October 11th, 2010

The picture illustrating this post wasn’t really accurate; I was impatient to write about my rivers even though we had not yet visited the rivers I love most. The picture in that earlier post  is of the Snake River as it runs through Grand Tetons National Park – a lovely river, by any standard, but not the best illustration of the rivers I love most. Because I was raised by a fisherman, my favorite rivers are good trout streams: shallow and clear, broad and flat as they flow through open valleys full of grass that grows right up to the banks, with gentle riffles that sparkle in the sun. Rivers like these:

(The Firehole)

(The Gibbon flowing through Gibbon Meadow.)

(The Madison)

It seems right that of all the rivers that pass through the park, the three I love best are linked not just by my personal history but by geography: at the confluence of the Gibbon and the Firehole, the Madison is born. The Madison is born and the Gibbon and the Firehole cease to exist. Their waters continue to flow between the banks of the Madison, but as rivers in their own right they have vanished. It’s a cruel thing that so completely obliterates its creators but that is the way of rivers. They fill their banks and run downstream until they too are subsumed by a larger river. The Madison runs for just over 180 miles until it meets up with the Jefferson and the Gallatin to form the Missouri; there at Three Forks the Madison vanishes from the map. Only the Missouri remains. The Missouri flows to the Mississippi. The Mississippi runs to the sea.

So it goes with rivers. They are there, and then they are gone, and yet they are not. Perhaps that is why I love them. They teach me the thing I most need to learn.

What’s your true north, and why do you think that is?

A river runs through it, redux

October 8th, 2010

What’s not to love?

A river runs through it

September 28th, 2010

I wish I could explain, if only to myself, why these places have such a hold on my heart. It is more than that my father’s spirit continues to visit these rivers, though there is surely that. Summer after summer I watched my father fish these waters; summer after summer these rivers flowed their way into my father’s story and so, into mine. To this day I cannot look at a trout stream without assessing it with an angler’s eye it for the perfect spot to cast a line. In this, as in so much, I am my father’s daughter.

But these waters are more than a repository for my father’s memory; they have been in my life, for as long as I can remember, riffling in the sunshine with a life of their own, one that has nothing to do with my father. They speak to my heart. I do not know why. I have never known, with a logical kind of knowing, why. There is my father, of course. But I believe now that that came later. I think, having had two decades now to think about it, that it was after the rivers had already laid their claim that I grafted on to the pull I cannot explain the pull that I could. I think my love of these rivers is so inexplicable even to myself that I decided that I love them because they remind me so uniquely, so precisely, of my father. Twenty years on I can see my father in his waders and fishing vest, I can hear his voice asking at Bud Lilly’s what flies are fishing well. Some of my most vivid images of my father are from here, from this place of rivers lined with aspen and cottonwoods that blaze yellow under an autumn sky. My memory of my father is forever tied up with these rivers.  

And yet.

And yet I know the rivers have their own voice. I know that even without the image of my father forever in the corner of my eye, casting from the far bank of memory, these rivers, these glorious golden rivers in the last dying hours of summer, speak to me with their own voice, and it is with that voice that they call me home.

Waiting for the boat to cross the lake

September 26th, 2010

I’ve always loved taking pictures of the backs of their heads. I don’t know why I find it so adorable.

On the other hand, the US has this view

September 23rd, 2010

Did I mention we’re on vacation?

Still crazy after all these years

September 11th, 2010

Sitting at the Grosse Schanze, this view that I never tire of. To the right the green wooded hill of the Gurten, in front of me in the foreground the spire of the Heiliggeistkirche and to the left the dome of the Bundeshaus, the tiled rooftops of the city below me, the window boxes of geraniums that are the hallmark of Bern and the backdrop to it all the snowcapped wall of the Alps, the Jungfrau, Mönch, the black diamond of the Eiger Nordwand. Even the Bernese come up here on a blue sky day, lean against the railing and stare out at that view. The hippest trying-to-be-jaded twenty-something will stop in spite of himself, watch a cloud forming around the peaks. I love this view, I’m crazy for this view, I can’t get over this view. This view makes up for Swiss-German, for my outsider status, for being a foreigner, for Swiss reserve, for being away from home and living my life between two languages, two countries, two cultures, two homes. This view helps my heart decide.


March 2nd, 2010

I can always breathe in Arosa. After the car ride during which The Boychen refused to sleep even though we purposely left at his nap-time, after the last 40 minutes when Small Boy’s admirable patience finally deserted him and he began asking “How much longer?” every five minutes and then arguing with us over the reply, after the mad dash to the sport store for helmets and sleds five minutes before closing, after the unpacking, I can breathe. A person can breathe up there, can breathe in big lungfuls of snow and sky, can breathe in this:


Yes, a person can breathe up there.

Being here

April 27th, 2009

I am fairly sure that even after all these years, I do not take living here for granted. On every clear day I still stop and stare at the Alps
as though I’d just arrived yesterday.

But sometimes I’m reminded that maybe, maybe I do. Just a bit. Maybe I have stopped seeing this city I am privileged to call home. I recently posted a picture to my on-line writing group and got virtual gasps in reply. It’s not every day you see statues like this.

Except, for me, it is every day. These Bernese statues on these Bernese streets. I must walk past them four days out of seven. And I know they’re stunning – I continue to take pictures of them, after all – but I forget, I guess, how otherly they are, how utterly special. Sometimes, it takes another person’s intake of breath to remind me to sigh. It takes another person’s eyes going wide to remind me to close my own in gratitude. That happened to me last week, so I’m going to take some time to look closely at the streets of my city. Because my home, it makes people stop and stare. I should be one of those people.


March 11th, 2009

I’ve been coming to Arosa for over a decade now, and rarely have I seen so much snow. The curve between the road and the Obersee (upper lake) where there is often a snow sculpture was covered by a child’s mountain of plowed-away snow.

Small Boy climbed it again and again, each time barreling back down hill on his sit-sled. I’ve seen hints of it before, but this trip confirmed it: the boy is a speed demon, fearless on sled or Bob or, it would appear, skis.

* * *

A man stands on a hotel roof shovelling great mounds of snow down onto the sidewalk below; it lands with a muffled thud that recalls the sound of avalanche cannons going off in the distance. Snow sprays in every direction when the larger blocks crash into the sidewalk. In all my years of coming to Arosa, I have never seen this.

* * *

Our first days are grey, clouded over. The mountains come and go like ghost ships.

* * *

I drink deep draughts of mountain air. My cheeks tingle. It is good to be here.

An ordinary day

January 2nd, 2009

I love these fairy-tale Swiss days, story book days with the mountains and the snow and the crackling blue sky so clear it hurts. Days when we go sledding and I realize that I’m sledding in the Swiss Alps. The Swiss Alps. And even after eight years, the wonder of it hits me all over again and I’m reminded of these lines from Jhumpa Lahiri:

“I have remained in this new world for nearly thirty years. I know that my achievement is quite ordinary. I am not the only man to seek his fortune far from home, and certainly I am not the first. Still, there are times I am bewildered by each mile I have traveled, each meal I have eaten, each person I have known, each room in which I have slept. As ordinary as it all appears, there are times when it is beyond my imagination.”

Simply beyond my imagination.