Movement, Onwards

niederhorn cable car

He was hiking through the forest on the first leg up Niederhorn with tears in his eyes when she found him.

He didn’t see her approach and jumped when he found a dog jogging alongside. She stayed beside him looking up and panting and wagging her tail. 

“Hello,” he said.

The beat of her tail intensified. He smiled and kept on. She looked ahead and kept on too. 

They climbed the uneven stony trail together. Sometimes she would fall behind or jog ahead or go into the trees on one side or the other but every time she would return and wag her tail when she saw him and take her place by his side. 

She was slim and had a mid length black coat and was slightly smaller than a collie. Her ears were long and bounced as she walked. Her eyes were brown and her teeth were clean. Her coat looked clean but she had no collar and there seemed no doubt she was wild. So he didn’t touch her, only clicked his tongue and said hello each time she returned. 

 

After another hour he reached the station a third of the way up Niederhorn where passengers changed from the funicular to the cable car. 

It was the middle of February and as he watched only one man wearing a similar small backpack to his own left the funicular that had just arrived. The man looked at him through the open doors of the small concrete station as he passed on his way to the stairs up to the cable car. The man nodded and he nodded back. 

He filled his bottle from a tap outside the station. He left the water running and clicked his fingers in front of it. The dog saw and wagged her tail and approached with her head lowered. He clicked again and stepped back a little. She licked at the stream twice then walked away in a circle and stood watching him. 

The second part of the hike seemed shorter. It felt they had barely left Bodealp behind before they reached the Mittelstation at Vorsass which they carried on straight past. 

On the third part of the hike the empty path climbed slowly. The green grass grew browner and now there were patches of snow, then more, until with the top station still out of sight the snow began to cover the brown clumps entirely. 

The winter sun was directly behind him and he removed his jacket and stuffed it in his backpack. He took out a sandwich and broke off a corner and threw it on the ground for her. She wagged her tail and sniffed then walked away and looked back for him. 

After an hour he stopped at a bench to finish the sandwich. She lay down on her side and went straight to sleep. He ate an apple and a chocolate bar and drank half his water. She woke when he stood and looked around then at him and wagged her tail and ran on in front. 

The path was steep now and zig-zagged back and forth and then the simple concrete top station came into view over the ridge and across the path to the left of it a large squat wooden building with a long sign and a sharply pointed roof. 

They reached the top station at Niederhorn as a cable car was arriving. There had only been two old women on board and they stopped to coo in German and stroke the dog who danced away from them wagging her tail. 

They took the path up between the station and the restaurant. Slush covered the concrete and on each side was thick snow. At the peak a signpost pointed right along the ridge but few footprints went that way. To the left was the observation point where half a dozen people looked and took photos. 

They went there and he looked out and to the right saw a valley directly below and climbing gently away with thin roads and paths mostly covered by snow following and branching off from the central stream which was either dry or frozen before his eyes reached the sharp steep pass beyond which the nearest visible land was dozens of miles distant and far below. To the left of that was Lake Thunersee turquoise and empty and still but for the patterns of ripples the wind made and around it were a few small towns and villages and many houses all alone and miles of thick forests and grassland. A strip of land he couldn’t see separated Lakes Thunersee and Brienzersee. The latter looked much the same as the former but above it and the shore and the gentle hills the Alps rose suddenly and ran all the way around it as he turned and followed them until they disappeared behind the ridge of Niederhorn with the unused path. He went to the boards against the railings naming the mountains and looked up from them to the Eiger and Mönch and Jungfrau and all the others and thought it was the most majestic sight he had seen or ever would see. 

He looked around and found that all the other visitors had left and that she had fallen asleep in the exact middle of the observation point. He went to her. She woke at the sound of his boots in the sludge and sprang up. He crouched down before her. 

“I wish I could stay here like this forever,” he said. 

She panted and wagged her tail and took several steps backwards.

 

He tried the path along the ridge but the snow was a foot deep and he soon gave up. The sun was approaching the mountains ahead and to his right. 

The man at the station said it would take three hours to walk down. He bought a ticket trying not to think about the price then went through the turnstile. She crouched low to pass beneath and followed him into the cable car at the front. It swung back and forth as they started to descend over the path they’d climbed and she turned in two circles then fell asleep on the floor. 

At the Beatenbucht station next to the shore she followed him onto the bus. The driver looked at her but said nothing. There were two couples dressed in hiking gear near the front of the bus. He took a seat near the back and she lay in the aisle and slept through the half hour journey. 

She followed him off at the stop near the top of the hill. They climbed the path from the road up to the chalet. When he checked in the owner had emphasised the No Pets sign beside the door despite his clear lack of one. Now he looked down at her. She looked up at him. 

“You’ll leave me anyway,” he said. “Better now.” 

He closed the door and took the stairs down and let himself into the small room with the kitchenette and the view across the lake. 

 

The following morning he packed up and checked out and was halfway down the path back to the bus stop when she appeared by his side looking up and wagging her tail. 

 

He cancelled the next reservation in Bern and booked a place accepting pets. Two days after he thought there was nothing to rush home for anyway and cancelled his flight from Geneva. 

They took buses north through western Germany staying a night or two in each place and hiking each day and he didn’t plan ahead or book ahead and soon wondered why he always had before. Time and money ceased to matter and each day was truly new. They went west stopping in Luxembourg and twice in Belgium and then onwards to France. 

 

In Paris he lost her. He spent the whole day searching Montmartre in a panic. Then he found her outside the guesthouse. She jumped up and wagged her tail when she saw him and when he came near lowered her head and stepped backwards several steps and turned to run again. He beckoned her back and she came inside and fell asleep on the tired carpet of the tiny room. 

 

They went northwest and he took longer than he needed but felt the end creeping closer. How he’d felt in Germany couldn’t be recaptured with a known ending now. Her steps backwards when he came close went further and felt like a beckoning. 

A return was the last thing he wanted yet return he felt he must. 

 

Calais appeared on the signs. The numbers beside it dropped. Then there was the Channel and then they were there. She jogged by his side to the ferry ticket office and while he bought the ticket she sat as she rarely did and looked up to watch and listen. 

He had little money left and took a very small room near the port. They went for dinner, he holding scraps out beneath the table. They returned to the hotel. He held the door open. She lowered her head and took several steps backwards, advanced and retreated again. He crouched and clicked his fingers then straightened and shrugged and closed the door feigning indifference. 

 

He smiled to find her there early the next morning. She sprung up as the door opened and jogged alongside him. It was a brilliant cloudless sharp morning. At the gate she ran a full circle around him then barked and stood looking up at him and wagging her tail. He clicked at her and went through the gate. 

He joined the queue of people taking the same ferry. As he neared the ramp he looked down and found her gone. 

He looked all around without hope. People started to pass him. He turned back towards the terminal. Then he sighed and turned back and went up the ramp. 

He stood outside towards the back of the boat and watched the shore diminish then disappear down into the water and found no sadness there, only emptiness. 

After it all there was no ending. He had learnt before it didn’t work that way and had forgotten and had now learnt again. 

He couldn’t take it all with him. He couldn’t take any of it. There was no holding on. That was the deal, and perhaps one day it would change, but for now his choice was to accept it, still, whether he truly wanted to or not. For now there was only movement, onwards. 

 

 





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