After a arduous, cold, grey winter spring finally arrived in the mountains,
but it took its own sweet time getting here!
During our favorite mountain hike, the local farmer passed us on the dirt lane; he stopped and opened the back gate of his livestock truck. Then we watched spellbound, as a herd of cows raced across the verdant field in a moment of serendipity.
Have you ever seen cows run?
The herd acted as if they’d arrived at summer camp. The calves romped with joy like children let out of school for the holidays.
Rich grass, clean air, wide open spaces!
The desalpes, the famous folkloric parade of cows coming down the mountain in autumn is a well known Swiss celebration; however, few people witness the inalpes when cows come up to the Jura’s green pastures for the summer season of fine grazing.
As we hiked, we could see across to the far side of lake where the grey veil of winter lifted, revealing the majestic Alps etched against a heartbreaking sapphire sky. The mountains, in different shades of slate, appeared to bow down to Mont Blanc, the queen bejeweled in her sparkling white crown.
Daffodils waltzed in the wind, leaf buds popped open, buttercups shot up, forsythia burst into golden flame and dogwoods danced in their lacy, white petticoats. In valley below us, the lemon yellow rape seed contrasted with green wheat fields. Grape vines like gnarled, old arthritic hands reached toward the light. Pink and white blossoms exploded on the apple and cherry trees.
Under a splash of spring sunshine, blessings unfolded around me. Balancing with sticks, stumbling for footing, knees grinding like bad transmission, I was grateful to still be upright and walking. In my heart, I was dancing.
This is the second year anniversary of my death. Only I lived. How do you process a near death experience, when you realized you could have, should have, would have died? Without the miracle of emergency helicopter transport, highly skilled neurosurgeons and endless encouragement of therapists, family and friends, I wouldn’t be here.
I feel guilty. Why am I still here when so many other younger, brighter, better people have died so senselessly in accidents, illness, war, COVID and other catastrophes?
I must use my time to do something meaningful for others. Why else are we here on earth if not help our fellow mankind? On April 10, 2020, I had an accident from which I am still recovering; but I had already lived over 6 decades.
A former student’s battle back from brain injury was eerily similar, but so much worse. Gordon was only 13 years old when he hit his head in a tragic ski accident. He spent months in a coma in Grenoble, France and then many more recovering in a children’s rehabilitation hospital in Zurich, Switzerland. He eventually returned to school. Now he is turning his tragedy into inspiration for other kids.
I can relate to every scene of Gordon’s honestly raw documentary as I relived memories of my hours of therapy. I stumbled down the hallways of my rehab center gripping wall bars, I repeated numbers and letters on flash cards and molded lumps of clay to regain dexterity in my fingers. I learned to lift my foot, swing my arm, hold utensils.
I scowled at my occupational therapist when she tried to reteach me things I’d learned as a two-year-old like wash my face, brush my teeth, wipe my butt.
In the basement hallway of the hospital I paced, stopping in front of the door labeled “Morgue,” giving thanks for my great fortune. I could be dead. I pushed through exhaustion, humiliation and hopelessness to heal.
In the aftermath of a brain injury, I raced against time to maximize a phenomena known as neuroplasticity. One can retrain the brain using different neurons to compensate for those severed in the brain from trauma.
After hours of occupational therapy, physical therapy, speech therapy and neuropsychology, I collapsed in bed falling asleep only to be woken minutes later by another therapist to take me to my afternoon sessions. I wanted to scream, “Go away!”
Instead I set goals - get outside the hospital, outside my broken body, outside the prison in my mind.
Two years later, I can walk for miles, talk for hours and swim again. I must appreciate how far I have come and accept that my rehabilitation journey is ongoing with therapy, treatment, and exercise until recovery becomes my way of life.
Gordon, an inspiring teenage boy, who came back from the brink summed it up when he recounts what he learned on his unexpected journey.
“There is always something to be grateful for no matter how unlikely. Beauty surrounds us, but we have to CHOSE to want to see it.”
“Never compare yourself to others. Each person has their own journey.”
“Life is full of challenges; it is not always meant to be easy. It is not what happens to us; it is how we chose to respond to it. Goals happen only when we are challenged and this is opportunity.”
Paradise lies outside my window and yet when you see beauty everyday you take it for granted especially when caught up in the frenzy of working and raising a family. Retirement allows one to slow down and appreciate the view. Limited by bad feet, bad knees, and a bad back I minimized movement when teaching, so that I could make it through the day. I stopped doing things that I loved because it hurt too much and I needed to save energy. Now if I need to rest half a day to recover, that still leaves me a half a day to play. So I set a new goal – conquering the Jura Mountains outside my window.
The sub alpine mountains, which follow the French Swiss border, separate the Rhone and Rhine river basins. The name Jura with its dense forestation was derived from the Celtic term for forest. Within a 20-minute drive, we can be up in the Jura where hiking, biking, snow shoeing and skiing trails crisscross the centuries old mountain range that lent their name to the Jurassic Period of geology.
