Once Upon a Time…

From “The Examined Life” 1997

The trail in the drawing is one I took once when I was outdoors with my friend back in the day. We were in Switzerland, his home country, on the Berner Oberland, in the famous region of the Eiger. We’d gone up to the Jungfraujoch, done our sight-seeing, and gotten back on the Jungfraubahn to return. Instead of riding all the way down to the station at Grindelwald, we got off the train at a station up the mountain and walked the rest of the way down to Kleine Scheidegg. It was the dream hike of a lifetime and I wished then (and even more now) that it had lasted longer.

A lot of summer hiking in America’s national forests means hiking with cows. Range cattle can be sketchy. One of the few times I was ever afraid hiking on a trail alone I had accidentally gotten too close to a calf, between it and its mom. Realizing my predicament, I froze. I knew better than to keep going when the calf in question was in front of me and a small herd of “moms” was behind me.

The cow that was closest to the calf, lumbered past me and backed the little cow against the the closed gate I needed to go through. (Here we can debate “need” vs. “want”.) Slowly a red cow whose coat matched that of the “endangered” calf came up the hill a couple of friends behind her. Soon the calf was protected from one lone woman hiker, her dog and her hiking stick by a 4000 pound phalanx of bovine nannies. They lowered their heads.

Disappointed, I turned around.

In Switzerland, on that lovely winding trail, we were accompanied by Swiss cows. Swiss farmers love their cattle which, for the most part, aren’t raised for steaks and burgers, but for milk and cheese. In spring, Swiss farmers dress up their cattle in flowers and bells and take them up to the mountains and, when fall comes, decorate the cattle again before bringing them down. The word “alp” means “pasture.”

Our hike started more or less at the red dot…

About 1/3 of our way down the trail to Kleine Scheidegg, we were slowly approached by three cows, the bells around their necks sending happy songs across the mountainside. Raised the way they are, Swiss cows aren’t suspicious of people. Their bovine curiosity brought them to us and together we all walked down the hill.

I didn’t take a photo of this, so I had to draw a picture of the trail. I didn’t put people or cows in it. Maybe if I were drawing it today, I would.

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2020/05/30/rdp-saturday-outdoors/

Ich liebe die Schweiz

I love Switzerland. I’ve been there ten times, give or take, and if I could, I’d live there. If my heart has a home (outside of Heaven) it’s Switzerland, or maybe it’s the other way. Heaven might be my compensation for not being able to live in Switzerland.

In front of me here are my talismans. There is a photo of the restaurant in Zürich with Goethe painted on the front I took in Zürich in 1998. There is a Wanderweg sign I took from a fallen tree in the Canton of St. Gallen. There is a photo of the Jungfraujoch I took the summer of 1997.

My Swiss story is complicated and mostly private, but I can say this. The strange and dangerous choices we make in our lives are sometimes the very ones we need to take us to our destiny. I found not only my writer’s voice but my story in Switzerland in 1997 in the little church below, the Lazariterkirche im Gfenn.

2005 at the Lazariterkirche im Gfenn

I found other things, too.

I found Goethe in Switzerland, in profile, painted on the front of a restaurant across from St. Peter’s Church with the inscription, “In 1779, Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe stayed here with the Duke of Weimar.” Seeing that there — without even (yet) having read anything by Goethe — I was awakened to the essence of time in Europe. It was one of those moments that explodes your brain and catapults you from the person you were toward the person you will be. Then, of course, a few years later, I read Goethe. Here’s his beautiful poem about the Zürichsee, “Auf dem See” (“On the Lake”).

Und frische Nahrung, neues Blut
Saug ich aus freier Welt;
Wie ist Natur so hold und gut,
Die mich am Busen hält!
Die Welle wieget unsern Kahn
Im Rudertakt hinauf,
Und Berge, wolkig himmelan,
Begegnen unserm Lauf. 
And fresh nourishment, new blood
Suck I from the free world;
Nature is so fair and good
She holds me at her bosom!
The wave rocks our boat
Upwards with the rhythm of the oars
And mountains, cloudy heavenwards,
Meet our course.
Aug, mein Aug, was sinkst du nieder?
Goldne Träume, kommt ihr wieder?
Weg, du Traum! so gold du bist;
Hier auch Lieb und Leben ist.
Eye, my eye, why do you sink down?
Golden dreams, do you come again?
Away, you dream! As gold as you are,
Here too are life and love.
Auf der Welle blinken
Tausend schwebende Sterne,
Weiche Nebel trinken
Rings die türmende Ferne;
Morgenwind umflügelt
Die beschattete Bucht,
Und im See bespiegelt
Sich die reifende Frucht.
On the wave blink
Thousands of hovering stars,
Soft mists drink
The towering distance all around;
Morning wind envelops 
The shadowed bay,
And in the lake is reflected
The ripening fruit.

