Gimmelwald, Switzerland

(not to be confused with near by Grindelwald which sounds like a big Murren)

March 16-18, 2002

Off the cable car and left as the only one not taking the next lift up to Murren, I walk out exited on deck. Stagger to the left, stagger to the right, back left, forward and then right again. My feet can't decide which view is better! I'm going to wake up to these views for the next two days and if nothing else comes to me, it will be worth it just for that. You can just see some aqua green glacial ice on the opposing mountains. It's steep, rocky and untouched purity over there. This side is more tame, though every now and then someone manages to take the terminal slip going for that elusive close-up of a flower or taking the thrill of a runaway sled.

There are really only four family names here and it takes hours to gather the hay by hand on these slopes that a machine on the flat land could do in minutes. You can rent a room, hostel bed or space in a barn on fresh hay to sleep and still have the feeling of being forward thinkingly Swiss. It's like eating muslin it's clean and modern, but close to the earth at the same time.

Drinking water flows free along the wanderweg that winds back past the dozen small barn sheds and continues upwards. The animals still haven't been set free or summer, so while they are in town, fresh yogurt and milk from two doors down await me everyday at breakfast. Those animals have legal rights too, so while they can't be free, they must get exercise at least three times a week. The cheese, oh the cheese - an everyday digestive here that needs no explanation why it's eaten so much after chowing down a wedge ending a short walk looking for edelweiss.

I met an American-Japanese couple (actually she was Canadian, but ethnically Japanese) at the pension/restaurant where I stayed and shared dinner and a picnic from stuff from the local store, which could fit in a large closet and when no one is there just take what you like and leave the money in the basket. They were fun to be with and had discovered Europe by chance a temporary job in Geneva for her and, well, why not take a six-month break from California for him.

I hit the sack my first night, but my friends got a second wind after dinner and walked passed Walter's, the guy who rents out room and has a bar. He donates a percentage of his profits to his pet project, charity efforts in Chile that he'll never see.

Walking past they saw inside the whole place break into song and dance. It's the stuff you'd think was acted out for a stage show or tourism advertisement, but that's not here. Gimmelwald is real.

I took a walk on Sunday night, but it couldn't have been quieter. The only sound I could here was the rustle of some straw under a sleeping lamb. The sky wasn't clear but had an ironic clarity in its stillness. Time flows different here and I thought I could see the stars moving across the hazy night ceiling as if my own eyes were doing a time exposed photograph. Would I want to live here? No, not now, the idea of having to work doesn't seem to be in harmony with Gimmelwald, but spending a good chunk of retirement here is worth scheming about and adding it to that pocket full of someday places.

Now and then we think that having more money might make a better life, but then take a look at this: I'm here in a small town, breathing the best air, eating the best farm food, surrounded by friendly people with sights that classify as a natural wonder of the world. A million or not, the experience is rich.

While I say things like this about places like Gimmelwald, you have to have a certain eye, or shall I see say spirit, to see such things. Today I see great mountains. Maybe in a different skin or mood it's just a pile of rock, ice and dirt. I'm not the only one who sees the core of this place, my great payout in Switzerland. I've read that under a hostel bunk a happy backpacker scratched, "If heaven's not what it's cracked up to be, send me back to Gimmelwald." Count me in on that deal too!


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