Thursday, April 15, 2010


Spring is here. For most, this is a good thing. But for me, spring has always just been one of the required waiting seasons, summer being the other, that gets me back to my favorites, fall and winter. Must suffer through spring and summer to get to the good ones.

But this year, things for me are changing. Just like the Grinch warms up to the Whos in Whooville, I am learning to appreciate what spring has to offer. I have always been aware, from a horticulture standpoint, of why spring is one of the most beloved seasons. I can understand, but never really liked it all that much. But this year I do.

Not too many people can deny loving the first sight of hyacinths and tulips and daffodils. After a long, dark winter, any sign of color is bound to excite. But for me, it is the renewal that hits me right in the nose. So many trees are laid bare for the world to examine all winter. We look to them for firewood, we think they are getting old and wrinkly. We see their every flaw.

Yet each year, they get a chance at renewal in spring. A new set of buds and leaves, a chance to display new growth. And this growth is good, bright green and full of horticultural enthusiasm towards the new growing season. In spring, you see colors that you never will see again. Even next spring will be slightly different than now.

Trees show us all their glory in their bare winter costume. Then come spring, the most magnificent shades of green come out. And they aren't too flashy, trees know how to keep it simple. Just subtle reminders of what is to come. No stress from sun and wind and moisture and nutrients yet. No overgrown displays that need to be pruned. No pests and diseases. Just a simple display of the grandness that is renewal. You can still see the strong branches through the thin cover of blossom or leaf. Spring bling is never garish.

And then we have the really symbolic spring trees. Cherries, magnolias and redbuds. And of course the spring bulbs mentioned earlier. At this time, they display their best annual show of color. And yet this color is untethered by all the green leaves that will soon surround it. Again, we witness the color unadulterated, simple and clear.

I wish I had a yearly opportunity of renewal that the plant world does. How cool would it be if I could lose or gain a few pounds, just because of the season? Add or subtract a curve here or there. I think it would be great to wake up one day with a different hair color or style. Or a different skin tone. Maybe next year, no freckles!

In the plant world, this happens not by choice. It all just happens. No pondering or manipulating or discussing. How refreshing that simplicity would be. Then, regardless of your changes, everyone still loves and admires you. Perfect.

I will always be a winter lover. I am an old vine, late harvest, curl up under a blanket and look for an excuse to wear my rain boots kind of girl. But this year I have learned to See spring for what it is and gladly admit that I like that.

Emerson said it best. "Adopt the pace of nature. Her secret is patience."

Sunday, April 11, 2010


You are going to think I am a little crazy, and perhaps even more crazy for what I am about to tell you. Know that I have no regrets. It is my favorite mode of transport, and perfect for the landscape architect. It is green and mean. The views are great and the 'road' is ever-changing. No static scenery to get bored with here. My favorite method of transportation: Tobogganing.

Yes, I have talked about and shown you tobogganing before. But I finally made it to the mother of all toboggan runs. THE LONGEST TOBOGGAN RUN IN THE WORLD. Yup, I did it and I loved it and I will go back and do it again. I now have tobogganing cred. I can run with the big dogs. February was a great month.

We took a trip to my beloved Jungfrau Region to do the Faulhorn-Bussalp Grindelwad toboggan run. Not for the wimpy, as it has a pretty good hike to get to the top. You start by taking the various gondolas and chairlifts up to the top. Then you proceed to hike with your sled up another 3 hours or so. This hike takes you through quiet, pristine snowy wonderland, with the exception of the few others doing exactly what you are. The groups tend to be pretty fun, stopping for sausage cookouts and drinks along the way. The hike is strenuous, as it is mostly uphill at a high altitude. But it is so worth it when you make it to the start of the toboggan run. You are about to embark on 15 km of pure, unadulterated snowy tobogganing bliss.

I felt a little like a kid in a candy store. At the top we were so hot and tired from hiking, despite the fact that my handy zipper thermometer said it was 10 degrees Fahrenheit. It was pretty windy and you don't want to stay at the top long. The only thing marking the trail was a simple fence and the knowledge of the others who had done this before. The boys were quickly off, at warp speed.

I tend to really appreciate working limbs and an uncracked head, as well as the views that surround me. So I go a little slower, savoring each view and noticing lots along the way. I periodically jump off and take photos, only to be distracted by even more stuff to photograph. The weather was great that day, so lots of photographs were taken. Eventually, I catch up with the boys and we keep moving.

I was so tempted to take some video along the way. But I wimped out a bit and decided against it. There are no guardrails and lots of curves mean lots of chances to run a muck in the snowbanks. Something that doesn't do good things for electronics.

One curve was particularly interesting. I found the guys waiting for me, expecting me to crash. It was a particularly long steep section with a big curve and a fairly friendly run-away lane. And I did just that. I am always happy to amuse. Then I had to climb back up and you can see in this photo how deep I sunk in the snow, right to my knees.

At one point, around a big curve, we came across an alpenhut, seemingly unavailable to anyone but tobogganers. I suppose it is open for hikers in summer, too, but no skiers were making it here. Many were enjoying sausages and cold beer or warm Gluewein. There was even a DJ. But we weren't there for DJ's, we were on the LONGEST TOBOGGAN RUN IN EUROPE! So on we pressed.

I was overtaken by the urge to take photos again and stopped for a bit to do so. Guess it was longer than expected. I continued down and realized that the trail split. Still didn't see the guys. Hmmm. I asked a fellow tobogganer who also was looking for her mates whether the trails ended up in the same spot. Negative. Hmmm. She politely suggested to just call them to find out which way they went. Have I mentioned that I was the only person in Switzerland without a cell phone? Hmmm. So I decided to think like a guy and see which way I would go if I was them. This worked and I found them. The funny part was that they had been waiting a while and the person I spoke to came by and told them I went the other way and would meet them in town. Apparently my husband didn't think that was so funny and relegated me to the front, so as not to lose me again. But that didn't last too long and I was happily snapping photos in the back again.

Some parts of the trail follow the road, so you must share the road with buses. Yikes. But I quickly learned that toboggans go faster on these roads than buses. And I am sure it is entertaining for the driver, following a good distance behind you, to watch you crash and burn on the icy curves of the road.

The trail ended by passing through a few villages. Unfortunately for us, the lower snow had nearly melted, so we had to walk a little at the end. But I got to see some adorable alpine architecture along the way. All in all, it took about an hour to toboggan 15 km. Not bad. Well worth the semi-painful hike up. I would do it all again tomorrow if I could. And if I could get a job where I could toboggan to work daily, I would do it in a heartbeat.

Oh, I failed to mention what we did before this toboggan trip. After arriving in Grindelwald, we looked up the First Flieger or First Flyer. First is the name of a town. The Flieger is a seated zip line type of contraption. It is 45 m up in the air, parallel to a gondola. The run is about 800 m long and goes a max speed of 84 km/52 mph! It was really cloudy when we did it, so you couldn't see too much except the gondola and an occasional tree top below. It lasts about 45 seconds. I believe that the First Flieger is the only of its kind in Europe to date. And it was created by some crazy Americans. Awesome.

I am so going to miss all the snowy fun that Switzerland has to offer.