In the Alps with Eberhard | Size Really Does Matter

IMG_7812We went back to the Austrian Alps and it was the same as it was last time, ending our hike on an old chair lift, coming down the valley with the sound of cowbells and accordion music drifting up, back to the beer tent where they were climbing up on tables and falling off. Meeting Eberhard’s ex-girlfriend’s grandson Benny (23), him offering us a spliff by the river, stepping out of the beer tent and everyone at the table turning to watch, leaning against a handmade fence and then breaking it, paranoid about getting caught. Re-entering the tent with Eberhard’s friends Willi and Elsbeth (77 and 78) and their friends, all of them at least 60, most with mustaches, one of them (Heinz) glomming on to me with scraps of German I can’t make out, not understanding a thing: he hands me a cup of schnapps and gestures, take a drink and pass it around: and then it’s like I’m implicated in some scheme with a woman who’s wearing a Tyrolean dress with a bodice that’s pressing her breasts up: Heinz cups his own chest and smiles, shouts for her, points at me, signals for her, come over. But she looks road worn, a bit like Iggy Pop, with sad eyes and many lines in her face, a spiky, early ’80s hairdo—so I turn my back but they won’t stop poking at me and shouting, laughing, slapping me on the back: jokes about fresh milk and nearby mountain peaks, big “titties.” It goes on and on like this, the music and the toasts. Then Heinz grabs a biker girl and gestures for her to sit down with me on the other side of the table to see if we like each other, but she’s clearly with another man and they’ve been dancing and smoking and drinking the whole time: and I keep pointing to my wedding ring but he doesn’t understand, or pretends not to. She has a biker jacket with the brand Triumph on it that says Size Really Does Matter.

Back at the farmhouse later we take a drink and walk up the hill to watch more of the meteors, lying on our backs on the road—me, Brad and Benny—but each time I see one I say look, and they miss it. And when a car comes, we just roll off the side of the road onto the grass: and when we get home later Benny has to lie down on the bench and then Eberhard takes him home to make sure he gets to bed OK. We invited him to Prague with us but maybe it wasn’t a good idea.

We spent five days in Austria like that, eating wursts and pickled vegetables with too much bread, the mustard that comes out of toothpaste tubes they call senf. And up high in the mountains, I recognize some of the mountain rescue guys from last time who are there handing out free schnapps for donation, the black tea drink they make with rum I can’t drink, small cans of beer and Fanta, dried sausages, seeded rolls.

Down at the alpine hut, at the end of the hike before you take the lift down to the beer tent there’s another biergarten: it’s the one where we met my mom the last time we were there and Lily was with us too, just 10 years old…she’d gotten wrapped up with the Austrian farm boy whose parents own the hut (he glommed onto her and wouldn’t let go)…and I see him again three years later now playing the accordion, almost as tall as some of the old guys, chatting it up with them. And on the way down the sound of the cowbells is so clean and musical I have to record it with my phone. It’s the same as it was the last time, and the next.

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Dream of forgetfulness in the wake of night

N_Astrup-Martzmorgen
In the papery pre-light
of dawn my wings
like a honey bee’s
begin to break
down

my body
a weight
I can’t let go,

these words
are the weights

when they hang
here, unsaid.

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It is the right light to be critical

15-06-12-himmelsstu%cc%88rmer-kassel-n3s_7924On Tuesday the moon was still up when I walked to the lake in the morning. I was in the slot, now. Like being at the airport on one of those skywalks when you know you’re about to go time carries you off, and won’t let you loose.

I was supposed to do this trip a year ago, but because I hired a bad passport renewal service my passport didn’t arrive until the day after my flight left so I had to cancel it. I could reschedule within a year and pay a penalty, so I did.

If they say time isn’t real than why do I feel its presence inside me? Is it an ache for something I had, or a flutter for something I don’t? Is time the perception of loss, or the anticipation of something more?

On the day I was supposed to leave for that trip I got up at 4 AM and drove to the coast, then hiked by myself for 50 miles. There was really no way to replace an imagined trip to the Alps, but I tried.

And now I am so near the border between here and there, so close to leaving that I can feel what it will be like when I’m there. It’s like being in both places and neither at the same time, blurred—and we are always like that, between the here and there, nowhere, feeling as if we should.

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Checking ID at the border between heaven and earth

650x366_08041535_hd30-1We sat waiting for the heat to break. They said the record for this day was 103, set back in 2009. That was the day we flew to Germany for our first family sabbatical. In fact we’d gone to Germany this same time of year twice now, and I was going back a third time with my friend Brad, next week. This time, for an annual hike in the Austrian Alps over a Catholic holiday they call the Assumption of Mary. What it’s about is unclear. But perhaps being an American in the Austrian countryside where the thinking is pretty far right, I’ll be more welcome this time.

At one of the mountain passes there’s a marker for the border to Switzerland, a large rock with an S on one side and an O on the other, for Österreich (Austria). Funny how the land looks the same on either side; the only differences are the foods and currency and language, all of which isn’t much different, really. And all that gets blurred at the borders anyways.

Dawn said she heard a story about ants, how their neural capacity is pretty low as individuals but collectively, it rises to a collective brain that allows them to achieve more as a group. Maybe that’s true for humans too, and it’s the inherent nature of good and evil that enables or prohibits that: the good that binds us, the evil which divides.

The last time we were in the Austrian Alps Lily was 10 and peed on the ground, right there on the divide. It will be Eberhard, Brad and me this time, with my mom offering moral support from a nearby lodge.

