Sunday, July 8, 2012

The Simmental

Dörfli, the village that housed the story of "Heidi," doesn't exist on a map. Years ago, I asked my Swiss friends where the place was, and they just sort of chuckled and said, "Oh, it just means 'little village!' There is no such place!"

Chalk one up for being an American in Switzerland! But this week, Michele and I got to experience a true "little village," complete with an historic chapel, a tour of Swiss homes, their vibrant exteriors covered with hand carved histories and stories of their past, and views that most people can only hope for on a post card. These are our last hours in Switzerland, spent in a region called the Simmental, a valley region in the Bernese Oberland.

I had visited here, years before (1987), when my kids were still having bundles of fun sitting next to each other in the back seat of a small car. Our friends Rudi and Therese (with their own three girls) were also watching their urchins grow; we've walked together over the years, marking marriages, sharing stories, and hoping and praying as we watch how they turn out. So coming back to the Simmental was very much a full circle experience for me.

This visit, even more than the first one, allowed us to see and appreciate the Swiss culture up close: their affinity for precision and orderliness, their pride in their dwellings, the way they cherish their faith and express it in song, their love of hearty food and good wine, their reverence for the land and they way they have shaped that land – and how that land has shaped them.

Take, for instance, this woodpile. Every where I went – and I do mean everywhere – these stacks were a study in precision. No careless mounds of wood here, but every one a model of consistent length and intentional fitting together of shape. As I remarked on this to our friends, they just smiled and said "This is a very Swiss thing." It was, indeed, something ordinary to marvel at.

Even the way planking of their wooden homes was a wonder. Pine boards are precision cut in the Alps – I challenge anyone to find ways for light to seep in between them. And just in case they do shift, there is this amazing little gangplank device in the front of the dwelling, a device that is carefully pounded deeper into the home to keep the boards completely in line with one another.

Then, there were the little remembrances, words that jumped out and reminded us of family and choir. I won't lie – for as much as this journey has been a wonder, it has also been a tremendous challenge, moving from place to place, not knowing the language or the road, communication or transport systems. So it was with great joy that, outside one particularly stunning Swiss home, we found this little bench. On it, inscribed in German, was this text that has become very familiar to the Folk Choir family. "Come to me, o weary traveler."

And so, weary as I was, I sat down upon this bench, and thanked God for the glorious Simmental, this special valley that opened us up all the more to the mystery of pilgrimage.

Tomorrow, we leave these mountains. And head back to France, to the foothills of Mont Blanc, and the music of Tamie Abbey... where Internet access is anyone's guess!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Erlenbach in Simmental, Canton of Bern, Switzerland

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