June 27, 2012

Shifting Perspectives

We came here zinged on a big city's pulse, sleep deprived by bright lights and street noises and man's ingenuity. High. But the Alps--larger than London by so many metric tons--gives us the sense of coming down.

The moment we arrive in Grindelwald, Switzerland, village of expensive winter coats and sloped farmer's fields, of cascading waterfalls and white glacial rivers, of a chorus of wildflowers I have neither seen nor heard before, we let some bit of stress go. The steps we ascend, constantly, are slow going and measured, paced with our shallow breaths. The long hikes we attempt result in weary, spent bodies, sometimes bruised. And at night we devour plates of food--thin soups and hearty breads, strange salads and thick cuts of meat--until the only thing left in our psyches is sleep. As we climb up to bed, the open windows let in the lullabye of jangling cow bells and somewhere rushing water. For a few minutes, we watch as the light fades, the Mettenberg and the Eiger and the Jungfrau peaks slipping into shadowed sky, but soon our eyelids close with the day.

How long have we been here, we hear ourselves wonder. How many days since...? When did we...?
No one knows, not really, not even the ends of the questions, and though we wake up fresher, eyes wide, still we step into the hills the next morning as if dreaming.

We notice:
wildflower fields woven with snow.
streams we bend to, pure as the air, and use to fill up our waterbottles.
an alpine lake, Bachalpsee, startlingly cold, a perfect mirror.
echoes.
trails inches from cliffs.
jagged sky.
treelines that shrink and shrink beneath our gaze which is so often hinged up.

On our last day, I pause, overlooking the Eismeer glacier, a crag that, we are told, used to stretch full between the Mettenberg and Eiger, a snowpack so solid men used to herd their goats across its surface from one mountain to the next. I try to imagine the glacier as larger, more white, more full of the horizon than it already is. My heart pounds. I feel it, and the shifting ice, and the waterfalls, and the rivers, in my ears, rushing in all directions. And I think, with a kind of gratitude, that we can build a thousand cities full of a million things and still be small.

18 comments:

  1. Ahh, the Alps.... That thin, high reservoir of our dreams and hopes. You have captured perfectly the awe and reverence which come from days spent in the high mountains. I hope your trips up above the clamouring world have been enjoyable! Thanks again for a wonderful post

    Ian

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    1. Thanks, Ian. It truly was a wonderful trip. Stunning, actually. Even felt pretty stunned in the body when we left! Hiking ain't no easy work! :)

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  2. I was in this exact place in 1972. It is quite different than any other mountain range or area I have encountered. Sharp peaks with gentle slopes below, somewhat civilized unlike many regions of the Rockies, and very, very big making anyone with any kind of observation skills feel beyond tiny.

    I also remember the hearty meals and the soups made of broth. Wow, this brings back memories.

    Whirwhind touts can bend the mind with tiredness. Perception gets somewhat twisted when sleep deprived. But that's all part of the beauty of the experience, isn't it?

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    1. Bill - So cool that you were in Grindelwald. I agree about the
      Alps being different than the Rockies, the White Mountains...anything I've previously experienced. And you describe the benefits of sleep deprivation quite well! I'll do my best to remind myself of that next time I'm feeling all wound up.

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  3. Thanks for the glimpse of your trip, Emily. My grandmother came from Switzerland when she was a child to homestead with her family in Colorado. As far as I know, she never returned, but I have always been interested in the country.

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    1. Hi Sandy, glad you liked the post. We met and chatted with several Swiss people along the way. They have such an interesting history...no involvement in any wars, still on their own currency... I found their view on the world fascinating. I'll let you know if I could across any other relevant reading about the country. :)

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  4. Beautiful post, Emily! Thank you for the view this morning!

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  5. Yes, I love reading your impressions of the Alps. I was there, also, a couple of summers ago. Did a lot of hiking and experienced much of the same as you. The tinkling sounds of the cow bells really sticks in my auditory memory. And, the chocolate.... Enjoy your stay there.

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    1. We went to sleep and woke up and hiked to the sound of cow bells. Based on a certain SNL skit, I always assumed constant cowbell sounds would warrant a bit of annoyance. But I found it simply beautiful.

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  6. Emily:

    Excellent writing from afar. You maintain your quality of perception that you've had since I met you here.

    ..."a chorus of wildflowers.."
    ..."peaks slipping into shadowed sky..."
    ..."and still be small."

    Plus, you are providing life changing, life enhancing experiences for your young adults.

    Richard

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    1. Thanks, Richard. Yeah, I didn't talk about the students directly in this post, but I loved experiencing this with them. Some with asthma said they'd never felt better, kids that weren't athletic pushed themselves on the hardest hikes, and I enjoyed getting a little bit on my nature-lover platform and insisting they appreciate the vistas in all directions. Turned out, that last bit wasn't hard!

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  7. To a place where I've never been, I feel as if I have been there through your exquisite writing.

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    1. One of the finest compliments. Thanks, Audrey.

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  8. Hello Emily. You have inspired a beautiful flood of comments. Your piece about the Alps is lovely and the shape of the prose, opening and ending with the city, holds the range of mountains in place. Are you still away? Are you home? We are leaving on our journey next week. In the midst of July rain in NorthWestern France where I live, I am dreaming of heat that demands siestas, cafés terraces and toes in lake waters and hot wind drifting in high grass.

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    1. Hi Lasuza,

      Thanks so much for your comments. You articulated exactly what I was doing subconsciously with the shape of this essay. It's always nice when fresh eyes help me understand my writing more deeply. :) I am home now, but I did so enjoy the travel and the experiences. We spent time in eastern France--the Alcace region--and I loved it there. What part of northwestern France are you in? I've spent time in the Normandy region, and thought that area was beautiful, too.

      Hope you found that dreamy heat. Just put my toes in a lake this weekend, and it felt divine.

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  9. I loved this entire post, but then I got to the last line. Wow, just perfect.

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    1. Thanks, SPT. It was a "last line" type of moment.

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