In September of 2017 my wife Susan Ilsley and I traveled to Zurich and central Switzerland, following paths of previous journeys as these areas had affected both of us deeply. In Wengen we stayed in a registered Swiss Historic Hotel founded in 1887 and run for 5 generations by the same family, one of whom was instrumental in the declaration of the area by UNESCO as a world heritage site. This is located near a youth hostel Kendall had stayed in years ago. Reliving previous visits we walked the Panorama trail from the peak of the Mannlichen to Kleine Schedegg, and ascended to the top of the Jungfraujoch. Following a lead from a contact in Wengen, we included a stopover in Brientz to visit a woodcarving museum and store where Susan’s grandparents had visited and collected carvings over 60 years prior. We visited contemporary art galleries in Zurich’s Old Town and had the opportunity to talk extensively with both artists and gallery owners. These conversations provided rich context for our exploration. Along the way we took pictures with iPhone and wrote on an iPad small enough to carry in a day pack. On this journey we visited the Bernese Oberland again for the first time.
The writing includes prose poems, haiku and tanka forms, often bound together as Haibun following the form developed by Matsuo Basho in 17th century Japan. The images and poems are juxtaposed, intended to be experienced together. While the images and writing are not intended as illustration or explanation of each other, they both point in a similar direction and enhance dimension.
The entire collection of some twenty photographs and poems are being arranged for book publication in 2019.
Limmathof Hotel, Zurich
Peaceful Switzerland has it’s deep roots in war. Celts overran Pics, Romans defeated the Celts, city states banded and reformed largely by battle, towns coalesced, joined, broke away, and rejoined confederations and finally settled into their currant configurations in time for dealing with the Hapsburgs and contemporary nation states. It’s posture of neutrality serves it’s international financial base well.
Summer fattened swans
glide through leaves floating down to
Airport train station offloads
Fall guests trudging toward hotel.
Ogres and Trolls figure heavily in Swiss folklore. How else do you explain capricious weather, luck that can’t be controlled, and the terrifying contingency of life. Superstitions become a life skill. It’s hard to see yourself the center of things when glaciers moan, cold sets in and the thunder knocks you down. Faith is simple; mountain churches are less about theology, more about reassurance. Beliefs are for supplication. You do things correctly because they’ve worked best that way in the past and fewer people have been hurt. How do you explain it when things don’t work? Must be the evil ones that lie waiting to cause trouble.
Can’t be too careful.
In the Forest, Near Wengen
Alpine rain soon turns to canopy as decay sprouts new growth. Is light seeking no more than rhizome grope or does some sentient force hide among dark trees? Are Darwin’s bones turning to dust in Westminster Abbey floor, or does he walk, troubled still, sensing something more? Do these dark places not pull us forward, to hear the rocks and trees, the stories of storm and midnight stars, and juggernauts lost to fate?
We have few miles left
smelling pine moist earth and fern.
Walking the Panorama Trail
Above Klein Schedegg the Lauderbrunnen wall of Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau face north, a natural draw for climbers, tourists, artists and other dreamers. The Eiger, the Ogre, holds particular fascination, with its fearsome, dark ice walls that never see sun and sudden storms that kill. The locals named them carefully. The Monk stands between the Ogre and the Young Woman. Church intervenes saving innocence from impulse. Freud’s superego reigns in unbridled Id. Jung saw a bit more, perhaps, each archetype playing out part of a larger drama of self in search of union with ultimate soul, an Atman/Brahman cosmic dance.
Trail from Mannlichen
pilgrims stepping carefully
long drop, bells below.
Behind lesser peaks winding
upward path pulls us inward.
Some of the most sophisticated yet provincial in the world, fleecing investors and tourists with equal finesse. Yet there is a deep appreciation here of both the lights and darks, Heidi chocolate smiles and trickster stories of mountain fairies and evil trolls. As herds are driven from Alpine meadows to lower pastures through village streets in the Fall, lead cattle are decorated with flowers and the combined bellowing and bell clamor is deafening.
Wind blows glacial moan
past flower memory gone;
black rock ridge cuts sky.
Blown snow stings then numbs the face three thousand feet down below.
We took the one hundred year old steam driven mail boat from Interlaken to the far end at Brientz. The Lake is unlike others. Impossibly deep, silent, unrealistically glacial blue green. Mailboat stops at villages, sometimes picking up or dropping odd passengers. The boiler drives great pistons which turn the large paddle wheels quietly. We move across the water as if we were doing just what we had been brought here to do for the next hundred years.
Here all lies quiet
surface reflects distant sky.
Gulls wingtip cuts path
gliding across the mirror
you can smell the melted ice.