Over the years I also learned that part of my family came from Switzerland and I learned their amazing stories (and wrote them into novels).

Switzerland is not just places and history. It is a family to which I once belonged. Long walks in the forest, the Wallisellerwald. Christmases and birthdays. Quiet explorations of unknown places. Following the Sylvester Kläuse through the snow in Appenzell on New Years, and sitting in a tavern on a hillside in Usnacht next to an old Appenzeller man with a tiny spoon hanging from his ear. When young boys dressed as trees came in to yodel, I watched a tear run down the old man’s face. Maybe he was remembering when he was a boy, dressed as a tree, tromping and dancing through the snow, bells ringing, singing.



https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2020/04/19/rdp-sunday-swiss/

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 Zürich 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.

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2020/02/16/rdp-sunday-boomerang/

“Where are We?”

The word “wanderweg” is lovely — it means hiking trail, but to an English speaker it also says “wander this way.” I “stole” this Wanderweg sign from a small forest in the Canton of St. Gallen in Switzerland on a visit about 20 years ago 😦 . I don’t think anyone missed it as one of the holes is clearly ruined and the tree on which it was afixed was down. Swiss hiking trails are (naturally) extremely well marked and signed all along the way. I HAVE gotten lost, but it wasn’t the fault of the Swiss signage. I wasn’t paying attention.

Here in the US, trails are marked too. However, as it is an immense continent rather than a conveniently compressed confederation, trail signage is not as consistent or clear. One of my favorite trail signs is the “trail confidence marker.” I was “wandering” with my friends in Penitente Canyon a few years ago and we came across one. We stared at it a long time trying to figure out what it meant and we decided it did not give us any confidence at all.

Apparently (according to research I did later) they are signs on this largely mountain biking area that let bikers know they’re still on the trail. Any trail sign is a “trail confidence marker.” On the trails in Penitente Canyon they are numbered so as mountain bikers whiz by, they can tell they’re still on the trail. But for someone moving more slowly it’s like, “Huh???”

The hiking trails in the Laguna Mountains in California were not just clearly market, but imaginatively marked. The Sunset Trail (a 3 mile loop) was marked with a little picture of the sun setting over the ocean, framed by pine trees, an actual view you could get if you climbed a particular rock and faced west at the appropriate moment.

Wandering implies (in English) that you don’t know where you’re going, you’re just going. The truth is we’re all doing that all the time even if we think we know where the trail leads. That says that the “trail confidence marker” can only tell you you’re still on the trail, and, god-willing, you’ll get back to your car.

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2020/01/26/rdp-sunday-wander/

The Best Library of My Life — St. Gallen Stiftsbibliothek

On a winter’s day in a deep and dark December in 1997 I opened a door way that led into a gaudy rococo structure that housing thousands of books I could never read.

It was the Library at the Abbey of St. Gall in St. Gallen, Switzerland. I had just dipped a toe into my personal medieval period. I’d recently read How the Irish Saved Civilization (which I’d bought because I thought it would be funny…) by Thomas Cahill, and I was excited to learn that a couple of Irish monks — Columbanus and Gall — had crossed the channel in little round boats and carried the Bible (and other books) up the Rhine. Gall got pneumonia at what is now St. Gallen and left Columbanus on his own to journey to Italy. Apparently Columbanus was a irritated with Gall for being such a sissy, but pneumonia is no joke…

Columbanus and Gall on Lake Constanz (dem Bodensee)


Gall set up a hermitage and a small library with a few books and he gathered followers and saved souls. He is the patron Saint of Switzerland. His animal friend is a bear. The story is:

… that once he was travelling in the woods of what is now Switzerland. One evening he was sitting down warming his hands at a fire. A bear emerged from the woods and charged. The holy man rebuked the bear, so awed by his presence it stopped its attack and slunk off to the trees. There it gathered firewood before returning to share the heat of the fire with St Gall. The legend says that for the rest of his days St Gall was followed around by his companion the bear.

