August 16, 2022

The trail, next to a bisse, meandering through the forest.


In every walk with nature, one receives far more than he seeks.

-John Muir


This morning, I awake, dress and meet Bill and Ted in La Brioche, a boulangerie (bakery) across the street from my studio.  It’s small and cozy and has a welcoming and gentil (kindly) atmosphere.  The French (and this part of Switzerland) believe in l’art de vivre, or the art of living.  They choose to skillfully craft their experiences, including those of eating and drinking.  It is no wonder that the origin of the word gourmand is French.  The result is very tasty food and excellent beverages, including, of course, the local wine.  I don’t usually drink wine at home, but here, I relish it.  At La Brioche, I have a cappuccino and a tarte au framboise (a raspberry tarte).  Man, it’s a good thing I’m only spending a week here.  If I spent much more, I’d go home weighing a ton.

Afterwards, we walk to the tourist office where we are scheduled to take a bus to Veysonnaz, a small village not far away.  At the tourist office, we meet up with Luda, a retired colleague of my brother’s.  She was born in the Ukraine, but now lives in Houston.  Both Luda and my brother are retired geophysicists who used to work in oil exploration and bought property in Haute Nendaz when that was possible (Americans can no longer buy property here, although they can keep it if they bought it before it became illegal).  She is energetic, very friendly and will make a good companion for this morning’s trek – a local hike through the mountains.

It’s a short ride to Veysonnaz and the bus leaves us close to the beginning of a well-manicured trail that follows les bisses.  Switzerland used to have a lot of two things, high mountains and glaciers.  They still have the former, but global warming has cut deeply into their supply of the latter.  There is still enough water, though, flowing down from the heights, to provide hydroelectric power and the life-giving fluid necessary to grow crops and animals.  They’ve built reservoirs up high and one of the ways they bring the water down to where it’s needed is through long troughs, about three or four feet wide and three or four feet deep, made up of stone, cement, and other materials.  These troughs they call bisses and they run nearly horizontally, traversing the steep slopes of the Alps laterally.  Along the way, sluice gates can be opened to allow the water to flow down to where it is needed.  Because the bisses are nearly horizontal, the water flows vigorously, though not overly rapidly.

Trails exist alongside the bisses to maintain them and a volunteer community has arisen to keep them in good order for those, like us, who enjoy walking on them.  We are walking opposite to the flow of water, so we must be going uphill, but the grade is so gentle, it’s hardly noticeable.  Even for us old(er) folks.  The bisses and the trails wind around the steep slopes through dense forest and, in places, flatter open pastureland.  Just like New England, many of the trees are white pine.  Unlike home, there are very large trees, probably over a hundred years old, and remind me of the Black Forest in Germany and Grimm’s Fairy Tales.  The temperature is in the eighties, but it is much cooler in the shade of all these trees.  Add to that the friendly people we pass (most of whom speak English) and the beautiful vistas out over the Rhone Valley and you get a very pleasant hike.  If only Waldo could be with us.  And look at all those sticks!

Along the way we talk about all manner of things, including the Ukraine war, of course.  But we don’t spend too much time on that topic, Luda still has family there and I think she finds it difficult to think about it.  She’s been on this hike before and points out landmarks along the way, like the small village of Verrey, just a few yards uphill from our path, and tells us that it has only been the past ten years or so that they’ve had electricity.  I could do that.  I have done that for short periods of time.

Our hike takes us to Planchouet, another alpine village, about seven and a half miles from Veysonnaz.  There, we have a nice late lunch.  I have a croûte de fromage avec jambon et oignons (cheese on toast with ham and onions) and a local beer.  Délicieux!

After lunch, we catch another bus and go back to Haute Nendaz.  The trail continues on and ends up right outside my front door, but it is a couple of miles further and I’m feeling a little tired and my back is starting to hurt.  My mucus membranes are a little raw too, but I decide that’s because I must be coming down with a cold.  At any rate, we get back home and, after eating a wonderful dinner of grilled rabbit, prepared by Ted, I go off to bed, feeling like I’ve earned the right to sleep this night.

I get texts that tell me that Waldo is doing okay, but, damn, if only Waldo were here,  sharing this day!


Watch where you’re going, Ted! You’re on a cliff face!

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