I stood on the trampoline, legs bouncing slightly as my sister Lena jumped about around me. Other children ran barefoot in the lush green grass, squealing and laughing happily. Their parents watched from their seated positions at tables just outside the farm's restaurant, a few meters away. The farm's name is Schrannen–Hof, where the name comes from, I don't know. The sign proclaiming the guest farm's name also has a sentence printed in smaller letters beneath the name: Urlaub am Bauernhof. This is German for, Vacation on the Farm. The Schrannen–Hof is owned by a small family whose last name is Zundel. Their farm sits on the edge of the small town of Schoppernau. And around Schoppernau, there are mountains. Mountains with fields where the cows reign, their bells ringing in the morning sunshine. A light breeze stirred the air, and the temperature couldn't have been better.
We were in the Alps.
My family and I had arrived there a full eight days before. Today was our last day of hiking around the amazing mountains, petting cows and enjoying the outdoors. My sister and I were waiting for our parents, aunt, and cousin Tobin to finish readying themselves for the much anticipated trek up the mountain. We were going to hike up one of the larger mountains in the vicinity, called Kanisfluh. I looked towards it now; a tilted mountain with few visible trails wandering up its slanted side. The other side of the mountain wasn't visible from the Schrannen Hof, but I knew from driving by that it was a steep, rocky cliff with a few shelves marring the sheerness. All in all, it was an intimidating mountain.
From the trampoline, one could not see the cross that was at the Kanisfluh's top. In fact, it was not until one was halfway up the mountain that one could really see it, I later realized. The mountain was also a few kilometers away. My sister stopped bouncing about, looking in the direction of the Kanisfluh, which I had been gazing at for multiple minutes, I realized with a start.
"What are you looking at?" My sister asked me. "Kanisfluh?"
I nodded, turning my head towards movement that I caught out of the corner of my eye. "Come on," I told her, unzipping the trampoline's entrance and hopping to the ground. "The others are waving for us to come." Sure enough, there they stood, at the edge of our guest house, motioning for us to come to where they waited. Lena followed me out of the trampoline, and we wove our way through the smaller children who were laughing as they went down the slide or swung high on the swing. The Schrannen–Hof's tiny playground was a popular place to be for the young ones.
Once we reached our waiting family, we all quickly piled into the rental car. There was lots of conversation as we drove towards Kanisfluh, mostly about random things, such as what we were going to make for dinner and the like. After about fifteen minutes of driving along a river swollen with snowmelt, we reached Mellau, a town a little past Kanisfluh. The town, in comparison to Schoppernau, could be called a city. It was far larger, maybe about three times the size. For where we were in the Austrian Alps, that was fairly large.
My mom, who was driving, took a sharp left turn into the main part of Mellau. She drove along the same road until we reached a large industrial building: a gondola station. The truth was, the Kanisfluh was already on top of a fairly large hill. We would take the gondola up to the station at the top of that hill, and then hike from there. As we walked out of the car, we saw that there were hardly any people getting on the lift. If it had been winter, that would certainly have been different. Skiers would have crowded the station, all eager to get up the hill and fly down on their skis.
Riding up in the gondola was far more silent than the car ride. We all gazed fixedly out the windows, enjoying the view of the green fields and flowers, which were being taken care of by the cows. Listening to the bells, I thought of what we had been taught by the local people. The Alps at this time of the year were extremely green, almost something out of a story. It had been explained to us that the cows played an important role in this. They were herded up the mountains in the summer to mow the fields by eating, and fertilize them with their dung. Rain was another important factor; the farmers relied on the rain to keep the fields green for their cows to eat and produce milk.
We reached the top in a matter of minutes. The station was at the edge of a not–very–steep cliff, in a field. To its right were three restaurants, each one boasting red–and–white plaid tablecloths and red umbrellas advertising Almdudler, a popular soda in Austria. The restaurants, for the moment however, were not for us. We quickly searched for a signpost that would tell us in which direction we needed to hike. It was not hard to find, and we started walking along a wide path that wound through some dense thickets of trees.
This was the more populated part of the hike, as it was the start and the finish. We passed several people, until we came to a vast clearing.