Like a race-car driver, Gerald maneuvers our car around hairpin curves of route de Nyon, a favorite of motorcyclist that leads to St. Cergue, a small mountain village. On the outskirts of town, we park alongside the route de France next to hilly pastureland. Cows graze while giant bells around their neck jangle with their languid movements. Though the placid scene looked inviting, a sign warned beware of cows with calves. Perhaps, it was an omen when our ill-fated hike started with a detour around the cows.
A few hundred feet away from the livestock, we climbed the stone fence and cut across the lumpy terrain toward the forests. The evergreen tree lines and boulder filled fields remind me of the hilly parts of America’s Wisconsin dairy land. The difference lies in the dimension. Once you leave the pasture, sheer mountaintops open to sumptuous views of the valley. Wild flowers dot the fields; sycamore trees turn hues of red, yellow and orange in the distance.
I struggle to keep up with Gerald who sets such a fast pace I never have time to savor the majestic sights overlooking the Geneva basin.
The higher you go, the more rugged the terrain. The dirt cow path gives way to needle covered trails that intersect oak groves, beech and pine trees. Some stretches of trail go straight up. Fortunately rocks, chipped pieces of the eroded mountains, offer footholds at regular intervals.
Above the tree line at 5,300 feet, hardy Alpine grasses grow in the chalky soil. The Jura’s highest peaks lie in the south near us in the Geneva area. A yellow pedestrian sign points toward the Dole at 5,500 feet altitude, but after an hour of steady climbing my legs feel rubbery and my lungs burn. Instead we opt to turn to head back down, but which path takes us back?
Too many signs point too many directions towards too many paths. Though I trust my fearless Frenchman, who has an uncanny sense of direction, we hike for hours with no civilization in sight. I fear his “short cut” will turn this 2-mile walk into another one of his famous all day treks. (I am not exaggerating family members can attest this.)
At long last, we spot a chalet where we ask for directions and realize we missed a turn and ended up at the lower end of the village. Our car is 2 km away uphill. By that point, my knees twinge each step I take.
I hobble along ready to hitchhike home while Gerald jogs ahead back alongside to interstate to pick up the car.
Unable to move my limbs for the rest of the day, I treasure the luxury of retirement. I laze about with ice packs on my knees enjoying a good read while feeling chuffed. My Fitbit recorded a personal best 18,352 steps (7 miles). Every single cell of my body screams with inflammation from over exertion, but sometimes the pain is worth the gain. It is not everyday that you conquer a mountain.
Having house-guests in Switzerland is like receiving your first pair of glasses when you have been near sighted. Suddenly when you see your own world through someone else’s eyes, you realize how glorious the view.
“In Switzerland, every mile is beautiful!” my sister said and I appreciate my home anew.
the Alps from home
As the lens focuses, the scene sharpens becoming more dramatic and spectacular. Each time a new visitor arrived, they marveled the sight from my backyard of golden fields, shimmering blue lake and white-tipped peek of Mont-Blanc, the highest mountain in Europe.
We live on what’s called the Gold Coast, the strip of land between Geneva and Montreux, where the land gently slopes downward from the Jura mountains on one side of the lake and upward toward the Alps on the other. On the north side of the lake, tiny red roofed villages that line the foothills of the Jura.
When my sister and brother-in-law were here, it rained so hard for 3 days they couldn’t make out the outline of any mountains. But at dusk when the sun broke through the clouds, the Alps bathed in a pink hue magically appeared with Lake Geneva glistening in the foreground.
If it makes you feel better, there are some inconveniences. Air traffic hums overhead, drills hammer, tractors clamor and cars rumble past on the autoroutes (super highways), which traces the shores of the lake. Switzerland is also one of the most expensive places in the world to live with Zurich and Geneva topping the cost list. Every spare inch of land, if not reserved for farming, is being built up. Housing shortages inflate real estate prices. At the end of our block the abandoned motel, an eyesore for the past decade, is finally being torn down, but even here asbestos poisoned the walls.
The idyllic view of a pristine, tidy Heidi-land is deceptive. Enveloped by mountains ranges, pollutants and fine particles from traffic remained locked in a fog overhead during winter, leading to increase in asthma and other respiratory illnesses.
an orchard over lake Geneva
Yet who am I to complain?
When the clouds dissipate, we are surrounded by a panoramic view of craggy, ashen Alps rising up from behind a purple-blue lake dotted with sailboats, and surrounded by golden fields of rapeseed and honey colored wheat. White-blossomed apple, pear, and cherry trees bear succulent fruits, and rows of gnarled old vines produce sublime wine. Burnt sienna roofed, wooden shuttered village shops line streets clean enough to eat off of that wind through the countryside.
Surely Switzerland if not the most beautiful country, rates in the top ten.