fly-fishing rod and began a series of short casts into the still water. The afternoon passed quietly into a maze of lengthening shadows as I fished. The forest whispered the names from the past with each passing breeze. The Bertagnolli family of Tret and the Flor family of Brez were entwined in the history of the lake and like the roots of the lake’s tall trees they were entwined in my past. Yet, I knew so little of the past.

I fished for awhile, but there were no fish for me this day. There have been many days without fish for me. However, the beauty and silence of this place more than pleased me. It was perfect! The scene before me swayed back and forth between the colors of today and the black and white of old photographs I had seen. The sounds of happy family gatherings on sunny afternoons in years gone by played softly as the day slowly ended.

Lago di Tret circa 1936 – The Bertagnolli family boating the lake.

As the last bit of sun was swallowed-up by the dark forest, along the path came the final group of hikers. As they approached, I asked, “Do you know the name of this lake?” “Certainly,” came the eager reply. “This is Lago di Tret!” The puzzle was starting to be solved, or was it? I had come to the lake on the path from Tret and so I supposed the lake could be named for the village. It made perfect sense. Never mind that the map called it Lago di Santa Maria. Lago di Tret would do just fine.

I never did find the building next to the lake. I suspected, however, that the building was still there surrounded by the mysteries of time. Returning to the village of Tret late that evening, I paused at the base of the mountain to speak to a local resident who operated the albergo where I was staying. She asked me where I had been. I told her I had hiked to a lake in the mountains behind the village and that I was told it was called Lago di San Felice, although I knew the lake as Lago di Santa Maria. She smiled and said, “I am sure you were also told the name of the lake is Lago di Tret.” “How did you know?” I asked. Her smile broadened a bit and then she replied with a wink of her eye, “The Lake has many names. Which one you choose depends on where you are coming from and where you are going.”

Every day has the possibility of being great. The trick, it seems, is in recognizing greatness as it unfolds and before it slips away.

Epilogue

Curiosity drew me back to the shores of Lago di Tret two years later. I had been disappointed in not being able to locate the original building that belonged to my distant relatives and I yearned to know more about the history of the lake. Fortunately, the return trip to Tret included a vast reunion with cousins from the Bertagnolli families of Tret. They were eager to share information about their family’s past, including the origin of the lake and the location of the original Bertagnolli owned building. Over healthy helpings of polenta, speck and grappa, I learned about the lake’s past.

Lago di Tret is a man-made lake. The man who made the lake was Emanuele Bertagnolli, the husband of my grandmother’s sister, Armida Flor. The Veier creek had flowed into a shallow basin for centuries before, pausing to form a marshland before proceeding down the mountain to join the Novella stream below Tret. After acquiring the property shortly after the turn of the century, Emanuele Bertagnolli built a dam across the Veier creek in the years between 1920 and 1922. The lake, in its present form, was thus born.

The ruins of the Bertagnolli’s Rifugio Alpino

In 1924, Emanuele and his family constructed the Rifugio Alpino on the shore of the lake near the dam. This structure served much the same purpose as modern rifugios in the Italian Alps today. People walking in the mountains, away from towns and villages, could stop to rest and find something to eat and drink. The rifugio also served as the center for many parties and celebrations over the years. It remained for many years, tended by the Bertagnolli family, until a fire destroyed the building. All that remains is a large pile of stones, mortar and charred timbers. This was the building I had searched for in vain two years earlier.

The Trout That Was Finally Caught

With this new perspective, I again hiked to the lake on this second visit for a closer look at history and another morning of fishing. Sure enough, there right next to the dam were the ruins of the Bertagnolli rifugio. I had passed right by them on my previous trip. I inspected what remained of the building. Moving amidst the stone rubble, I could almost hear the laughter of so many good times spent here in years gone by. I could still feel the pride of the past as it seemed to hang in the still morning air. I walked to the other side of the lake and made a series of casts into the mirror-like water. I finally caught and released one of the lake’s elusive trout. Feeling fulfilled, I returned to the dam and the trail head leading back down the mountain. The morning was quiet with just a hint of fall in the air. Surveying the lake, the old dam and the broken bits of history before me, I turned from the quiet of the lake toward Tret. With a deep sigh I remembered fondly that this day, like the one two years earlier, was a great day!

Photo: Lake Tret in October 2002.

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2 Comments
  1. Un bellissimo ritorno al passato letto tutto di un fiato 🌷
    shera

    Liked by 1 person

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