My Nature Awakening in Gimmelwald


Switzerland was the place I decided I was going to get a day off, so I wandered slowly up into the hillside behind our hotel up to the tree line and stopped when I reached the snow line in the trees. I spent about 5 hours looking at the awesome scenery, and quietly watching everything around me. When I had walked normally, I just kept seeing the fleeting forms of birds being flushed out of my path, but when I slowed almost to immobility, they were visible, and audible almost everywhere, all kinds and sizes of birds suddenly appearing all around me, singing, feeding on bright red berries, hunting for insects, flying above me out of sight up into the trees on the mountain, or out over the vast expanse of valley in front of me. It was marvelous. I even found a bench under a tree above the town to play my new harmonica.
I had one experience during this time that probably affected me more than almost any other instance on the whole trip, like one of those flashes of insight you hear people talk about. The whole sensation of peacefulness and careful observation was coming over me like a powerful mood, and I was feeling myself becoming aware of more and more details about what was around me. I really felt as if my senses were being fully used for the first time on the trip. I suppose I must have looked like someone who had just awakened from a deep sleep, who was wandering around in an almost trancelike way, studying everything, as if never having seen any of it before, marveling at it all, from tiny wildflowers to the fabulous vistas and sounds of distant waterfalls on the other side of the valley, and then back again to things almost microscopically close at hand.
At one point as I was strolling, almost inching along the walk between the alpine meadowlands, I noticed the sounds of crickets, or something, coming from all around me in the "grass" (which was mostly a varied mixture of low ground plants, unspectacular wildflowers, mosses, clover and common-looking broadleafed weeds, and not grass at all), even though it was not even Noon yet. It suddenly felt like I was surrounded by hidden things that were calling to each other, signaling like invisible native drums, about this slow-moving giant passing through their lands. I just stopped. I looked for the source of the closest calls I could hear, that seemed only a few feet away, almost in front of my face on the steep slope. First I noticed the composition of the "grass", as I described, but then I saw some movement. There was a bright green grasshopper, or katydid, with black stripes on it creeping along in the almost identically green hillside vegetation. Then I saw another one near it. I could see their stubby wing covers vibrate and at the same time actually hear the sounds that these little creatures were adding to that chorus I had been hearing all around me. They crawled (not hopped) towards each other and actually climbed over each other. I don't think they were mating - it seemed more like two patrolling males having a ritualized contest over those few inches of turf before one of them moved off in another direction. I realized that I was standing there watching (and listening to) life going on in an entire little world literally in front of my face, about ten feet from a little farmhouse, while I was standing on a paved sidewalk, in a little Swiss village, in the sunlight, surrounded by the magnificent Alps. At the exact same time that most of the others were scurrying around by trains and cable cars, trying to get to the tops of mountains to see for hundreds of miles, here I was seeing all of this, within inches of my face, while I stood completely still. I think that one moment stands out more than any other time on the entire trip.
It was one of my favorite days of the trip, because I just felt I needed to stop and take a break from the pace we had been on every day. And then unexpectedly I found such delight by just that stillness, letting myself become aware of everything around me. It was a great experience, and a great place to have it.


© 1998 Mike Yanega


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