To master the wild

Date: 12/06/2016

I’ve always loved the mountains for their raw, wild beauty.  They are huge and untamed.  Majestic and un-mastered.  They seem so massive and unmoveable, but were somehow thrown up by the shifting of the Earth’s tectonic plates millions of years ago.  Now that I live in the mountains, I feel the need to step closer, to learnmore, to master the wild.  But there’s so much to cover.  Where to start?

Firstly there are the mountains themselves, the shapes they form, the routes and pathways that criss-cross them.  As we approach the longest day and the sun sets further around behind the valley, I love to watch the light playing on the mountaintops, showing me more and more texture and depth as the seasons and the colours change.  Hiking season has just started and I am fascinated by the various maps and guides that I find, desperate to discover and learn all of the different mountains and their routes and short-cuts.  I want to know the names of all the peaks.  I find myself wanting to memorise different variations, the components and the features.

It may sound a little crazy, but we hiked around the Pierre Avoi  a couple of times recently, and I’ve already started to name different sections of the route, where it crosses the Treacherous Torrent, then the Scarcely Stream, and the Rubbly River, passing the Alien Landing Sites before heading along the Tea Break and up the First Forest to Biker’s Bowl until you break over the crest to Regal Ridge and pass the Magic Mushroom to see the raw beauty of the huge Pierre Avoi rock formation rear up in front of you.

Then there’s the weather and the cloud formations.  Of course we have many  blue sky days without a single cloud, as we are in Switzerland’s sunniest spot, but the fact that we can see for miles up the Rhone valley means we can see a lot of sky.  The mist rises in the morning sometimes,  boiling up from the valley below and disappearing into the atmosphere above.  Sometimes the most interesting clouds are the little cumulus clouds that form over the mountain range that faces us during fair weather.  We have started taking bets on which clouds will develop into thunder-heads, occasionally rewarded with a lightning flash or two, and sometimes startled by the speed with which they form.

Then there are the animals that run wild and free.  The fun, furry and lovably cute marmots that whistle when they see you, supposedly to warn others that they have seen you, but it always feels more as if they want to make sure you have seen them, and are being properly appreciative of their furry cuteness.  The rare sight of a deer or chamois, that stops me dead in my tracks and leaves me just staring in wonder at the privilege.  A bit like the moment in the book and film Stand By Me, when one of the boys stumbles across a deer during a quiet moment on his own, and decides not to share it with the others.  The comically long-eared mountain hare that seems half animal and half ears.  The birds of prey that circle on the thermals, the insect-eating birds that race and wheel around and among the chalets, the smaller birds that sit on the balconies.  A whole family of great tits have been visiting my bird-feeder.  It’s amazing to watch the four youngsters growing up, no longer sitting there on the railings, waiting dumbly to be fed, but now big enough to return on their own.

And then there are the trees and flowers that blanket  the mountainside.  Huge swathes of pine and larch forest that highlight the contours of the slopes, divided by the riverbeds, the ski-lifts and pylons.  The plethora of flowers that spring up all over the hills after the snow melts sends me into a kind of knowledge frenzy similar to the first time I went scuba diving.  As soon as my head popped back above sea level on the Great Barrier Reef, I plunged into a marine biology feast of identifying and naming fish and corals, sponges and stars.  I was desperately trying to remember whether I’d seen a long blue-stripy fish with orange fins or a roundish-blue and orange stripy fish with a long tail.  Without the knowledge and structure to categorise them, they all just became an overwhelming blur that I could neither describe nor memorise.  There are lots of flowers here.  Blue and white, pink and yellow, small and smaller, single and clustered, some with large petals, others with small petals or even thin hair-like petals.  I need to know their names!  The hardest thing is that part of our work is mowing and strimming the land around people’s chalets.  It nearly breaks my heart as the mower chomps up another patch of beautiful, multicoloured alpine flowers and spits them out the back.