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reveries of an amateur long-distance hiker

June 5

June 5th, 2016

June 5
Altdorf (Eggeberge) to Wassen 27 km

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Although the walk up the river valley today was glorious, it was hard to cast off a melancholic pall. It was difficult to say goodbye to Bennett. After breakfast (his last Swiss buffet of cold meat, cheese and bread) we rode the gondola down together, parting at the street where he turned back north to his train station and I turned south to work my way back to the trail and then on to Wassen. Much to think about–how my youngest son has become an adult and a friend. At the same time, I kept thinking about the relatively sudden death of an old hometown friend, Ricky Wilkins. Ricky was diagnosed with lung cancer which progressed rapidly, and he died yesterday. He was my brother’s age, so he was two years older than I am, but he always was a character in my youth. Growing up in a very conservative, rural community in the middle of the Vietnam war, it was difficult to get a clear understanding of world politics– particularly one that fit what we were learning as true American values. The news did not seem to line up with the ideal. Ricky was a musician but also was someone with a strong political conscience– something that was difficult to formulate and hold in that time in the Shenandoah valley. I remember well the universal condemnation there of Muhammed Ali (then Cassius Clay) when he refused draft induction. It is telling that they died on the same day. I learned from Ricky as a young man what was at stake when you took a view contrary to the political consensus, even if it was clearly the correct one from any moral stance. I left Woodstock Virginia in 1974, pretty much never to return, and so lost track of Ricky and his musical peregrinations which included a long stint in Nashville. We reconnected a few years ago through social media where I found he was still fighting the good fight against social injustice and bigotry, and he was still a musician, bringing people together through a medium that has the real strength to do that. In the summer of 2012, when Bennett and I were hiking the Virginia section of the Appalachian Trail, Ricky and I were in contact trying to see if we could coordinate a time for us to come off the trail to hear him and Amanda perform. It is hard to project times well when you are hiking distance and, by the time we got to Shenandoah county, he was playing elsewhere, so I missed my chance for that reunion. Now it seems I’ve missed it completely. My thoughts are with Amanda and their children today.

T. Hugh Crawford

June 1

June 1st, 2016

June 1

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Eggiwil to Sorenberg 32km
Whenever we find ourselves on a steep climb in some woods that appears to be heading to some wild peak, Bennett always says we are about to cross a field. He is usually right. This area has been long settled, so the steep wooded area remain, but any possibility of flat land, no matter the height, invariably becomes farm. Although apples and pears do not seem to be a major crop in this region, most of the farm plots have an old orchard, reminding me of the American settling of the Midwest which required setting orchards as part of the establishment of the farm. I’m guessing these orchards were not part of a land deal, but rather functioned like the kitchen gardens that still fill the plots just next to the houses (and are always full of columbines for some reason). But clearly dairy is the primary industry here — we have been walking through the emmental region for several days. This morning we crossed many high pastures full of young heifers, not yet producing milk. They seemed to have all been turned to the upland fields to gain weight and mature. They lurked around the gates and would follow us from one side of the field to the other. I was reminded of my childhood best friend, Chip French, whose family owned much of Shenandoah county, including a number of farms. I would go out to their farm for the weekend to play as young children did, but on Saturday morning, over breakfast, Chip’s father would produce a small black notebook from his shirt pocket and tell Warren (he was the only one who called Chip by his real name) what chores needed doing. Sometimes it was sorting potatoes in the cellar, or maybe digging thistles in the pasture (this was before Round-Up), but often it was moving cattle from one field to the next. We’d all run as fast as we could to head them in the proper direction while Chip’s father would call to the cattle, “hey hum-āy” and they would follow. This morning, with the cattle streaming behind me, I felt like the pied piper or maybe just like Chip’s father. We climbed all day, so by mid afternoon, even though it was very cloudy, we could look down on valleys that resembled model train sets. The last part was though a high pass into the next valley. We knew behind the clouds were huge, snow-capped mountains, but we could only glimpse and imagine their size. The descent into Sorenberg was steep, and we soon found our lodging. I went to the local store where the bread was just coming out of the oven. Nothing like a cold drink and hot, fresh bread with butter probably made from the milk of cows jingling just up the hill.

T. Hugh Crawford

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