Cretaceous Natives

December 23

‘You don’t have any travel restrictions, do you?’ Florian asks after breakfast. I show off my iridescent new visa, restriction-free. A quarter of an hour later we are chasing the sun south toward Austria. The road twines through a winter whimsyland of snow-dappled mountains and frost-foliaged firs. Threading through a gallery of ice-trees, the road darkens, curtained by these evergreens, regal in their white frost-furs. They nod in our tailwind as we dash past.

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Set amongst the mountains like a black sapphire, a lake lies glass-placid beyond the trees. A postcard village trims the shore: timbered cottages and lake chalet lacquered in mountain-shadow. Soon we glide into Innsbruck, a pencil-box town bright with two dozen named colors and sharp with spires. Every alley, avenue, and boulevard frames another study of the mountains.

An aerial cable runs from the valley to a northern peak. Glass gondolas bob along its length. Like enchanted soap bubbles they rise above the treeline, ferrying us into the blue. Wedged between her parents at the nose of the gondola, a Russian girlchild gnaws a nub of sausage, a gnome-scowl wrinkling her face. I catch her eye and gnome-scowl right back, but my smile betrays me. As if watching my own face in the mirror, I see a familiar smile dimpling the little sausage stuffed cheeks.

From the gondola dock, a ten-minute climb up a path more suited for mountain goats than my rubber-soled boots leads to a lookout crag. Like a storm-wrenched sea, the mountain peaks are wind-whipped and frothy, ranged like ranks of white-caps about to break over blue shores. This oceanic moment lasts a mountain millennium.

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Florian points out the peaks of Italy cresting the southern horizon and Germany’s ridge to the north. National borders blow away in the wind. This land belongs to the mountains, these Brobdingnagian natives, autochthonous citizens born from this very earth. Human towns and villages speckle the valleys, hasty and ephemeral. To a mountain’s eye, even Innsbruck is a cardboard shanty town. We are refugees, seeking shelter under the mountains’ wings. Immigrants all, we find peace amongst the Cretaceous natives.

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