Friday, September 20, 2019

The mountains of my home

Project HaMo (translation): how a Swiss mountaineer was made

I can’t recall when it lighted on me, the spark that ignited my deep love for the mountains. But the flame it lit flared up very early in my life.

"The Jungfrau was the one I liked best"
Photo by courtesy of Alpine Light & Structure

It was while I was still in the pram, or very soon afterwards, that the mountains first swam into my ken. My home view then comprised a hoary old castle nestling cozily into a small town, and best of all, a hilly green valley flanked with spacious pine forests. But only later did I make this important discovery.

Far, far in the distance, beyond my old home valley, there rose up on a sudden – this was on a clear summer evening – a host of white pinnacles. Today I would call them the mountains of the Bernese Oberland, from the Wetterhorn to the Blümlisalp. And from that moment onwards they have always kept a special place in my heart.

It seems like yesterday to me – I could already name a few of them, and this meant a lot to me. The Jungfrau was the one I liked best. The mountains were hard to tell apart, yet this name was worthy of them all.

One thing was for sure: I already respected these mountains deeply; they held me in awe. If some wretch came along and tried to make fun of my mountains, I took their side, and never would I have let slip their names to anybody I deemed unworthy, like a little girl.

From that time on, all I wanted was to hear more about mountains.

Soon I got to know my first mountaineer. He was remarkable most of all for his long, bandy legs, which took him stalking past our home every day. For a while, he rather scared me. It was only when, one fine evening, I saw him gazing with longing at those rose-tinged peaks that I started to warm to him. From then on, there were two kinds of people: mountaineers, and the common run of folk, with whom I’ve even now not wholly come to terms.

Then I was allowed to get to know the mountains better and better, or at least look at them from closer and closer. What yearnings they awoke in me! And what intimations came to me from those grassy green hilltops that my father sometimes now and then took me to on a Sunday.

I was always taking refuge in them. When I was sad, the mountains stayed cheerful; when I was beaten down, they stood fast, when I was miserable, they still greeted me, bright and amiable, over the green treetops along our quiet valley.

When they glittered through the schoolroom window, the Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau, what should I care about tedious mensa, mensae, Pythagoras and the July Revolution? We soon became well acquainted, thanks to many a splendid book.

When, on some gloomy autumn day, I’d almost forgotten what might await me above that pall of fog, I used to run up some hill near the town after school, and even if I was too late ten times, then on the eleventh try, I’d be on top in time to see the sunset. Then I drew its red glow right into my heart, and this small happiness would tide me through the dark winter.

Since then, I have come to know a good many mountains, and I hope to sample a good many more. All have their beauty. But you, my mountain comrades from all over the world, from Africa, Australia, South America, who rate all mountains equally, from Mont Blanc through to the Ortler, can you guess now why I rank these ones highest, our Bernese Oberlanders, the mountains of my home?


This is an excerpt from a centennial translation of Ihr Berge (1916), a mountain memoir by Hans "Hamo" Morgenthaler (1890-1928). Translation (c) Project Hyakumeizan.

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