Stories of this Canadian girl's adventures exploring Europe...join me!

Thursday, September 5, 2013

a mountain high - part II

“I climbed across the mountain tops
Swam all across the ocean blue…”

As we set out for the mountain top that I wanted to stand on, on this Saturday morning, I had already begun to reflect on the why’s, where’s and who’s that have dotted my life. Great guy and I would also be marking three years together on this day, and thinking about then and now had made me both melancholy and excited. Is that possible? Life. What an adventure; just realizing that you have no idea what or who lies around the next corner, but around that corner you should go. And, now I had the boots.

My feet were nestled in the finest Swiss hiking boots, and I had just met their maker. I was standing in his small hiking boot and shoe repair shop, having just decided to purchase the wildly reduced pair on my feet. While I was waiting for great guy, this white-haired, white-moustached Grindelwälder told me stories about his time working in Banff as a mountain and ski guide. Home! I was interested.

In reply to my question, “When were you there,” he answered, “Oh, it was a long time ago, back in 1973. Gee, let’s see, how many years ago was that…” And as he paused to calculate, I said, “Well, actually that was exactly 40 years ago. Today is my birthday.” What a lovely reaction, as his wrinkled, bright, face lit up and he offered me his strong hand and his warmest congratulations.


Boistered by this sweet encounter, we arrived at First Alm, our starting point (no pun intended). The sun hung sadly in the sky, worried about the impending clouds moving in, but the fresh air was warm and breezy. The sound of the heavy cow bells bonging from the necks of the alpi cows surrounding us in each direction, was a steady concert. Like an entire chorus of bell players, whose soprano section got lost along the way. I thought it was the loveliest sound. Music, mountains, tiny purple berg tulips, a great guy and some alpi cows. Perfect. 

What followed were ascents up 1000 metres, then steep, shale-covered paths down, over rocky plateaus, and through green, misty valleys. The sound of cow bells was our constant companion. About half way through our planned 6 hour hike, the rain came. We had prepared for it, but after 2 hours of cats and dogs we were soaked through. We took a bratwurst and apfelschorle break in a rugged, lonely mountain hut, along with other wet hikers. Then we set out again into the rain and wind.

Needless to say, we were chilled to the bone by the time we got onto even the same mountain as my cow. The cow. Lotti. And the alpi cheese. We still hadn’t found her or her farmer yet and great guy was not eager (to put it mildly) to continue our journey. I told him that there is no way that I have come so far and am so close, not to go keep going and find her. I said he could turn around if he wanted to, but I’m going to find my cow and get my cheese. It was my birthday present.

“You see the smile that’s on my mouth
It’s hiding the words that don’t come out”

So, half an hour later we finally came upon a very simple, bauernhof (farm) with a pen of healthy hogs, two German shepherds, a dirty child and two stalls full of cows in the process of being milked. It was 5pm. The milking hour.

We definitely didn’t want to disturb…and I have to admit I felt quite stupid showing up at this busy place where hard work is the constant norm, asking to see a cow named Lotti. But, the young farmer, who this cow-renting program supports, was gracious and kind and gave us a quick tour auf Schweizer Deutsch (no idea what he said). He led us up the four, narrow, rickety steps, of a separate wooden hut standing a few metres away from the big barn. The door opened into a dark room with floor-to-ceiling shelves on all sides and a wide, circular scale hanging from a hook in the centre. The smell was shocking, a bit offensive, until I realized….cheese. On every surface was cheese. Huge wheels of cheese. Yummy.


The reception from the five-year-old, milk-chocolate brown Lotti wasn’t quite as friendly as her owner’s. She was busy. She very clearly didn’t care that I had rented her, which she proved by standing with her face against the wooden inside wall of the stall, backside out. Granted the milking hoses were attached to her, churning out milk, and as my only frame of reference for such an activity (breast-feeding moms) I decided to a) not take her photo and b) leave her in peace. So I whispered hello; so that no actual Swiss person would hear me, and then we headed back down the row of similar, rent-able milk producers. As we hiked down the steep mountain path, wet and cranky, my 4 kg wheel of cheese bounced along in great guy’s bag; it’s mild stench mixing quite nicely (at least I thought so) with the damp, forest air. Can you be wet, cranky and happy?


Back in our little hotel room, with great guy already snoring softly beside me, I try to reflect on the years behind me and think about how I should direct my future (if I can). My body is still chilled and sore from the day’s activity and I can’t seem to concentrate. I pick up a Grindelwald magazine lying on the bedside table beside me and lazily flip through it.


“And all of my friends who think that I’m blessed
They don’t know my head is a mess.”

A photo of the Eiger north face makes me stop page-turning. As I read the article about the 75th anniversary of the first successful ascent of the north face, I am inspired by the courage and perseverance of the teams who had tried (and often failed) in attempting this feat. I keep reading; names like Harrer, one of my favourite writers, or Kurz and Hinterstoisser, two Germans from the town where my dad was born and whose tragic story was immortalized on film. Then, the story turns local. To the first Grindelwald resident who in 1978 secretly; not wanting to worry his fellow mountain folks who had rescued and recovered so many others in their attempt to conquer this mountain, scaled the north face. Even weeks afterwards, nobody knew of his accomplishment, until eventually the news trickled out through his family. He became a soft-spoken hero and an exceptional mountain guide. The name rang a bell. Bohren. The photo looked familiar. It was my shoemaker.

‘Story’

"Today may there be peace within. May you trust that you are exactly where you are meant to be. May you not forget the infinite possibilities that are born of faith in yourself and others. May you use the gifts that you have received and pass on the love that has been given to you. May you be content with yourself just the way you are. Let this knowledge settle into your bones, and allow your soul the freedom to sing, dance, praise and love. It is there for each and every one of us.”
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