There was beauty visible on the hill, and ugliness and strangeness and majesty, and life and colour and darkness, and terror. The valley was beautiful, the trees and the flowers were beautiful, the towering slopes in the distance were beautiful, the city that lay on their foothills was majestic, the factory below it was ugly, the sky was both light and dark, the birds and the insects made aesthetically neutral noises, and the barking of the dogs was terrifying.
Anywhere in the world, any place and any time, is like that, a mix, a mess of stimuli, of responses, of emotions, of sensations, of colours and shapes impossible to resolve beyond a certain level of detail, leaving a confused sense of peace or discomfort or depression, of uplift depending on the dominant tones. If there is a discernible beauty you may count yourself lucky, otherwise you try going somewhere else.
The barking of the dogs was terrifying because it was getting closer and there was still no sign of them. In a few seconds they would appear from over a ridge or behind a tree or a rock and only then would we know what their intentions were and which direction to run in and how long we had to do it. They appeared. There were two of them.
They were long and rangy, light-haired and damp-toothed. Their eyes were not evil, just business-like. They had a job to do, keeping the country free of creatures that smelt as though they didn’t belong. But their business involved fear, and possibly blood.
We kept walking. It would probably have been worse to run. We kept calm and a casual rhythm. They smell fear, it is said, so we tried to control our pheromones, tuning them to essence of confident mastery. The kind of thing you learn in primary school.
We wondered idly- we had nothing else to do, after all- whether they would remain a couple of feet behind us barking until we were far enough from their territory for them to relax a little, or would speed our departure in the primitive fashion of their kind. It was a question of some importance for a few seconds. When you’re 6’2”, you wish the dog behind you wasn’t exactly 3’1”.
I wish we’d been bitten. It would have made a better story. It would have had an ending. But the truth is that after 50 yards or so the dogs fell back, and their barking faded to the distant warning it had been when we first heard them. It was at that moment that a group of roe deer crossed the path twenty feet ahead of us, moving smoothly and silently as though projected on the forest background. The beauty had returned.