At first, the library itself disappointed me. I guess I wanted to open the door and enter the 8th century or something. The current library was built in the 18th century. I find it very difficult to see anything in a baroque room, and the Abbey Library is one step beyond baroque — it’s rococo. It’s so full of embellishments and ornaments that my mind becomes confused.

Main hall of the Library of the Abbey of St. Gall

But once I got used to it — and librarian came to talk to us (we were the only people there) — I stopped trying to see through the gold and stucco and began to see and understand where I was. He showed me a medieval map of the world.

8th or 9th century CE map of the world

You can see that it’s oriented (ha ha) to the East, the rising sun — Christ. All the three continents are surrounded by sea. The map is less for navigating physical space as it is for navigating spiritual space. This is a somewhat unusual medieval map of the world because it doesn’t SAY Jerusalem is the center, but it is. I saw a couple other maps on which cities were drawn, and Jerusalem was always depicted as the largest city and had tall, shining towers. Although I didn’t understand at that moment, having only at that point dipped one toe into the medieval world, that the physical and spiritual worlds overlaid each other and that the physical world was but a metaphor for spiritual space.

Of all the amazing things this man explained about the books in the glass cases, other books on the library’s locked shelves, and books too old and fragile to be touched at all was that there are some written in languages people don’t know any more. Apparently researchers are working on that, but I thought at the time that it is incredibly sad. Here are words written in very difficult circumstances, with oak-gall ink on parchment with quill pens, stories, ideas, beliefs, philosophies, knowledge and experiences that their writers were desperate to transmit to the future. And there the three of us stood — my friend, the librarian and I — discussing how no one could read them.

He took us into a hallway behind the main room — it was modern, gray and white — with doors along it. “All these rooms have people working on this problem.” Just then a young woman wearing white cotton gloves came out of one of the doors and greeted the librarian. I got a vision of busy young people in white gloves behind all those doors struggling to decode old words. I wondered what they would find.

Of all the wonders in the library, though, for me one of the most wonderful was the inscription written in Greek over the entrance which, thanks to Michael J. Preston, I could read on my own.

Medicine Chest for the Soul

I continued to pursue St. Gall in various places in Switzerland that winter, including a trip to Basel to see the Gallus Portal at the cathedral. I learned a lot — not the least of which that ignorance is a wonderful wonderful wonderful thing because once curiosity is awakened, and you chase knowledge, you will get more than you possibly could have imagined.

I didn’t know HALF of what I was looking at that winter, but on my second to last day, my friend’s mom told him to take me to visit a little medieval church near where they lived. The church is in the village of Gfenn, outside Dubendorf, both north of Zürich. And the rest? It’s historical fiction. ❤

Lazariter Kirche im Gfenn

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2019/09/18/rdp-wednesday-library/

My Grandma’s Trunk

I found a trunk very similar to my grandma’s trunk on an auction site, though it’s larger and in slightly better condition with the original paper covering still in place. It has patent dates of 1865 which seems pretty likely to me for my old trunk. It means it’s likely to have belonged to my grandmother’s grandmother, Phoebe Copenbarger, the daughter of Elizabeth Snavely (Schneebeli) the last person in my family to have the glorious Swiss name of Schneebeli. Phoebe very likely bought it new and took it with her west from Wythe County, Virginia (See The Price) to Iowa by covered wagon in the 1860s.

