Swiss in the San Luis Valley

This coming summer — on June 20, the Saturday closest to my grandmother Beall’s birthday — I’ll be reading from the trilogy. The trilogy’s official title is very long and cumbersome, but the titles I wanted were taken, so I titled it, Across the World on the Wings of the Wind. Long though it is, it’s very expressive of the three books together. They are Savior, The Brothers Path and The Price. You can learn about them on their website.

I expect to read from The Brothers Path and The Price. Savior is pretty far away from the experiences relevant to the people to whom I’ll be reading. The project is turning out to be part of a presentation and exhibit on Swiss immigrants in the San Luis Valley.

Switzerland might be a small, land-locked country, but Madame Helvetica’s people really got around. In the 17th and 18th century many left — as my ancestors did — for religious reasons. Life in Switzerland was hard for many centuries, and in the 19th century, many, many left for better opportunities. The emigration from Switzerland continued well into the twentieth century. Most of the Swiss in the San Luis Valley arrived in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Swiss ancestry is one of the most common in the United States.

Members of my family left illegally, with no passport or permission. There is a letter to them from the Canton of ZΓΌrich telling them they will be arrested if they return. I’ve enjoyed free coming and going for more than twenty years, so it seems the hatchet was buried some time back. I love Switzerland and wish, sometimes, that I was a boomerang, but…

I’m looking forward to the project and working with the Rio Grande County Museum and people in the valley I don’t know yet. One family — the Knoblauchs — are doing the Swiss thing; they have a dairy farm — the Lazy Ewe 2 Bar Goat Dairy — goats, cattle, yaks — and they make cheese.

Wheels of Cheese at the Knoblauch’s Lazy Ewe 2 Bar Ranch

I’ve visited their farm and really enjoyed it. My favorite animal was the yak.

Because of my best friend, Polar Bear Yeti T. Dog, the Akbash, the livestock guardian dog, I’m very interested in how people protect their livestock from predation. The Knoblauchs use llamas to guard the stock in the day and Great Pyrenees guard the stock at night. They also have the sweetest pit bull on the planet.

Right now the project is at the GIANT amorphous size of a project, but soon, I hope, it will start to center on itself and we’ll know what it is.

As for me, I’m only 10% Swiss but that ancestry has had a disproportionate influence on me as a writer and maybe as a person. My Grandmother Beall (family names include Stober and Schneebeli) was an important person in my life even though she died when I was ten. I can’t explain it and have stopped trying. If I’ve been channeling her family all this time, it’s fine with me. I love them and their stories just as I love my aunts and am proud of my family’s adventures.

When my Aussie neighbor Elizabeth brings me jelly she has made, she brings it in a “boomerang” jar.

16 thoughts on “Swiss in the San Luis Valley

  1. What a fun project for you, and your community!
    Visited Switzerland briefly, in 1999. Beautiful country. No wonder you love mountains.
    I believe our DNA comes through in unexpected ways. My fondness for Celtic music, something I stumbled upon as an adult, is a surprise except for the abundance of Irish DNA on my maternal side. The music resonates, so why fight it?

    • I also think our DNA carries more than physical stuff and there is some pretty iffy research to support that. BUT my matrilineal DNA originated in the Dolomites; it’s the same as Reinhold Messner’s and derived from Otzi’s So, I think mountains are literally in my bones. I really don’t feel right when I can’t see them. I even remember the first time they were pointed out to me. I was 2. My dad was holding me up. He pointed to the west (we lived in a suburb of Denver). The sun was setting behind Mt. Evans. He said, “Look, MAK. Those are mountains.” It was love at first sight, first word.

  2. What a wonderful event to look forward to – and to have it close to your grandmother’s birthday – a real bonus πŸ™‚
    My connection to Switzerland is through a very dear family friend (Marion Schlapfer Brandes) who has been a part of my life since I was a child. She emigrated from Switzerland to the US at 29 years old with a young daughter. She is now back living in Zurich. Her life story is part of a book released in 2010 – “Westward” – by Susann Bosshard-Kalin. The book showcases 15 portraits of Swiss women who immigrated to the US in the 20th century. I was also fortunate to be able to attend the book launch in NYC where I met a few of the other women in the book. If you ever come across this book, I think you’ll find these women’s stories as fascinating as I did.

  3. Knoblauch a good name, it means garlic in english. The Swiss still enjoy leaving, although it gets a bit difficult now because we are technically not in Europe, we are not Europeans, but no matter what direction you go, you are in France, Germany and Italy in a few hours – even Liechtenstein is attached to Switzerland. I drove through it once from bottom to top – in half an hour and eventually arrived in Austria.

  4. Sounds like a good project to be involved in… I don’t think I have any Swiss ancestors – at least none that I can point to but I’m a melting pot so there is a little of everything!

    • It’s going to be fun. A lot of people with German ancestry actually have Swiss ancestry because of all the Swiss who left Switzerland and went to live in what’s now southern Germany and the Alsace. I had NO interest in the various migrations until I started looking into it for my books. Basically, we don’t know anything. πŸ™‚

  5. Sounds like a delightful event, Martha, and a new audience for your trilogy. Choosing what to read in prose is such a challenge. Poems : much easier. I lived in Geneva for four years 1961-64, and it seemed an exotic, beautiful, caring place to me. This may interest you : a few years ago I spent 3 weeks as a writer in residence at the Chateau de Lavigny near Lausanne. That was perfect in every respect.

Comments are closed.