The air gets thinner

“Can you see the wind?” I asked one brisk morning not long ago.

“Well, yes,” came the reply. “The wind is scattering the leaves all over.”

It was, but that was not what I was asking. I was asking if she could see the wind.

I’ve missed the wind. Oh I have felt it enough, but that is not what I mean. You see, the wind holds something special for me. To see the wind is to see beyond what is here, and I needed to see the wind again. It was time to head high above the treeline and into the thinning air. I’m glad I did when I did.

I know not everyone has such a need. Over the years, I have spoken with quite a few people about the cleanse of gasping lungfuls of pristine mountain air and the peace that it can bring, but they just can’t understand. I don’t expect them to, though I wish they would.

“What do you want to do that for?” I recall a friend asking me over a video chat a couple years ago, as I told him of plans to tread the Himalaya once more. There was little I could answer that would make any difference; I have learned to hold my words back in such circumstances and just go and do what I need to do.

There is a lot of thinner air here in Switzerland, but much of it requires a good amount of time to reach, time that I haven’t had. There are only a few such places that are easily accessible and the Gotthard Pass is one of these. With winter approaching, it wouldn’t be long before the pass would be closed to traffic and so it was into the van and onto the road

I had no idea what to expect, though I knew that, given its topography, the wind would be blowing, the air would be cool, and the ground would be a thatch of rock and alpine grasses. And it was. What did surprise me was the abundance of people who had also decided to make the journey up the snaking strip of tarmac that clung to the precipitous mountainside. Walkers, joggers, mountain bikers, climbers picnickers, and children sliding rocks on the ice-encrusted lakes were all there, even though the season for visiting had all but closed.

I had wanted to walk and scout out likely rock faces to climb once winter had passed, but was distracted by the geometric shapes up the hill a hundred metres or so from the car park. Little did I know that these structures were the visible face of the fortress “Sasso da Pigna” once one the of the most secret places in Switzerland. The stronghold guarding the pass, was dug deep into the mountain during the Second World War and remained active until it was closed in 1998. Apparently, the warren of tunnels, rooms and artillery emplacements has operated as a museum since 2012, though it was closed too. A wander around the exposed stark, soulless edifice more than sufficed, however, to once again remind me of the dark side of humanity.

Look around and look closely enough, however, and there is always light to be seen. I think this close observation of what is around us – that which can often be lost amongst the grander or the more immediately impactful – is one of the things that we need to pay much greater attention to. And it is not always there waiting, sometimes you have to search for it, but do so and soon enough you might just find the tiny little berries hidden amongst the browning grasses, pale crystals of ice hanging on in shaded grassy niches, or the low juniper nestled in the sunny nook of its rocky sanctuary.

Yet, it was the wind that swept the skies that most held me.

I had intended to make it up high again these few coming days I have time to myself right now, and I had planned track the route up to Jungfraujoch. However, the clouds have come roaring in, the rain is pelting down, and the temperature has plummeted well below freezing in the mountains. So, instead of lodging in a room in Lauterbrunnen tonight I sit here behind the screen and write and think of the Gotthard Pass and how grateful I am that I was able to be there when I was.

St. Gotthard – Switzerland 2021

Published by Athan Rodostianos

Educator, world traveller, dreamer. The world is there and open. Live it, love it, breathe it share your experiences, be kind, be good.

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