When the heat broke the westerly winds pulled the cloud deck in from the coast, and the clouds made the morning light look diffused and milky. The skies are still hazy from the Alaskan wildfires blowing down from the north. I guess the wind knows no borders.

All that’s made-up anyways, “man-made.”


This is the precursor to a series of posts I have planned that map back to this one, from 2015.

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One commitment (for August)

IMG_4540In the morning before the sun is up,
when the cloud deck makes the light go soft and pale,
the grass is the color of straw
dried-out and sharp,
golden red.

The lawn sprinklers wake spitting and cussing,
and the first anglers at the lake are silent
and still, standing above their lines.

Some birds are out peeping and collecting
like me:
here, last month’s blackberries
that started out green fists
are now Royal-blue.

Summer loafs all day on its sofa
not knowing one commitment,
not thinking it will ever
have to leave.

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A jarful of days

IMG_8923In the corner of my yard
in the mid-afternoon heat
in my hammock
with Pablo Neruda
between my legs,
my glasses off, bare-chested
and unbathed,
I think about death:
my body a lump
in a sack
swinging here:
all this,
a jarful of days

but you can’t see the insides
when you scrape it
with your knife
until one day,
it just comes
out dry

and there’s no more
to put on your bread

Is this what prompts us to carve
our initials in a tree,
or to tag a blank wall?

Is it the need to preserve
ourselves,

or just
the need
to be heard?

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Fred and Ted go camping

IMG_0228We went back up the Teanaway, the river valley on the east side of the Cascades that’s one of our favorite camping spots but prone to wildfires this time of year: an 18 mile road with only one way in or out, that makes Dawn nervous we’ll get trapped with the kids and die. It’s such a repeatable narrative, it feels like it’s already happened. But we finally got out on our first camping trip for the year, deep into July, and sure enough it looked hazy and threatening once we got over the pass—and as we got on the 18 mile road there appeared to be a clot of smoke in the mountains (but probably just fog). It was starting to rain big, heavy drops, and made steam form on the road ahead. We rolled the windows down, and along the steep drop-off it was verdant with the smell of wild flowers. We didn’t get our favorite spot but we did get the one we first came to when the kids were really young—and then we dismissed the idea of wildfires altogether: the passing rain helped us feel better it wasn’t smoke, probably just fog.

There’s a burn ban in effect now and signs everywhere saying no camp fires or briquettes, which is fine: as it got darker and the sun went down the light started to go in reverse and get brighter, and that was the full moon we waited to see in the narrow sky above our camp.

And there I was like before, like the last time we came: it had to have been five or six years now, maybe more. We had a photo of me and the girls sitting on one of the camp chairs in the same site. I followed a path down to the river and remembered that morning we left, I lingered in that same spot feeling so at peace and happy with things. Now here I was staggering up the road looking for the moon, the same, but different.

I thought about the phrase, to be realized—not to realize a thing, but to be realized yourself—and what a claim. Kind of like Maslow’s idea of being self-actualized. I felt like that when I saw the moon appear through the trees, yellow-pink. I pictured us gazing on it all night, but that’s all we saw of it.

Part of the idea of getting out was the nature therapy for the kids, after a week of scant activity and lots of time spent on screens. I joked, it’s time to start making memories! as we got out of the car, and took some snapshots of Lily and Charlotte in their camp chairs by the would-be fire. I brought the football and Frizbee, put a bell on Ginger’s collar so we could hear her whereabouts, and began setting up camp. I put just the rain fly part of the tent on the footprint (no actual tent), and rolled back the vestibule so you could wander in and out. I did that so the dog wouldn’t fuss and paw at the screen all night wanting out, she could come and go as she pleased.

But Dawn protested, wouldn’t there be bugs? And I said no, like I was an authority, like I knew: there hadn’t been bugs in the past, and I’ve done this many times when I’m out backpacking alone. You basically sleep under the stars, you don’t worry about bugs.

But then I thought better of it and got the tent out, feeling old, having to second-guess myself. Having to submit to common sense, and the happiness of others.

Charlotte bounded up and down, back and forth between me and Ginger, Dawn and Lily: thrusting herself in our personal space, destroying a bag of extra-hot Cheetos, sucking on ice cubes to relieve the heat, spitting them out on a rock. I told her to make sure she zipped up the cooler each time she was done, wondered if she’d use all the ice, decided not to care, but it took some effort.

When we walked down to the river I asked if she remembered it but she didn’t hear me. Instead she asked, was it man-made? And I had to laugh, and say no: just look at it. The rocks under the water were so smooth, I could see why she thought that. Some were really large and round, with moss-like algae for beards—others along the shore, that geometric rock that looks like a grid of teeth running on a right angle. On the other side of the shore, the same rock ran straight up to the sky, with tufts of growth clinging to it, gold and reddish in places, like the countryside I remembered driving across the Scottish Highlands.

It was so real and maybe we could realize we were a part of it for a time, too. With all the technology that’s either simulating, augmenting, or virtualizing reality: how nice to just relish in the sights and sounds of a place that’s really real?

I perceived the river as different then, and much wider, the light coming through the trees in the morning: all of it, bigger. And that’s because the kids were so small, I feared for them as they balanced on the rocks and played. Now the scale and proportion were different and we’d already seen it, we knew the river we thought, and that made it smaller. But what we knew was so small, really. It felt good to be reminded of that and feel small, ourselves.

All about us was the smell of wet earth, and what memories we could make with our time on it. And that made me feel big, inside.

 

 

 

 

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