I left the house for the first time in three days today. I needed oxygen, though the temperature outside was enough to make me think twice about making the leap. I rummaged through the closets trying to find a hat and a scarf (I left my own in the flat in town). I stumbled across a bright red scarf and a grey balaclava that would have made me look like a bank robber were it not for my glasses. Instead, I just looked like someone who pieced together an outfit from someone else's clothes.
The sky was overcast and the wind was fierce. I walked as quickly as I could up the hiking trail from the road, deeper into the woods, higher and higher up the face of the hill, until the condensation from my breath made the face mask more of a bother than a comfort. I fantasized about conversations I wish I were having, answering questions so that I could say what was on my mind, like an interview in an echo chamber.
When I got to the top of the hill, I could see the forest on the other side of the valley. There was one patch of trees that had turned yellow amid a sea of wine-colored leaves. The yellow trees were also perfectly triangular, as if a child had cut them out of paper and stuck them on the hillside. Above the hill the sky surged away from me - wet, roiling clouds sweeping to darken someone else's day, somewhere north by northeast by the look of things.
I kept hearing gunshots from that bank of the Birs estuary, and it didn't make the sound any less unnerving knowing its source was far away. I continued to walk, slowing down some and taking off the hat, opening my jacket, unraveling my scarf. My hands stayed cold and I kept them shoved in my breast pockets, my fingers wrapped around my thumbs. This is the best way to hold your hands when they are cold - if the thumbs are on the outside of the fist, they'll never warm. This was a trick I learned when I used to row.
I was crossing in and out of woodlands on a network of trails whose intersections were all blissfully unambiguously marked. I found myself in a Schutzwald, a protected forest, that once had been farms but, due to ongoing division of the lands through inheritance, the parcels had become long, skinny slivers of land that came to be known as Hosentraegerparzelle, "pant leg parcels." At some point, the overcrowded farmers also realized that the soil was too rocky to be any good and the land was turned back over to woodlands. It reminds me of the Jewish joke: "The food at this restaurant is terrible... And in such small portions!"
Suddenly, as I came upon an intersection with the intention to head in the direction that took me back to Grellingen, I saw a sign that forbid access on the very trail I wanted to take due to shooting practice. Fortunately, shooting only took place on the field on certain dates at certain hours, and these were also clearly posted. I saw that the only day in October when there was shooting was on the 20th, so I was safe - until, halfway down the path, I remembered that it was actually November, and turned back in a hurry to see if I had already been flirting with death. In the distance I could hear the pop of guns from across the valley, but it seemed there was no hunting where I was walking today after all.
Friday, November 9, 2007
Thursday, November 8, 2007
Last weekend I was out in Grellingen, reading the most recent issue of National Geographic in the sauna. The cover story was devoted to the vagaries of memory - the focus was on how our brains remember and how little we still know about it. I sat in a dry, windowless, wooden cell with the temperature hovering between 80-85 degrees Celsius, leaning over the glossy pages of the magazine, drops of sweat beating rhythmically down on a colorful chart showing the decline of our memory with age. The chart began with age 21, the graph was at its apex. I roamed to the next denomination, age 30, listed along the x-axis. The dip in the graph was visibly evident. In the intervening week I am convinced that every time I have to look something up twice it is a sign that my brain is crumbling.