THE PINEY MOUNTAINS. Sweeping, dwellingless. We crossed them without a map. Wandering high up at the boundaries of ancient principalities: Transylvania, Wallachia, Moldavia. Ridges stretch from horizon to horizon and beyond. We arrived by way of Benedec, a solitary Carpathian settlement with four wooden buildings, good silent people, and the scent of cows and bitter brook-side plants. Evening chill rises from Bâsca Mică’s clear waters and creeps from dusky forests. No road leads there, but a mysterious forest train – tiny, brassy, ancient – makes the daily journey; it’s like nothing you would ever see at home. The Vrancean forests must once have been heavily logged, today most of the hillsides are covered in pine trees, only on the Transylvanian side to the west can beech wealds still be found. Gora, the highest mountain far and wide, stands bestrewn with smooth white, stones and dark mountain pines. From its elevation of seventeen hundred meters, forested mountainsides are all that meets the eye. Even the distant peaks of Sboina, Coza, and Furu are Vrancea!

The only human dwelling about is a lighthouse-like weather station atop Lacauţ peak where bearded sentries watch over fog and wind. They defy the Carpathian climate for weeks, baking their bread and telling of bear adventures. The last day. We descend blindly, hungrily through rain and fog. Ever westward. First down then up, along sheep tracks, through mud, scree, and thickets. We ask about a strange and distant city, Covasna, our salvation. Located in Hungarian Transylvania, most of its inhabitants still speak Hungarian. The shepherds only wave their hands far into the distance. At the fog-shrouded headwaters of Bâsca Mare, a woodcutter’s son takes us under his wing. He leads us over hill and dale, forest and clearing, windthrow and wet thicket to distant Transylvania. At the foot of the mountains, he bows, turns, and sets off homeward, a little grey bird ascending the steep, wooded, Vrancean mountainsides. Out of the goodness of his heart, he took us all the way. Twenty long kilometers on foot.