On our first night in Höfen, the ripe moon rises from the woods just across the lane from the Knobloch family’s farmhouse. Hartmut calls us onto the terrace and we watch the moon blossom from the forest. In the Bavarian countryside, midnight is so thick you could lick it off a spoon. Where the darkness is thickest, it catches stars, hanging them up in constellations. The moon blooms golden as the narcissus in the garden. Her light is a shimmer of pollen on the still April air.
The next morning, we hike into the alps that fan out over the German-Austrian border. As we climb, I take photographs that I can’t trust. They look like photographs of photographs. Could such a vista really be found outside a gallery frame?
Though my eyes may turn traitors, nothing is more reliable than my electric lungs and limbs. I must be some sorcerer’s mannequin, bewitched to walk until my steel skeleton sheds its skin. The higher up the mountain I climb, the more I live in my body’s clockwork. My whirling gears kick up gleeful sparks. I am built for perpetual motion. In stagnation, I rust—ask me a question at rest and I may spit acid. I am too wound-up to take the path at anyone’s pace but my own. I clatter up the slope, leaving the others behind. Sound stretches out between us until it thins into silence and I hear only my ticking heart.
My camera lens and my English lexicon are too small for this wonderscape. They can capture only details such as Alpine heather—amethyst droplets beading up in the underbrush—or buttercups—flecks of cadmium yellow—or Schusternagel (cobbler’s nails)—pure cobalt pooling in the grass. But the mountains. I could collage a hundred word-portraits of the ermine snow draped over their shoulders, of the cloud-shadows bruising their flanks, of the villages freckling their feet, of their fine fir pelts, and still you would have only a sketch. The mountains are a masterpiece. It would take me a lifetime to write them.
Each peak is another chapter in Scheherazade’s never-ending tale. The story is dizzy with cliffhangers. Like the pages of an open book, the mountains splay out from the valley. At the horizon, they are as thin as onionskin—a translucent membrane printed in a script of light and shadow. Just across the valley, dark forests scrawl over the mountain foothills, covering them in calligraphy so thick that these pages are illegible. On the peaks, snow paints over old stories, leaving blank sheets. In time, footprints will type lines of coded poetry across the snow. Each poet will leave a line in her own meter: fox and hare and human. Someday, even their trace may be erased by an avalanche.