I am a photographer – not a writer. When John asked me to write “a few paragraphs” for this publication, I hesitated.
My school essays used to be a disaster and somehow always predictably ended with the final lame sentence: “Tired but happy, we went home.”
It was early dawn on New Year’s morning 2021 when Monica and I left the pod. The snowshoes made their sloosh-sloosh sounds as we found our way uphill through the fresh snow that came down in droves the previous night. It was still snowing.
The first snowshoe walk of the season is never easy as I have to get used to the additional weight and drag on my legs. On top of that, Switzerland is an alpine country, and the hiking tracks are never flat. It was going to be a tough day. We slept well the previous night. For a New Year’s Eve, we were in bed early, and our pod was warm and cosy. Nestled in the Swiss Alps, the Whitepod is a small futuristic igloo village in Les Cerniers, Switzerland.
It is part of the eco-tourism movement and aims to be carbon neutral. Each pod has been built on a wooden platform with stilts driven into the ground. In this way, there is very little permanent structure involved, and the slopes of the mountain remain in their pristine original condition. The pods are made out of an insulating fibre. A stove combusts small pellets, reducing them to white ash and hardly generates any smoke. It kept our pod at a constant 22 degrees Celsius. I was thinking of that stove as icy cold snowflakes stung my face while making our way up the hill. Snow had piled high on everything leaving the landscape undulated and smooth. There was no wind and a dense fog covered all. It was magnificent!
A glance at my Casio Pro-Trek indicated that it was minus 5 degrees, and I pulled my beanie deep down over my ears. We were early on the track. Only a few people had gone before us and going uphill was tough trudging through the loose snow. Much better to walk when many shoes have already compressed a path for you. The track wandered through the forest, where the trees disappeared behind a white curtain of fog. Loads of snow covered everything, frozen together into a magical wonderland, completely silent and serene.
I was filled with childlike wonder and a strange expectation to see fairies and other fantasy creatures appearing from their hiding places at any moment. The fog remained impenetrable, and throughout the morning other hikers would suddenly appear as out of nowhere. It was eerie.
At times we could hardly see the track a few steps ahead, and we would stop to wait for better visibility. Snow hides holes and crevasses in the ground, and it is a golden rule not to leave the path.
Sharp spiky icicles formed everywhere, and one could be forgiven to think that you were walking amongst cactuses instead of pine trees. I was fascinated to see how these icy thorns have covered everything, even the track markers and poles. An old tree trunk, converted into a drinking trough, was transformed into a beautiful ice sculpture. (Yes, this snowy countryside will be full of cows come spring.) I was surprised to see water still flowing from the pipe.
Snow was hanging in flowing drapes from a log fence like festive decorations. Higher temperatures earlier in the week have softened it just enough to allow it to sag before freezing it again.
By lunchtime, we were lucky to find a deserted hut with a table and benches. Lunch was raclette, an authentic Swiss dish made of melted cheese on soft-boiled baby potatoes served with crunchy pickled onions. We lit the tealight candles in our portable stove and took out the cheese and potatoes we brought from home. There is nothing quite so satisfying as eating hot food when you are cold. A tin mug of sweet hot chocolate was desert, cupped between nearly frozen hands to gain some warmth. Our feet were ice cold from standing still for so long, and it was time to leave.
The fog cleared for a few minutes to reveal a stunning winter landscape, and across the valley, snow-covered mountains spanned the horizon.
A blackbird sang its crystal-clear song and plucked at the last remaining dry red berries.
We were looking at a wonderland that transported me back to my childhood when I marvelled at such snowy scenes through a View-Master. (Showing my age by referring to such a device.). A few moments more and the wispy, white curtain closed again. The View-Master was put away. The way back was mostly downhill, and my legs were thanking me. The pods loomed out from the fog, and I was looking forward to drinking an ice-cold something that was buried in the snow outside our door.
Later, sipping from our glasses in cosy armchairs in front of the stove, we reflected on the day and the experiences that became part of our treasure chest of beautiful memories. Those precious times in nature during which, for a short while, we would be liberated from our sometimes petty, everyday issues. Moments that would make us feel happy about small things like a hot mug warming cold hands. Transporting us into a mindful state, into the elusive NOW where the magic happens.
How fortunate are we to have this gift of conscious life.
Tired but happy, I took another sip . . . . .
South Africans Jan and Monica Posthumus settled in Switzerland a number of years ago. We have known them from SA days as keen hikers and their enthusiasm for heading for the hills whenever the opportunity presents itself has certainly not diminished, although the terrain has certainly changed.
Jan is an accomplished photographer and here is a link to his photography blog . So worth the a visit . . . . . Thank you Jan and Monica.