Silly girls. We were two American college co-eds, surrounded by big, jovial mountain climbers from Norway. Or Sweden. We couldn’t understand them. The young bearded men were heavily into their schnapps and laughed as they tried, with hand gestures and broken English, to convince us to join them in a shot, or two. There was nowhere to go, as we were eight persons squashed into a cable car that left Zermatt, Switzerland with a sudden, hard jolt. My friend’s and my mouth fell open simultaneously in shock, which caused our companions endless amounts of entertainment. They theatrically clutched at each other, mimicking our facial expressions and laughing uproariously. We couldn’t help but giggle; okay, we looked stupid and we knew it.
The view! The famous Alpine view that really and truly took our breath away. We gazed down and saw a Disney movie set; a Currier & Ives Christmas card. This was too perfect to be real. So many cozy peaked houses with plumes of sweet-smelling smoke puffing up from their chimneys. No cars, no vehicles of any kind were allowed here. Pristine. Surrounded by powerful mountains and snow and ice. A haven within a brutally beautiful countryside. It would be a completely different picture in the late Spring, when all the alpine flowers would be in full exquisite bloom. Picture-postcard perfect.
We soon exited the cable car at Furi Station, laughing and hugging our new “friends” goodbye, only to board a larger cable car for the trip up to Trockener Steg. We weren’t done with the transportation quite yet. There was a price to pay to achieve a view that would stay within your mind for a lifetime. So, we followed the crowd and boarded another cable car that would take us all the way up to the infamous Matterhorn. Then, there was one more lift that delivered us closer to our goal, the viewing platform. We had been told by countless friends that if we did not make this trip, we would regret it forever. Those were strong words and so we obeyed. Stepping off the lift, we were finally on solid ground. Looking around, we spotted the steep steps to reach Valhalla, Nirvana, the Top of the World. As we made it to the uppermost observation point, out of breath, we discovered that we were above the clouds! This was nature’s church, and we were awed by the perfect peace. During stressful times, I still conjure that incredible serenity that wrapped around me like a grandmother’s hand-knit shawl. And the silence was so complete that you could hear the glaciers across the valley, miles away, quietly melting, the tiny rivulets of water splashing down to join a waterfall. It was cold up there, but it was a wet cold because of the clouds. And it did not bother us in the least.
And then I heard the sound that I can hear just as clearly today: the tinkling of cow bells that traveled up through the thick white clouds like sacred music. It sounded right in my ear. I should have been able to reach out and touch the cows, but they were miles away. There was not a drop of air pollution to interfere with the sound waves bouncing off mountainsides. I couldn’t see the gentle animals, but I could picture them. Brown and white dairy cows carefully climbing the steep mountainsides in their search for a mouthful of dry grass under the snow.
I do not remember ever leaving that spot. We breathed deeply trying to capture the moment, the perfect, pure happiness that radiated from our hearts. Decades later, and in times of need, I am easily transported back to the top of the mountain.