The Rax massif is not the most spectacular mountain in a photograph. Most aerial views place the Schneeberg in frame, with its razored frame and imposing bulk. At certain angles it looks like the nearby Hohe Wand, settled into the landscape, not placed atop like so many other summits. Yet it rises strongly, a great upheaval in the earth’s surface that helps distort the fabric of the steppe into the buckled world of Lower Austria.
One rainy early spring morning, the family set out for the Rax. It had turned cold again, foliage bright green and glistening, roads black and wavering through the narrow valley. The mountain was cloaked in a swathe of fog.
‘Well it might clear off at the top,’ Dad said, and we climbed into the cable car.
It was quite empty in the gondola, only the four of us and a young couple who looked ready for a serious expedition. Below us as we swayed in the increasing gusts of wind, the tops of trees insinuated their way out of the fog – larch, sycamore, oak and birch. The effect was magical, and I commented upon it.
“Maybe the girls could catch this back down, and we can take the path back down through the forest,” Dad said.
When we disembarked and made our way out, we were disappointed to find that the fog was so intense you could barely see 3 metres ahead. We sat in the deserted restaurant and had a drink and deliberated on what to do. In the end we caught the next gondola back down, and went snail and strawberry picking instead.
Tips for catching and preparing wild Snails
- Go picking as soon as you can following rain. Snails will go adventuring within about 20 minutes of rain. Don’t be scared of the drizzle
- Get you identification right. Culinary snails are usually the larger species, with a more pleasing brown tint to their skin and large caramel coloured shells
- Pick healthy, undamaged snails – and do so carefully. Respect the animals; place them carefully in your vessel, and avoid hurting them or damaging their shells
- Keep your container sealed properly. You’ll be surprised how far a snail can move on the car ride home!
- When you get home, place your live snails in a large bucket with a bit of water – just an inch or so
- Starve the snails for at least 24 hours. This way they’ll excrete any toxins and grit, keeping it out of your body.
- A few hours in the fridge is a good way to anaesthetise them before plunging them into hot water. Then extract from the shells and fry with crushed garlic and best butter. Sprinkle with parsley and enjoy piping hot
So it never cleared, and we never returned to the Rax. There were other trips, to other places across the country, and somehow we never got back there.
Until my honeymoon. My new wife and I travelled there on a very hot summer’s day. Up in the cable car we went and emerged into the sunshine. The breeze had cleared the air, and all around the hills and mountains shimmered like a painting. We hiked around the plateau, and I saw the Rax, but in a new context, with my new family, while my father lay in the hospital a few miles away. If I squinted I could see the town where he was. I could see so much with this new found clarity. What i could not see was how much was going to change.
I thought I knew. I thought I was prepared. But seeing things clearly is not about just laying down facts and optics, cloud cover versus clear sky. The longer I look and thing, the clearer things become, until the mountain, the rocks, the trees and the rivers will all flow like glass in my mind, and slowly things will become revealed.