The day begins different to most. We are led by 3 Druids through the iron rich land of Kasterlee, to a by-pass that has rather bullishly cut through an ancient coffin route. A court jester enlivens the almost sombre mood with a call made from a hand-made huntsman horn.
We pass through a certified tranquil site, or silent site as it is commonly known. However, in contrast to its name the area is so called due to the harmony which exists between nature, the land, and those work on it. A sort of ceasefire, or rather, a cooperation exists in the area between these often opposing factions.
The by-pass to where we have been led is instantly impressive. A large scar cuts through, leaving only a ravine of construction. Juxtapositions are here in abundance: the ancient iron filled soil contrasts the newly formed alloys of this site; the proud hundred year old trees stand watch over the machines which scar the earth and dwarf the men who control them, and the ceremonial staff, carried by the old Druid, has an odd resonance with the foreman´s remote, who down below, controls the giant cement pump. This demonstration of human progression comes at a price: the routes used by walkers, cyclists and your average way-farers now make way for the fast approaching arctic lorries and cars that run errands between Holland and Belgium.
A tired but stoic look is worn on the faces of the group. I cannot tell if the druids´ funeral-like procession is to blame for this, or if the previous long days have taken their toll. Woman, child, man and donkey now cheerfully trudge on - at times almost seeming to wade - through the forest of pine cones and needles.
A young boy in the class of children we pass, asks, ´if you pull a donkey´s tail, will money come out?' we try this on Biegel (our faithful companion) but unfortunately, the folklore from where this originated remains a myth. We will try another time. The streets we now pass through have an unreal quality about them. The exaggerated features - fanciful facias and colourful gable ends - have turned the architectural rusticity of this flemish town into a cartoon.
The childrens´chatter follows us down the street. It fades and the tic-tac of the walking sticks on the cobbles now takes centre stage in our auditorium. A faint chip chop, chipchop, chip chop, grows stronger as we approach a neighboring copse. As we walk deeper into the pine forest the elementals´ song starts to replace the human sounds found in the town.
Desire lines or, Olifanten paadjes (elephant paths), are now the topic of conversation. We attempt to make our own. Opining these newly formed lines as escape tactics - small ones, but ones that break the strictures imposed by the clearly defined pavements and roadways.
A country lane, reminiscent of bygone days, holds the sun and shade in equal measure. Birds sing, tractors trundle passed, flowers dance on the edge of the lane - all this country-buoyancy lifts the group. A man tills the soil, surrounded by an astonishing concophony of colour and produce. This botanical splendor seems more than a just reward for all his effort. I later learn that the following group were offered freshly pulled carrots for their ogling. Cow pat clouds sit high-up in the bright blue of the zenith.
As the walk draws to an end a familiar sensation descends. The relations between the group have grown stronger but the folk we now meet seem almost alien and distant from our collective spirit and endeavour.