Fields slump below the cliffs, a tree made for climbing stands offset from the others. Everything is smothered with a trillion white crystals as the sun struggles to light the sky, lethargic in the cold depth of winter, its power in summer only a distant memory. Oma climbs out of the passenger seat – she’s a melange of impressions now; thick woollen stockings, strong twill and felt, scarf tied around her hair. Sturdy greys, forest greens and browns, the smell of her that tugs my sense memory back to her holding me as a baby, and that will come to haunt me long after her passing.
I get out of the car and stagger momentarily on the slippery road and she says something I can’t yet understand – rekindling that lost language of German is coming slowly, and there is no meaning in her words, but an ocean of connection in those syllables. They resonate the way whale song travels across the abyssal depths, and I know what she is saying, even though I can’t yet understand the words.
And so the five of us, Mum, Dad, Oma, sister and I, wander up the path, under the bulk of the cliffs. In the grey behind us stands the ruins of a fortress, ahead of us the ruins of the coral reefs that stood here countless eternities before. Dad shows us how to make a snowball, initiated by throwing one at me and then showing me how to compress the snow with the heat of my hands, and then after a brief flurry of snow and laughter, we build a cairn of perfectly round snowballs upon a snow cloaked stone.
We walk and we listen, to the crunch of snow, the rustle of our clothes. We smell the air of the Alps and watch the clouds boil away revealing a fiery red sky and a sun limping toward a horizon interrupted by the heaving earth and huddling villages between those mountains. There is a shimmering moment of surreal red light and silence before the wind that cleansed the sky reaches us and the snow begins to vanish. The sound of a trillion drops of icy water becomes a million rivulets, a thousand chuckling streams and the sound of the grass squelching underfoot. By the time we return to the stone, our cairn is gone, and in the last dying flicker of light we see that the fields stand bare and exposed. And then we climb into our car and vanish into the night as the rivers flow and the stars quaver into existence.