First Days of Spring

Ron Karpinski  ©2001


At long last, on the twenty-ninth day of April, spring finally arrived in the Swiss canton of Zurich.  From one day to the next, weeks of incessant rain, fog, and occasional snow ended, giving way to bright sunshine, temperatures in the mid-seventies, and a light breeze that felt almost warm.

In celebration of this breakthrough, my lovely wife, Irmi, suggested a bicycle tour through the surrounding countryside.  Our residence of the moment, the small town of Adliswil, lies in a narrow valley surrounded by mountains on one side and gentle hills on the other.  After much debate, we opted for the hills.

All went well for several hundred yards, but soon even a moderate climb became too steep for our rubbery winter legs, and we were forced to walk our bikes the rest of the way up the hillside; but, once atop the valley wall, the terrain spread out into a broad patchwork of rolling forests and meadows, connected by a network of wide cinder paths.

For the better part of an hour, we wandered through the maze, marveling at the vivid greens and brilliant white blooms that seemed to have sprung up overnight.  Occasionally, near the roadway, cows grazed on the fresh grass.  Huge brass bells hung from their necks, clanging with each step.  Irmi took the lead, and I followed closely in her tracks.

My mood shifted from one extreme to the other, as we left the warmth of an open farm field and entered the cool darkness of a thick stand of trees, emerging a few minutes later into another sun-drenched meadow, bursting with purple and yellow wildflowers.

Each fork in the road demanded a decision.  "Which way should we go?" Irmi hollered over her shoulder.

"I don't care," I called back.  "Follow your nose."

At one fork, Irmi followed her nose downhill, down a winding rutted dirt road that eventually led to the valley floor the same valley we had climbed out of an hour earlier.  Much farther west at this point, the valley formed a cradle for the Sihl River, meandering down from the Alps on a course for Zurich where it joins the Limmat River.

A dirt path paralleled the river, and we took it, pedaling upstream for half an hour.  Swollen with runoff snow, the river crowded its banks, edging close to the trail.  Most of the way, soft undulating ripples had a soothing effect on the ears; but, at the approach of a three-foot waterfall, the two of us could hardly hear each other over the roar.

Ahead, off to the right, a small clearing beckoned.  Two benches hewn from fallen logs faced the river.  We stopped for a short break, drank from our water bottles, and downed a couple of granola bars.

Directly in front of the two benches, a man-made jetty stretched out into the water.  The jetty had been built of large stones large enough to walk upon with several places to sit and enjoy the solitude of the river and surrounding pine-covered mountains.

To the left, two hundred yards upstream, an old concrete bridge spanned a large crevasse in the hillside.  The bridge formed two broad arches and reminded me of the old bridge and train trestle in Gold Hill, Oregon, where I had spent the happiest summers of my youth.

In fact, this river at my feet bore a close resemblance to the Rogue River that runs through Gold Hill.  My late cousin, Jim, and I often floated down the Rogue atop inflated car inner tubes, our fannies protruding through large holes in the middle.  We looked like capsized turtles, swept through the rapids, often scraping bottom.

Irmi and I sat on the rocks in silence, soaking up the sun.  In the middle of the stream, beyond the jetty, an icy green torrent pounded huge, seemingly immovable boulders in the riverbed an ancient drama enacted on this spot for untold aeons.

Irmi faced upstream and closed her eyes, dreaming whatever it is that women dream when they are content, arm-in-arm with their man on a warm spring day.  My own gaze drifted downstream, through the foaming surge, and around the bend.  There, in the flickering sunlight, I saw two carefree lads clad in cut-off blue jeans bobbing in the flow thirty-nine years ago.


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