Friday, September 30, 2011

Valley of Light

Songt Giusep is a tiny hamlet in the green hills of Val Lumnezia, the Romansh-speaking Valley of Light. Dad had booked a room at Ustria Tgamanada, a lovely hotel run by Mrs. Caminada and her husband.

We arrived in Songt Giusep at sunset, at the end of a very long hike across the Greina plateau and Diesrut Pass. Mrs. Caminada had been worried and was waiting for us next to the town chapel as we walked into town.

Mrs. Caminada spoke Italian to us, German to her other customers, and Romansh to her husband. Sometimes she used three different languages in one sentence. I didn’t understand any of it, and I stayed in my transcontinental home during dinner.

"Imagination is the liberating power possessed by man,"

states the German translation of a quote by the Spanish philosopher Ortega y Gasset. I spent time pondering the quote, and I think it applies to dogs as well.

I thought I'd ask Frau Perchta, who knows a lot about imagination. Her name means "the Bright One," and she has a prominent role in Swiss folklore as the guardian of the beasts. She thinks I'm right about dogs and imagination.

We spent the next day hiking on a mountainside trail through pastures full of milk cows and forests full of healthy firs. The Valley of Light looks both pastoral and wild. Its craggy peaks flow to rolling deep green hills that in turn flow to a steep incline with a rocky river at the bottom.

I kept thinking about Frau Perchta and the quote as I rested on Mom's shoulders. I'm a mighty hiker, but there's no shame in hitching a ride once in a while.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Doggy Comeback

At Cioss Mott, in the Bedretto Valley, west of Airolo, Switzerland.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

By the Shores of Lake Neuchâtel

Next to Lake Neuchâtel sits voyage immobile (motionless voyage) by Denis Perret-Gentil, a larger-than-life bust of a man with a smaller-than-real head. Clad in a wrinkled blue suit, white shirt, and red tie, he holds binoculars. His gaze travels across the lake to the shore beyond. He seeks life, but does not move to find it.

I move all the time, yet the statue gave me pause. Is it possible to travel without traveling? The obvious answer is yes, through imagination, but this man is not daydreaming. He is looking intently at something.

And what does he see?

I saw five junior swans and their mother traversing the lake. I saw a sailboat. I saw the distant shore, the town of Grandson across the lake, and the foothills of the Jura.

But surely he sees more. As he gazes through his binoculars, does he see the reflection of his mind? Does he think about the menhirs nearby?

About a mile away, many menhirs were placed in particular formations by Neolithic people in the 3rd millennium B.C. The menhirs traveled through time to the present day, in another motionless voyage.

Well, not completely motionless because they were knocked over. According to the plaque, they were “lain down at about 850 B.C. by lakeside erosion.”

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Sailing in the San Juans

This past summer, my parents took me sailing in the San Juan Islands. I loved the roll of the sailing boat, and I enjoyed burrowing in Mom's windbreaker as the wind filled the sails.

My mom’s parents used to take the whole family sailing or canoeing. (Two adults and three kids in one canoe.) They also spent entire summers on one of the Gulf Islands in Canada (incorrectly known in America as the Canadian San Juans). Because they always had big doggies, they never thought much of dogs on boats. Can you picture a canoe trip with five humans and one big dog?

As a small dog, I'm totally portable and seaworthy as well. Mom didn't want me to miss out on sailing, so she decided she'd make an exception to the family's unwritten no-dogs-on-boats rule.

Plus, my dad had never been sailing. He’s been wanting to go to the San Juans for a long time, but Mom kept him waiting for the perfect opportunity: going there on a sailboat captained by her brother, who is a commercial fisherman in Alaska.