The other posts I’ve written (that will certainly make this one less cryptic and provide needed context) are here

“Schneebeli” means “Little snowball” and the family actually had/has a crest. This is really, “Schneebeli von Baden und Affoltern am Albis.” I’m afraid if I saw three snowballs on a shield I wouldn’t be sure whether to laugh or fight, but yeah, this is legit. But I guess it means any fight they fought was a snowball fight…

Navigating Time Travel

Reading a street map is becoming a lost art. Is that OK? I rely on my phone, too. It’s like having a wife who sits in the passenger seat with a map and tells me where to turn. I’m sorry for the sexist remark “wife” here but in my life that person was either my mom or me so it isn’t all that sexist. When I was in Switzerland with my friend L I opted NOT to pay extra for GPS because I was going to have a “wife” who could navigate. I wasn’t thinking that, 1) L drives everywhere in her life because 2) her husband is blind and 3) not everyone LIKES maps as much as I do and 4) she wasn’t really good at reading a map and 5) Switzerland is what one from out here where the second largest town in an area as large as Connecticut has only 4000 people, well, we might call Switzerland “compressed.” Where the next town HERE might be 14 miles away, in Switzerland it might be half a mile.

I can tell you, it led to some pretty ugly moments, but we always got there, and L got better at map reading. All was well.

As for me here in the wild and woollies, my cell phone service data plan doesn’t cover the San Luis Valley. I have a Rand McNally road atlas in my car, but with no co-pilot that’s a bit of a problem but there is this little trick of pulling over and looking at the map. I’m pretty good at that.

Maps fascinate me. In the process of writing my historical novels, I found old maps to be like time machines. While writing The Brothers Path I tried to imagine the moment when Felix Manz was drowned in the Limmat and what kind of panic that might have inspired in some people — including my characters. In fact, the first line I wrote of that book was THAT moment, the moment when the brothers Thomann and Andreas realized they were about to witness something that had never, ever, ever happened before* and one of them, Thomann, quickly apprehended that it could result in a lot more deaths if not a riot. Thomann told his brother to run. In fact, the first line I wrote of that novel was, “Andreas! Run!”

But where? Zürich today is not Zürich of the 16th century. It was a walled city — and it had been walled more than once, a series of walls ever reaching outward as the city grew. I found a map. A beautiful 16th century map with the names of the various gates clearly marked. I saw the roads (old, old roads, still there, paved, lined, traffic filled, but old) that would have taken them out of the city that horrible day. There was a squat little tower called the Ketzitzturli (sp) that would have put him right on the road home.

Many of the streets in Zürich carry the names of the towers to once they led. I found it pretty easy to drive in Zürich because I knew this old map so well.

*The leader of the Reformed church, Huldrych Zwingli, executed his former friend, the Anabaptist, Felix Manz. It was the first execution of a Protestant by a Protestant and it happened only 3 years after the beginning of the Reformation. Both men had once been priests.

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2018/06/26/ragtag-prompt-26-navigate/

Rococo

This is one of the wisest things I’ve ever read. It puts things squarely where they belong, and it is sometimes difficult to remember:

“…whatever we nourish in ourselves grows; that is an eternal law of nature. There is an organ of displeasure, of dissatisfaction in us, as there is one of opposition and doubt. The more food we provide for it and the more we practice it, the mightier it becomes until it turns from an organ into a malignant ulcer and banefully eats up its environment, drains and strangles all the good humors of the body. Then repentance, self-reproach and other absurdities are added to it, we become unjust toward others and ourselves. The joy at ones own success and action as well as that of others is lost. In our desperation we finally look for the reason of all evil outside ourselves instead of finding it in our mental perversion. We should see every person and every event in its real light, one should step beyond oneself to be able to return to oneself all the more free.” Goethe quoted by his friend, Friedrich von Muller.”

I’ve been watching the British art historian’s –Waldemar Januszczak — series’ off and on for a couple of years. The most recent one I’ve looked at is Rococo Before Bedtime. I don’t always agree with him when he starts inflicting his taste in art on the viewing public, but as MY taste in art conflicts with the Rococo, I never learned to appreciate it. I never even put it in its place in time. I’ve seen some of it. I got to spend a day at the Nymphenburg Castle in Munich trying to fathom it and what my new acquaintance was telling me. He was a docent from the Haus du Kunst the formerly Hitlerian government art museum building. He didn’t speak English, I didn’t speak any German, and we relied on something loosely resembling French. The architecture was beautiful, the interior ornamentation? I didn’t get it.

