Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Mountains Are Made by Ants

I rode the local cable-car up onto the Muttereralm mountain on Sunday afternoon.  Not the ski-lift -- that's out of action in the summer months, for obvious reasons.  Having spent three hours on foot on Friday only getting half the distance the cable goes, it seemed several kinds of wonderful to cruise effortlessly past my previous benchmark, thirty feet above, in a matter of minutes.  It's a sensation not unlike those dreams of effortless flight one has, disrupted only when the car lurches periodically over one of the sets of rollers on the mighty stanchions holding the whole thing up.  It took me most of the journey to figure out how that works.

At the top is a small leisure complex, apparently aimed at preventing most people from ever setting foot on the mountain itself.  Which, if you ask me, is a good plan.  It's a paradise out there, and as Joni Mitchell pointed out long ago, people have a way of trying to improve upon paradise, one way or another, generally in the interests of convenience, not to mention Health and Safety.

Mind you, H & S is not as prominent in the Austrian mind as it has become in the British mind.  One of the leisure activities available up there is an alarming innovation known as "mountain carting".  A rough, unfenced track has been constructed, running from the top to the bottom of the cablecar route, joining and running alongside the main driveable track about half-way down.  Essentially, you get on a tricycle and roll down the mountain at speed, negotiating hairpin bends and avoiding unfenced drops into areas full of jagged rocks and very solid trees.  It's insane.

When I trudged up that same track on Friday, people would occasionally zip past, shrieking, whooping, and screaming fervent prayers to Our Lady of the Speedway.  I fully expected to find a mangled corpse impaled upon a pine stump at every sharp turn in the road.  One guy screeched to a halt (yes, these things do have brakes) and offered me a lift.  I had to insist that I was headed up, not down.

My plan on Sunday was to get my boots in some snow if at all possible.  How much further could the bare rocky peak be? A lot further, apparently, especially if you manage to select the track that runs round the mountain, and not up it.  No problem, I had a wonderful couple of hours up in the high forest, with views of the  scree- and snow-streaked peaks on the north side of the valley, and occasional vertiginous glimpses down onto a tiny, faraway Innsbruck, with miniature aircraft coming in to land at Kranebitten aiport.

It did occur to me that if my business here was to achieve an unclich√©d view of the Tyrol, this was probably not the ideal place or way to do it.  Although I did notice something which I don't think has previously been remarked upon.  Despite what you may have learned at school about tectonic plates, orogenies, and erosion, it is self-evident that mountains are made by ants.  This is their realm.  Red ones, black ones, brown ones, small ones, big ones, even scary ones the size of a beetle.  No matter where you look, no matter where you sit, it turns out to be seething with ants. The entire Alpine landscape is clearly a series of enormous ant-hills.

But, a mile or so away from the screaming mountain carters, this is simply a beautiful, awe-inspiring landscape, in which it is a privilege to wander. Sometimes, in some places, the world is simply what it appears to be. I was constantly put in mind of the words of the Navaho Blessing Way chant:
In beauty may I walk.
All day long may I walk.
Through the returning seasons may I walk.
On the trail marked with pollen may I walk.
With grasshoppers about my feet may I walk.
With dew about my feet may I walk.
With beauty may I walk.
With beauty before me, may I walk.
With beauty behind me, may I walk.
With beauty above me, may I walk.
With beauty below me, may I walk.
With beauty all around me, may I walk.
In old age wandering on a trail of beauty, lively, may I walk.
In old age wandering on a trail of beauty, living again, may I walk.
It is finished in beauty.
It is finished in beauty.
Or, if you prefer something simpler, there are the words of Kurt Vonnegut's Uncle Alex:  If this isn't nice, then what is?

[ A general note: while I am in Austria,  I am processing these images on a netbook computer, with a screen the size of a paperback book, and a touchpad rather than a mouse.  I am therefore a little out of my comfort zone, and may not be doing them justice.  Normal service will be resumed when I get home...]


Bronislaus Janulis / Framewright said...


Enjoying your travels, and even your "artst statements". Would love to see some installation photos.

“If I could say it in words, there would be no reason to paint”
― Edward Hopper

And speaking of Americans, not all of us have "pronounced arses" though quite a few of us can be.


Mauro Thon Giudici said...

Mike, I really enjoyed the passage on the "mountain carting". Here, in the Italian side of the same Alps it is the mtb downhill that is rocking. More or less the same except that it's costly bikes and fifty-year-old on the verge of a self respect crisis running down the mountain trails at full speed regardless to the ones climbing up by feet. "Previsualizing" the scene made me laugh quite a lot. Pretty annoying though. The pictures are good except for a yellowish cast on the latter.

Mike C. said...


Some installation shots will be forthcoming.

And sorry abour letting that comment about backsides pass through the "no cheap national stereotyping" filter... We have no shortage of such folk in Britain, these days.


Welcome back, and thanks for the tip about the colour cast. It seems it is not enough for mountains to be mountains: they are an underexploited leisure resource!