On Roberto’s advice, we spend a day exploring the plant communities of karstic plains. The first of these is Colfiorito, a swamp lush with reeds, willows, poplars, and great gray herons.
In the time of Saint Francis, much of the low land between the mountains was swampy like this. The Romans had drained the valleys for farmland, but the swamps and marshes returned after their civilization declined. These swamps were wild places, full of malaria, wild animals, and bandits, but Francis made his way through them on foot.
It is lovely to see this intact marsh. Great flocks of geese and other aquatic birds from northern Europe spend their winters in the wetlands and lakes of central Italy. This is an oasis for wading birds.
During the Renaissance, the valleys were drained and devoted to agriculture again. In recent times, they have become a different sort of wilderness, full of factories and highways. Yet places like Colfiorito have remained or been restored, where the world that Francis knew still exists.