So off we went to the San Juan Islands with my mom, my dad, my uncle, my cousins (Mom's brother's sons), and a friend, too. I liked it a lot because I could feel the wind in my face. I saw several seals, and I didn’t bark at any of them, because that would be bad form.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Mom's Birthday on Mount Rigi

It was recently Mom's Birthday, and Dad bought her a Happy Birthday Ticket, which gives you unlimited access to the whole Swiss public transportation network for an entire day. For our destination, Dad recommended Mount Rigi, the quintessential Swiss mountain. He helped us figure out a route involving two big trains, one boat, two cogwheel trains, one more regular train, and finally our little train, the Flippie, to get back home.

An added benefit of the Happy Birthday Ticket is that the conductors wish you a Happy Birthday in the language of the region, so sometimes the conductors spoke French, sometimes Swiss German, sometimes Italian, and also English. Mom got the gist every time. The only national language Mom did not hear was Romansh.

After we rode the cogwheel train from Vitznau all the way up the mountain, we spent a full hour and a half just sitting and looking at the view. We watched a woman take off on her first parachute ride. Lots of people talked to me, both in Swiss German and in English.

It was foggy to the southwest, so we couldn’t see Lake Lucerne, but we had a perfect view of the craggy Alps poking through the sheet of clouds. We could see the top of Pilatus, too, which was neat because lots of tourists were wearing Pilatus baseball caps. We learned that Mark Twain visited Rigi and James Fenimore Cooper, too, which really excited Mom because she loves the Natty Bumpo tales.

A man was playing an alpenhorn, which we’d never heard before. The sound seemingly echoes off the wind, and I took time for reflection while listening to the music of Swiss mountain people.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Swiss Tundra

Located in south-central Switzerland, the Greina Plateau is a pristine tundra that is home to countless marmots, some much larger than myself. It is completely road-free, and you can only get there on your own paws.

Early on a nippy Saturday morning, we took the hiker bus to Pian Geirett, at the very top of Ticino's Val Blenio. After eating breakfast in my hiking bowl at the trailhead (Mom didn’t want me to eat before riding the mountain bus), we hiked into Greina by way of Pass Crap, which means Stone Pass in the Romansh language.

The hike climbs 1,500 feet through what looks like a washed-out riverbed and up the side of a steep gorge. At the top of the gorge sits a Swiss mountain hut. Ahead of us, two people carried their mountain bikes up to Pass Crap. Once at Pass Crap, the contrast between the dusty alpine rocks and the green plateau is striking because of the other-worldly sense of place.

The Swiss Government has recently (re)considered the insane idea of flooding Greina to harness hydroelectric power. That same Government is also considering the inclusion of Greina in a new National Park. You can read the details here.

I was so busy sniffing marmots that I didn't even notice a herd of sheep grazing on the hillside. On the way down from Diesrut Pass, Dad picked me up to get me through a field full of cows with their babies.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Flying to My Swiss Home

I just flew with mom from Spokane, Washington to Milan, Italy by way of Minneapolis and Amsterdam.

I did fine on the first flight.  Mom spilled a whole orzo salad in front of my transcontinental house. The smell was fabulous! Mom was so worried about me vomiting from air sickness, but she was the one who made a mess.  She used up all the extra baby wipes she brought for me.

I barked three times on the flight from Minneapolis to The Netherlands.  I don't think anyone but Mom heard my yips, though. Once I got some food and water, I curled up and slept all the way to Amsterdam. In Amsterdam, once we cleared passport control, Mom let me walk -- on leash -- in the airport.  It's a really cool airport.  Lots of planes to places with names you cannot pronounce and have never heard of before.  I had no idea Doha was in Qatar.

We had a four-hour layover, and I was out of my crate except for when we visited the Rijksmuseum inside the airport. Lots of Dutch still life oils of flowers. There was one painting of a little boy in a dress and his little dog looked like a Papillon. I liked that picture a lot!

Should a Papillon puppy be called a Puppyllon? I think so.

Mom slept the entire way from Amsterdam to Milan. The KLM stewardess was super nice and asked me all about myself.  I liked that flight the best. Dad picked us up at Malpensa Airport and drove us to our Swiss home in a rented Smart car.

I finally rode in a car my size!
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