The Wolf Library, Valchiusella

This conversation takes place on the phone for over an hour while an exceptional snowfall blocks the roads in Valchiusella, Piedmont, and bad weather rages throughout northern Italy.

Greta Silva is in her cabin: she tells me that she has been diligent for our interview, she has prepared a notebook, pencil, books and lit candles – I am indeed sitting at the desk surrounded by sun and spring temperatures down south, same (small) country.

To lighten things up, we shared the unexpected storms we went through, we are the same age.

I told her about the ones I survived on the boat and we agreed that we tolerate different levels of anxiety, I would be less comfortable in the mountains than in a vortex in the water and vice versa.

The inbound recorder had a failure. The conversation is too rich and out of the ordinary to be interrupted: these lines bring to mind – and summarize in brief chapters – a dwelling style like few others, despite the over 200 interviews collected in recent years by #slowwords about how is living at different latitudes.

Greta founded the Biblioteca del Lupo (The Wolf Library) in Traversella for the love of truth: to tell something rarely told – or badly told or, worse, told with bad intentions. How is the life of the ‘savages’.

A sui generis librarian, she is also on Etsy; in the physical library she offers books for sale or exchange or free consultation in a mountain hut she adapted. She shares knowledge with travelers, her thirst for knowledge – as well as her previous lives – to reformulate their perception of the mountain, of its creatures and of their habitats.

I didn’t ask much of Greta, she is a torrent full of stories – I listened. And I would have had more than one curiosity to ask: the origin of the books, which rare editions, how long and especially how she built her collection spanning from science, to fiction to arts.

The Wolf Library is a too different place from other libraries or bookstores to carve out answers to classic questions.

It works ‘when the sun is shining’ as she tells us, from morning to sunset the library literally ‘opens’ onto the hosting landscape. It is a slope at 1300 meters above sea level in an area naturalistically important for its wildlife and mineral subsoil.

We are in the mountain outskirts of Turin, the Savoy capital of Italy which is an hour and ten by fast train from Milan.

These woods are certainly off the Alpine tourist routes, outside the perimeters of a nearby national park. They are very rich in mines and iron, ravines, wetlands and bathing waterways, edible and non-edible wild flora.

Your life until you create the Wolf Library

I was born in the early 70s in Milan, I don’t come from a wealthy family and for this reason I worked until after my scientific high school diploma.

Tailored creation immediately fascinates me; I cut my teeth, and my first client base, at the markets.

My hand-sewn bags take shape from English and refined fabrics, already in the first years my accessories were an excuse to set faces of foxes and other wild animals designed increasingly with buttons and other unusual and one of a kind accessories. The Bolognese years at Montagnola (among most celebrated second hand markets in Italy) were very hard and extraordinary. Even the large wigs with floral and vegetal themes underline it: I have spent my entire working life desiring (and describing) nature from a point of view decidedly far from the places where it is.

Over time my passion grew and became a fashion brand of which I was also the artistic director: I opened two shops (one in the Isola district, which has now become a very different place from my years). Then come the presentations in Paris at the Première Classe fair, twice a year, and the whole life immersed in the creation and marketing an important entrepreneurial project entails.

When I closed and decided to change my life, a friend told me that I was sitting on a briefcase of gold and that I would do well to think about it before giving up everything. It wasn’t like giving up everything, I’m slow in life and I think a lot but when I make a decision I’m quick to act.

The mountain arrives in my life and I enter it unarmed, without experience a November 10 years ago in another valley. I lived in a sparsely populated community, about nine people, in Cicogna, Valgrande, where I also opened a herbal tea shop.

After years spent browsing real estate ads in search of authentic, even if ruined, properties, I find the series of houses where I am now: there are five of them and not all of them have been restored. Off the grid, I keep every consumption to a minimum, not just the energy one which is powered by a small photovoltaic source.

One of these houses, built in local stone and not restored, houses the Wolf Library and 50 meters away is the other where I live, small and spartan heated by wood.

We are at 1300 meters above sea level below the Bocchetta del Lupo, a small pass that allows the wolves to join the peaks and continue their dispersion in the mountains above me. Not just wolves: foxes, wild pigs, squirrels, roe deer and many forest fauna alternate in these copses that surround us. They move under and alongside the Library among brambles of blackberries, rowans, birches and maples with not only spatial precise geometries, alternating with the passages of our three dogs who live in an 800 meter enclosure with rocks and other amenities.