The path crossed a meandering river that wandered further into the clearing. A stretch of trees blocked our view of the entire clearing, but as we passed it, I was astonished. The grass was not really completely green, but rather a mixture of greens, browns, and reds. It was beautiful, and the only thing marring the wide expanse of grass was what was called an Alm, a hiking stop where one could get something to drink and eat, and to rest. But the meadow itself was not half of what made the place so amazing. At the far edge of the field, cliffs formed a wall many meters high. Their top was a jagged line, and trails could be seen wandering on top of it. The cliffs were not rocky as one might imagine a regular old cliff. There was green all along their rough walls, spurting up on shelves, clinging as moss to the sides.
I stopped walking and took a moment to take it all in. Looking around, I could imagine a castle at the field's center, but then I took a closer look at the two images in my head. The one without a building was a perfect example of the beauty of nature. The other picture's castle, however, marred the perfectness of it all in a way that was, well, unacceptable. I started walking again.
About twenty minutes later, Tobin and I reached a sign that had in big letters Kanisfluh scrawled across it. It was located at the side of a fork: one narrow trail moving onto the Kanisfluh, and the same wide trail that we had been following. We had walked ahead of the others, so we sat ourselves down on a boulder to rest for a little bit. Soon my aunt walked around the corner that hid the field from our view. Tobin and I stood up and took the narrow trail.
Tobin and I had jabbered a little bit to each other earlier during the hike, but now all was silent as we took in our surroundings. We were at the bottom of a tiny gorge, pretty much, its walls hardly two meters high, and not steep at all. The trail bordered a thin field full of large yellow flowers and bright green grass. The slight breeze tousled our hair, carrying the sound of chirping birds with it.
The trail eventually left the meadow behind, as did I Tobin. I didn't really care; I wanted some quiet time with nature anyway. Path beginning to ascend, I began to breathe harder. I was hiking in a thicket with some pine trees and small rocks. The shade they provided from the noonday sun was welcome. Then I broke through the clearing, and came to see the giant, cliff–bordered meadow from before at a different angle.
Earlier, I had been inside the meadow, and had more of a first–person view. Now that viewpoint had changed into third–person. The field lay straight in front of me, a few trees and some rocks–and of course, more grass–separating me from it. Though I wasn't close, maybe half a kilometer away, I could still make out some of the detailed lines in the cliffs, which were now off to my right. Looking to the right of the meadow, I saw the trail where we must have come out of and to the river.
I turned back to the trail and kept going. As I got higher onto the mountain, reaching about the halfway point, I began to see a few more people. Seeing as the top of Kanisfluh was not far off, I wasn't surprised, only a little disappointed to have their conversations marring the sounds of nature around me. The path began to get more rocky and slippery, and I found myself gripping parts of trees and rocks for stabilization. It took a while, but eventually, I got near the top of the mountain. Or at least, I thought I had.
There was a saddle shape carved by time into Kanisfluh. From the Schrannen–Hof, it was a mere dip in the shape of the mountain, but now, it was on a much larger scale. As I reached the top of the saddle, I looked up and to my right. And standing there, not far–off seeming, was a large wooden cross marking the very top of the Kanisfluh. Almost there, I thought to myself. No more breaks. However, I eventually broke my promise. Getting to the cross from the top of the saddle was a much longer ordeal than I had expected. I had expected at the most ten minutes to reach the cross, but it took me almost three times that to smack the hard, splintering wood with my hand. By that time, I was puffing with exertion, and I closed my eyes and rested for a little bit.
What I saw when I opened them astounded me.
I literally felt like I was at the top of the world. Though the area around the cross was small–upon which there were a few resting hikers–looking out around me was an incredible sight. I felt as if I could see all of the Alps, and I named some of the few I knew. Diedamskopf. Hoher Ifen. Zitterklapfen. I also saw the Widderstein, a giant rock formation at the top of a mountain that my dad had climbed. But, what astounded me the most was how completely and befuddlingly green it all was. It was quite beautiful, and honestly, I don't think that words could describe it. I could see Schoppernau, marked by a white church, way in the distance below.
At that moment, I was truly grateful for the wonder of nature. How lucky I was to be able to witness something this remarkable, to see what seemed truly divine. And at that moment, I wanted to stay in the Alps more than anything else. Longer than ten days. Longer than a month. Possibly even live there. Most people wish for a vacation on a tropical beach, I thought to myself, and that's not bad. But, I think there is a beauty in the mountains that is harder to find. Yes, they are nice from the foot of them, but here, at the summit, the Alps can truly be seen as mountains from the stories.