And this grossed me out:

 

prunkwagen-ludwig-II500

Carriage, Nymphenburg Castle

 

It’s pretty impossible to escape personal taste. The baroque and rococo (the baroque becomes the rococo) churches I’ve visited in Europe are still over-the-top to me. The first one I visted was Einsiedeln Abbey in Switzerland. Entering that sanctuary for the first time was scary. I’d NEVER been in a place like that — or even in a Catholic church. EVERYTHING was there in a vast 3D illusion — and some actual 3D legs and arms made of stucco (plaster). I felt the full and intended effect, I guess, of what I have now learned the Catholic church wanted me to feel. My friend and I retreated from that place and took a walk in the woods.

 

Ausschnitt Weihnachtskuppel Einsiedeln

Ceiling, Einsiedeln Abbey

 

It was interesting to learn, however, that the baroque (which led to the Rococo)  was (in Januszczak’s opinion? Or really?) a church sanctioned art movement that was part of the Counter-Reformation. The Council of Trent had sent out the order? Edict? that Catholic churches should VIVIDLY depict Bible stories on their walls in reaction to the burning of the idols. Einsiedeln is one of the pilgrimage churches and, according to Januszczak, pilgrimages were big during the baroque and rococo. This also made the pilgrimage churches even richer BUT they had to give the pilgrims some bang for their bucks which contributed to their ornateness. I believe that. Churches I’ve visited that were NOT pilgrim churches but were decorated around the same time are still ornate, but not over-the-top, every square inch peopled with saints, angels, madonnas, and various random people in the “audience,” the faces of donors.

I wasn’t even clear on the YEARS that comprise the baroque and rococo, but watching the program I got it. It was much of Goethe’s lifetime. When I realized that I thought of Goethe’s incredible mind that was, literally, everywhere — science, poetry, drama, erotica, government, mining, botany, geology on and on — and realized that the zeitgeist was such that the fecundity and fluidity in the visual arts and music was everywhere, as elaborate and wildly creative as a rococo ceiling.

 

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/agile/

Meditation on Precipices

There are a lot of theories about mountains and I don’t mean geological theories or theories about their existence, but theories about the way people perceive them. One theory says that it was only in the 18th and 19th centuries that people started to regard mountains as objects of wonder and inspiration.

“During the 18th century altitude became increasingly venerated…The fresh attitude to altitude was a radical change of heart and one which made itself felt in every cultural sphere, from literature to architecture or horticulture. In the early part of the century, the so-called ‘hill poem’ established itself as a popular minor genre…” (Robert Macfarlane, Mountains of the Mind)

Before that they were “mere” obstacles with dangerous precipices people had to cross to get from one place to another.

I don’t agree with this theory, though I do agree that during the 18th and 19th century people did (apparently) begin to travel to mountains for the sake of the mountains themselves, and romantic poetry does love the precipice — as a metaphor at least.

The precipice is the place where the faint-hearted, ordinary, unimaginative, dim and cowardly person NEVER goes. In real life a precipice is a dangerous and scary place with extreme exposure where no one goes unless they must. I get the metaphor — and after reading Zorba the Greek I was determined to “walk to the edge of the leaf” and look over the side. (The Boss’/Kazantzaki’s metaphor for the metaphor of the precipice).

“Some men — the more intrepid ones — reach the edge of the leaf. From there we stretch out, gazing into chaos. We tremble. We guess what a frightening abyss lies beneath us. In the distance we can hear the noise of the other leaves of the tremendous tree, we feel the sap rising from the root of our leaf and our hearts swell. Bent thus over the awe-inspiring abyss, with all our bodies and all our souls, we tremble with terror. From that moment begins…”

“I stopped. I wanted to say “from that moment begins poetry,” but Zorba would not have understood. I stopped.

“‘What begins’? asked Zorba’s anxious voice. ‘Why did you stop’?

“…begins the great danger, Zorba. Some grow dizzy and delirious, others are afraid; they try to find an answer to strengthen their hearts, and they say: ‘God’! Others again, from the edge of the leaf, look over the precipice calmly and bravely and say: ‘I like it.’! (Nikos Kazantzakis/Zorba the Greek

There are some really nasty, scary passes through the Alps. One, the Via Mala (evil way), is notoriously terrifying. Goethe went there on a trip to Switzerland and sketched it. The lyrical lines of Goethe’s ink drawing reveal some of the romanticization of the precipice.

