We come to the Rieti Valley to visit four places that Saint Francis knew and loved, including La Foresta (pictured).
We stay in a little family hotel in a grove of walnut trees near the sorgente di Santa Susanna, the prolific source of a river that flows across the Rieti Valley. Eight centuries ago, the flat floor of this karstic valley was a marshy lake. A fisherman who ferried Francis across it gave him a fish, but rather than keep it to eat the saint put it back in the water. The happy fish played around the boat, apparently unwilling to leave until Saint Francis blessed him.
There are still wetlands in the Rieti Valley as well as two lakes. We visit the four convents founded by Saint Francis in the surrounding hills and seek out the narrow caves where he rested and prayed. But we return again and again to the marshy lakes, to hear chorusing frogs and watch grebes and herons. One morning Tom sees a fox trotting near the water’s edge, its red coat soaked from the dewy grass.