Here I found gold: the perfect conjunction with the forest, its ‘wild’ and almost innate inhabitants, those with a thousand-year presence: all the minerals and especially the quartzite innervated with gold.

Once upon a time they also searched for gold here. Today’s gold for me is to conserve and pass on these intact woods to those who come after us.

Do your mountains have a network of more or less frequented and codified paths? Does it help you with the Library? What audience do you have?

We are at the non-geographical but causal end of the Sentiero delle Anime (Path of Souls): our mountain was populated by Celts (Salassi) and other even more ancient populations, there are rock inscriptions to witness this. We are also 700 meters in altitude from the Grande Traversata delle Alpi (GTA/Rifugio Chiaromonte stage) but this is not what makes our users choosing us.

There are those who arrive by chance and those who are actually looking for us (Greta takes care of the Library, 5 members are active in camera trapping and they all take care of the wolf census for which they have been trained in the collection and collection of excrement and other signs of presence, ed.).

You should know that the GPS point is not precise – this often happens with Google in the mountains – so only those who are very determined to find us reach us.

On the other hand, it is wonderful to see the reaction of children or visitors who were not expecting us and the shape of our library.

I like to help, but not too much, those who choose a book from us.

The bookshop is like an art installation that opens and blossoms during the day, on weekends from spring onwards or in good weather (the rest of the week by appointment).

The books are arranged in a random order, within the landscape they often describe – for example we have birds that nest in the shelves and foxes that nestle on the chair that we leave outside among the shelves!

We also have a selection of poems and I liked to recommend two authors and two writings that I love very much. Linda Hogan represents me so deeply and so does Francesca Matteoni, a magical friend of the ‘biblio’.

A more than welcome suggestion, we published them in the Poems section and we chose a different prose from those of the author Chandra Candiani you suggested.

On summer nights, have you also thought about ‘colonizing’ the landscape from the blue hour onwards, perhaps with short walks ‘in verse’, a sort of walking reading governed by moonlight?

That’s exactly what I’m thinking about this winter…something together with the Moon will happen and we’ll update you soon.

Music with you right now?

I don’t listen to music, except that naturally ‘orchestrated’ by the woods. Then every now and then I happen to be hit by some catchphrase online. I rarely let my ears get polluted, I want to be stretched out and tuned in to listening to these wonders.

A strange thing happens when you live in the woods. You begin to refine and direct your hearing in a way that is completely functional to the environment and I am afraid of distracting it again from the very powerful listening of this dimension. Which to me speaks not only through the singing of trees and fauna but also through mineral magnetism.

Some time ago I was passionate about opera and I studied the history of classical music, gaining a fair amount of knowledge.

How can I consult the section dedicated to wolves?

To the wolves and the many other inhabitants who share the forest with me we have dedicated an absurd computer totally self-built by Ale, the mechatronics engineer of the Group, it is a kind of Frankenstein PC with only photo-trapping folders inside and even there I don’t conduct visitors a lot in their choice. I provide the basic instructions for accessing the film archive which is a kind of digital forest.

It is extraordinary, together with the other friends who take care of the photo traps, to observe the stratification of our archive and the knowledge it allows us of wild animals, in particular we follow a family of wolves. You understand how much these animals are a ‘group’, a family, and you soon learn, beyond the video images, to build a relationship with wildlife also with proxemics. As happened with Setola a wild boar who lives with us and who gave birth to her cubs ten meters from home in a precise point from where she has always interacted with us through her language.

Little by little, from study and observation, you discover the relationships between the non-bipedal inhabitants of these woods. Recognize when they come with ‘a friend’, when they are around for a ‘check-out’ of the place. Our IG profile has a dedicated trapping camera section.

Poachers and hunters destroy a natural habitat whose unbridled tampering, in a cascade, destroys the planet.

They are not the only ones, of course, but they too have a share of responsibility. We must reconsider our behavior as ‘predators’ of the forest ever since we order wild boar and roe deer at the restaurant or pick mushrooms and herbs without considering that we are not owed everything and that the rules we use are unethical because the forest belongs to everyone.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years, a question that puts many ‘people of this world into crisis’, I think that with you it has an easy and already mediated answer over time…?

Here, walking the same paths.

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