Travel Essay/ Poems:
I awoke yesterday morning wanting breakfast at the Hotel Waldheim in Mayrhofen, strong coffee, juice, cereal, a lovely roll, great bread with slices of pungent cheese, salami, and something like a German Mortadella.
After the 9/11 attack, my wife and I found ourselves on the first Lufthansa flight out of San Francisco. We had planned with a dozen others to go hiking in the Austrian Alps for a holiday, but the exploding towers changed everything. All flights cancelled, then started again. Someone on television said try your travel agent instead of airline. I called, found 2 tickets available on United instead of Lufthansa. Called our friends, but no more seats. A lucky moment.
I could no longer do the serious hikes, but I could walk around the town. At lunch, I heard the sound of bells, looked out the cafe door, and saw walking down the street a dozen beautiful cows, horns festooned with streamers of braided blossoms. The waitress said it was a ritual done each year as they brought down the cows from the high pastures to winter in the valley.
Mid September early snow, – so,
from the high pastures a dozen cows,
horns streaming with flowers,
flow with heavy grace down
a street lined with racks of discounted
summer clothes. Suddenly, all shops
are ski shops.
Slowly the Green Year
walks down the mountain followed by her
attendants. She will leave them here
and follow the valley south. Praise her,
Bossy, Praise her Floribell, Praise her
you sweet ladies. May your winter barns
be full, the hands of your farmer warm.
Early morning dark. I lie in bed
shades pulled back. Through the fog,
a sinuous twist of lights tracing
a road down the mountain
back and forth, back and forth.
Here, between up and down
one moves sidewise.
I had William Stafford’s The Way It Is with me and imagined him as an in-town companion.
William Stafford in Mayrhofen
He would have liked the muteness
of the morning fog, the light, the coffee.
He would have liked one piece of strudel
without the whipped cream. He would not
have bought a feathered hat, but would
have admired those who wore them.
Walking through the streets, he would
have understood the people.
Some he would have liked.
Beneath the high thrust of snow, rock, ice –
small valley things – a wren in a tree full of pears,
a bee, warm in the afternoon sun tending
window box flowers, grass carrying on being grass.
Yet even the green
of the grass carries
or is it …?
end of summer skirmish
night-snow crept down the mountain
morning firs hurl back a green defense
how many strides would
my seven-league boots
take to reach the sea?
I bought a lift ticket so I could get to the tops of the mountains and so most days I would go up and have a bit to eat at one of the gasthauses, most often a cappuccino and a strudel. Each place made its own strudel. Delicious. I read a recipe of how to do it yesterday. Such a fuss for the crust, yet such a delightful crust.
but the strudel has cream
and the coffee’s topped mitt schlag.
Gasthaus at the Top of the Lift
Watching snow melt on a copper roof.
The slant is pleasing, almost Japanese.
Even the chimneys are copper and the water
sluices down into copper gutters and out
a copper pipe jutting out at the same
pleasing angle. Wind catches the water
blowing it into spray. The sun shines on all,
gleaming from the copper roof, gleaming
from the high mountain snow, shining
through the slow-gathering clouds.
the white-shouldered mountain brothers
stand thinking long, slow thoughts
mountains stand in deep relief
like views from a stereopticon
where the firs give up
their majesty asserts itself
in the East, so blue
in the West, so fierce.
At the Hotel
The proprietor’s daughter behind the bar
tells of those coming down the high ski run
who fall, laughing, arms and skis in the air,
nylon rumps on the ice – then the slide,
and then – the slide.
Below the Pinkerbahn
I’m riding in the high air going higher.
Below, three farmers working a farm
that would slide down the hill if it could.
One drives his tractor in ever decreasing rectangles,
his machine leans away from the mountain,
his body towards it.The other two
rake new-mown hay downward,
each pull starting a green avalanche
which comes to rest at a flattish place.
Surely here a farmer must have one long leg.
On top, cows again, each belled with its own note
their coats, the shiny, slate-gray brown of Weimaraner.
They graze the high grass by the fence along the path.
A woman holds her child up to pet one cow’s sweet head.
An immense tongue comes out to lick a red cheek.
On the Terrace
At a gasthaus – high enough to bring me
eye to eye with the mountains,
a butterfly, a bee, and, in the shadows,
a wraith of melting snow.
Now two slender German women,
maybe in their 30’s drinking tall beers.
Among all this gray, green, white,
and eternal blue, their lips burn red.
I am full of fears.
Up the Ahornbahn
and at the top – I think
to go right back down.
Another part says “No!”
so I sit with strudel
and hot chocolate
The first day of Fall.
The day seems calm,
yet the small leaves
of the pear tree
BIO: Nils Peterson is Professor Emeritus at San Jose State University. He has published poetry, science fiction, a memoir entitled Talk in the Reading Room, and articles on subjects as varied as golf and Shakespeare. In 2009, he was chosen as the first Poet Laureate of Santa Clara County.