Talking Location With author Leigh Russell – YORK
Talking Location With author Diane Dewey – Switzerland
24th April 2019
TalkingLocationWith… author Diane Dewey, who has written about her experience of finding her biological family in Europe. Like a private eye, she sifted through competing versions of the truth only to find that, having traveled throughout Europe and back, identity is a state of mind. As more information surfaced, the myths gave way to a certain elusive peace; Diane discovered a tribe in her mother’s family, found a Swiss husband, gained a voice, and, for the first time, began to trust in the intuition that had nudged her all along.
Here she explores Switzerland and nature:
One summer Sunday afternoon, my husband and I floated with our friends in their Weidling – Switzerland’s traditional flat-bottomed, double-ended wooden boat, the Schaffhausen Rhine Falls a scant five kilometers away. Using the vessel’s long pole, our captain hauled us along the banks of the Rhine, poling ahead, then drifting. After a few kilometers, he let the Weidling swirl downstream in free fall. The intrepid of us plunged into the cold water, breathing its minerally scents and comparing its texture to silk. As we floated free from the Weidling, it was fun to think we could swim at the ten kilometer per hour rate that the current flowed. With 7,000 lakes, 65,300 kilometers of rivers and streams and–at last count–one hundred twenty-two glaciers, water comprises a large part of Swiss life. Now we soaked up our share with the low sun glistening off our skin.
Here in Flurlingen on the outskirts of Schaffhausen the traffic into Zurich, a tantalizing hour away, was our only source of stress. The decal-decorated SUV that we’d rented locally made little headway in the miles-long traffic snarl that snaked through the Gubrist Tunnel. Sixty-seven tunnels winnow traffic through Switzerland, a country the size of Pennsylvania, with its eight million inhabitants. To me, no train ticket is too expensive for an hour of calm onboard, allowing me to check emails or simply gaze out at the southern Alps. Usually, I think about what brought me here: my biological father, Otto, who had found me on the other side of the Atlantic 17 years before. Discovery had fueled my writing; unraveling mysteries of my identity in real time. Now, with no escape, we were stuck in traffic on the way to see Otto’s widow.
Earlier that weekend, I’d noticed a slab of raw meat sitting on top of the fence that separates us from our next-door neighbor. What was a chicken breast doing there quivering in the heat of an August afternoon? Suddenly, a falcon swooped, making the whoosh of a bellows with its wings. It missed its target, put off by the rustle of my newspaper. On the second go, its gnarly talons hyper-extended, the peregrine snatched the meat from the fence. In a blur of ginger dapples, fresh as a child’s face except for the fierce avian eyes, it flew off to find safe purchase to devour it. My heart pounded at the proximity to its heaving four-foot wingspan and the saline scent of bird feathers hung in the air as I gathered my papers. Decimated by DDT in the 1950s, the peregrine falcon has returned from the brink to be named the 2018 Swiss Bird of the Year. I thrilled at its spirit and instinct for survival. Recognition pierced me, transporting me back to the German orphanage of my earliest childhood. Like the ever-moving Rhine, shifting currents had impelled me to gain passage to America.
Flurlingen is a three-kilometer bicycle ride to the German border, where the sight of that country’s coat of arms – a red beaked and taloned eagle with its wings spread – triggered visual memory. Along the evergreen-tinted Rhine, I stopped for a blood-orange drink at a retro-food truck called Luna’s Crepes and distracted myself with the popular pastime of doing nothing under the sycamore trees. The Rhine, swollen in Spring with glacial water from the Alpine Toma Lake at 2,344 meters, had dwindled and now rushed more or less laconically toward the Rhine Falls.
Throughout its history Schaffhausen’s Rhine Falls have forced boats to stop and transfer their loads to carts. Restaurants, inns, and shops thrived, in the guarded purview of the Munot, a16th century stone stronghold above the town. Today, Schaffhausen, which comprises mostly pedestrian walkways,recalls a time when bartering was currency. But even now, no one will urge you to buy excessively. “It’s enough,” a shopkeeper told me, wrapping and taping my purchases in tissue. Simple rural life is reflected in the daily farmers’ market on the town’s cobblestone thoroughfare. My eyes popped at the size of turnips and I softened at the wide smiles of bandanaed farmhands. Maybe I’d actually come home.
Back in Flurlingen another neighbor raises worms in a compost bin for his vegetable garden. We are all, I tell myself, companionable partners with nature here. Slime from a snail glistens across our concrete terrace, the gastropod stalled at its edge. Tentacles wave from beneath the coiled shell. I hex any wings and talons that might descend in the mauve dusk. Someone must protect its survival.
Thank you so much to Diane for sharing such memorable experiences with us.
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