800px-ViaMala_Goethe

In real life it’s more like this:

Via_Mala

Imagine crossing that ice-covered stone bridge in the 15th century early on a late spring morning with the wind blowing.

The trail itself, leading to the bridge, was cut into the side of the mountain and it looks like this:

12

Another fun pass from the past is the Devil’s Bridge on the Gotthard Pass. The pass itself has been in use since the 12th century. Before the bridge was built (and that means several centuries) people died trying to get across the river when it was in flood. The story is:

The legend of this particular bridge states that the Reuss was so difficult to ford that a Swiss herdsman wished the devil would make a bridge. The Devil appeared, but required that the soul of the first to cross would be given to him. The mountaineer agreed, but drove a goat across ahead of him, fooling his adversary. Angered by this trickery, the devil fetched a rock with the intention of smashing the bridge, but an old woman drew a cross on the rock so the devil could not lift it anymore.

Turner painted this bridge with a mixture of romanticism and actuality that works for me.

800px-Joseph_Mallord_William_Turner_028

The precipice of the mind, however, is another thing. Henry Miller wrote about that, in Nexus.

“Don’t be afraid of falling backward into a bottomless pit. There is nothing to fall into. You’re in it and of it, and one day, if you persist, you will be it…Did I fear unconsciously that if I succeeded in letting go, I would be speaking with my own voice…and would never again know surcease from toil?”

I understand the precipice of the mind and I understand the precipice of the mountain. I am very afraid of heights and it’s a fear I don’t particularly want to face. There are slopes I was always happy to climb and some of them look precipitous, but they were not. The angles were friendly and accommodating, the exposure was doable and I did not have to look down any drastic drops if I did not want to. That is not the challenge life meant for me. As for the precipice of the mind, Henry Miller was right. I have fallen backward into the bottomless pit and there I found liberty.

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/precipice/

Quiet Morning in Monte Vista, Colorado

Back home again and the lilacs are in full force. ❤  Like most trips, this one was long and strange. The flight was normal for a transatlantic flight; the big difference was that it was half as long as most I have experienced, but none the less grueling. Still, I think of the people about whom I’m writing with their three+ month voyages, death, disease and disaster and I think I don’t have any room to complain.

The dogs are fine. Mindy stayed with Lois’ husband and their three dogs. Dusty and Bear stayed in a nice kennel. Bear was definitely relieved when I picked her up from the kennel and Dusty was ecstatic and told me all his stories from the two weeks. Bear and Dusty are tired still this morning, but I know that by tomorrow they — and I — will be “normal” (for us!) again.

Summer arrived in the San Luis Valley while I was gone — not my favorite season since I hate yard work (I do like gardening) and I vastly prefer cold weather, but we’ll get used to it and be sorry to see it leave when fall comes.

Humans are strange that way.

Iceland was very good for me as a writer and artist. The weather was abysmal while we were in the Snaefellsjokul National Park — a park that circles a huge, sleeping volcano covered with a glacier. Because of the storm that settled on the peninsula while we were there, we didn’t see any of this until we were in the air flying away from Iceland on the one clear day we had during our adventure. It was magnificent. I loved both countries I visited and was sorry to leave both of them, Switzerland because it feels like home to me and Iceland because it remains a provocative mystery, even more tantalizing because of what I did see.

2407_3___Selected

I love Icelandic sagas, so, for me, the fact that Icelanders seem to love them too and will talk about them was great. While they were digging a foundation for a building in downtown Reykjavik some years ago, they happened on the ruins of a Viking turf long house and so, instead of building THAT building, they built the most amazing museum to house the ruins. There I heard a docent — a young woman — telling another tourist about a funny saga and I wanted to know more. When, later, I asked her, she was so happy to talk about it and she and her assistant found a paper about this saga and printed it out for me. I cannot imagine such a conversation or experience here, but, then, I know that Americans generally don’t go around reading Icelandic sagas for fun. I find this strange because they are way more interesting that Game of Thrones.

Everywhere we went, in fact, the sagas were part of the landscape and I think it’s beautiful that 1) the sagas were written down, 2) they are still valued and loved. They are truly the story of Iceland’s settlement and make, for Iceland, a historical record that does not hide or gloss over or sugarcoat or pervert anything.