Castles are a native species to the Mosel valley. They grow wild on the headlands that overlook the river. Some are still in full bloom, petalled in red and yellow pennants. Others are just husks, scorched ruins wilting in the April sunshine.
Vineyards trim the steep slopes like ribbons of grosgrain. As the year ripens, they will droop with fruit, but for now they are just a green fringe.
Where the valley folds up around the river, bending it into a bow, the village of Beilstein piles up in the foothills. The Earl’s castle is a defiant shard impaling the hilltop, and below it, a rabble of medieval architecture clings to the slopes. Drystone barns, white-washed towers, and half-timbered townhouses cluster around the market square. The roofs are pitched too steeply for doves to roost. Their tiles are tapered like the glistening scales of fresh-caught river trout. From under the eaves, tiny dormer windows peer out over the square.
I zigzag through the vineyards, climbing past the Earl’s castle to the Jewish cemetery that crowns the ridge. Russet oak leaves are strewn amongst the graves, crackling like crêpe paper lilies under my boots. Drifts of cherry blossoms snow down over the cemetery, wafting from the orchard on the far side of the fence. The graveyard is a family gathering—just a handful of surnames are shared between 104 stones. Lichen crusts the gravestones, green as the copper-verdigris that filigrees old sundials. And the stones are sundials; their shadows count the mortal hours.
At the edge of the cemetery, I pick a bouquet for my mother, a handful of blossoms too winsome to be weeds and too ephemeral to be flowers. In a guesthouse bedroom that once belonged to the Earl’s kin, I fill the glass on her nightstand with April’s wild violets and yellow fanfare. Then I curl up on the wide windowsill, pull the white chiffon curtains closed behind me, and watch dusk sift down over the cobbled market square.