Bugwoman on Location – The Meadows of Obergurgl

Dear Readers, this has been the year of falling down. I have fallen down, for no apparent reason, outside the post office, outside the nursing home, outside the newsagent. A week before Mum died, I fell over spectacularly while walking to the dentist. On every occasion there has been no apparent reason for the tumble – no uneven pavement, no obvious trip-hazard. One minute I am vertical, and the next I am not.There are lots of explanations – weak ankles, stress, distraction – but the one that seems truest to me, the one that I feel in my heart, is that I have been carrying a lot and my body would really like me to just stop.

Well, two days before I was due to leave for Obergurgl for my annual holiday, I was sitting on the sofa, watching RuPaul’s Drag Race and knitting, when John rang to tell me there was a fox outside. I sprang up but my foot had gone dead, and so I fell over with a mighty crash and a distinct crunch. By the time John got in, there was an egg-sized swelling on my foot and I was shaking with shock.

Well, after a trip to A and E for an X Ray it was clear that ‘all’ I’d done was torn a few ligaments, and so we decided to go on  holiday, and to take it easy. And take it easy I have. Yesterday we went for a little walk in the meadows (followed by plum cake at the top of a mountain that was reached via a chairlift), and it was a real treat to just meander along, noticing the plants and insects.

But first, you have to squeeze through all the building work. I feel so sorry for anyone who has never been to Obergurgl before. How the heart must sink at the sight of all the cranes and scaffolding and concrete mixers! This year, the Edelweiss and Gurgl is getting yet another face lift, the village hall has been demolished to make way for a bigger venue and there are no less than two underground car parks being built. Last year a crane managed to knock the  weathercock off the church spire, and to be honest I don’t give it much chance of staying there for the whole of this year either. The trouble is that the summer season is so short (snow lays late and comes early this high up) that everyone is desperate to get stuff done by the beginning of the winter season, when most of the money for the year is made. It’s hoped that the new village hall will attract conferences during the summer, and I’m keeping my fingers crossed too – we’ve seen the number of hotels open in the summer fall from eleven to three, and if it gets much worse I suspect the place won’t open until ski season.

Fortunately after only a five minute meander through the crashes and bangs of the building sites,  you can be skipping (or in my case hobbling) among the most beautiful alpine flowers you can imagine. There were a few new species for me to notice this year as well – it feels as if everything is at least a week later than usual, and there is plenty of snow on the higher altitude walks (yet another good reason for not rushing to do anything strenuous).

Obergurgl ‘improvements’. Much like Rome, it will be lovely when it’s finished

But cross the river, and you have this.

The main colour of the meadow is yellow – dandelions, yellow rattle, different kinds of daisy. We underestimate the importance of flies as pollinators, but every flowerhead is full of them. Lady’s Mantle forms a large part of the underlayer of the meadow.

Different forms of wild cranesbill are everywhere, making puddles of purple.

There are more flies and some ichneumon wasps on  the Queen Anne’s lace.

And here are some Alpine poppies, the first that I’ve ever seen. I think that these chaps might be Rhaetian poppies (Papaver alpinum ssp rhaetium), a specialist of the Central and Southern Alps. I was so delighted that I did an ill-advised little dance. I was even more pleased when I spotted that one of them had a most conspicuous spider lurking among the petals.

Further along the path, there were even some bright orange poppies, a colour variant of the same species.

On we went. My foot didn’t seem to hurt, but later in the walk I noticed that my boot was rubbing on  my lower leg. It seems that the swelling in my foot had decided to move north, and when I got home my foot was more or less a normal shape but I now had a new set of bruises higher up. I was tempted to include a photo but I thought I’d spare you all the horror. After all, you might be eating.

I am always so impressed by the range and variety of insect life that lives in the meadows here, a testament to the lack of pesticides and to the way that the hillsides are managed – they are cut twice, once early in the summer, and once at the end. This preserves the biodiversity by making sure that the perennial weeds like dock and nettle don’t get a foothold. The yellow rattle helps too by keeping the richness of the soil down – most mountain  meadow plants thrive on  thin, depleted soils, which is one reason that some of them make excellent ‘weeds’ when they arrive in cities.

And here is a beetle, another underrated pollinator, on a cranesbill. I suspect that s/he is some kind of longhorn beetle, but haven’t been able to ascertain the species. Do give me a shout if you know!

And then I spotted another new species of plant for this year – alpine clematis (Clematis alpina). This has usually finished flowering by the time we arrive, so it was a real pleasure to see it this year.I really love its delicate lilac-blue colour, and rather shy, droopy flowers.

By this time I was feeling a bit droopy too, so it was a short hobble to the chairlift for reviving coffee and cake. And today, my foot and leg are feeling much more like their normal selves. Fortunately there are storms forecast, so I foresee another day of plant watching and taking it easy. There is nothing like a minor injury for making you stop and take stock.

I was a little worried about coming back to Obergurgl – it was while I was here, a year ago, that my Mum’s final decline began, and also it became clear that Dad wasn’t just ‘a little confused’ but had full-blown dementia. i thought that being in the same place might allow memories to surface that I’ve been trying to avoid. And this is exactly what has happened. But it feels as if the only way out is through, somehow – if I don’t feel what I need to feel now, it will only ambush me in future. And there is something about the landscape here, the mountains,the sound of the river, the nesting house martins and the cuckoos calling in the pine forest, that holds me. I sense that there is nothing new in what I feel, nothing that hasn’t been witnessed before. Nothing that I can’t survive.

17 thoughts on “Bugwoman on Location – The Meadows of Obergurgl

  1. Alittlebitoutoffocus

    I’m not sure, but could those yellow poppies be yellow alpine pasqueflowers? Either way I hope your foot gets better quickly and the drilling and banging doesn’t start too early in the morning. Enjoy the rest of your holiday.

    1. Bug Woman

      They were quite tall, Mike – I associate pasque flowers with being more trumpety and growing closer to the ground, but I know nothing 🙂

  2. Julia

    Beautiful. I’m sorry to hear about your ankle but sometimes our bodies just want to remind us that we need to slow down. I’m good at falling over randomly too – possibly for the same reasons. I love hearing about your Austrian trip. There’s something deeply comforting about going to back to the sane place year after year. I don’t think I really appreciated that until I got older. It’s the little thing that matter. Hopefully being there helps your body and mind to heal a little bit.

    1. Bug Woman

      Thanks, Julia – the ankle is pretty much mended now, and it was lovely to slow down and appreciate the little things this time. Plus, I love that I see the same places every year, and learn a little more each time…

  3. Anne

    Take care – we are so often harsher on ourselves when caring for others. I am glad there are so many beautiful flowers where you are.

  4. Toffeeapple

    So sorry to hear of your falling – I do it quite a bit too, the technical term for my wobbliness is ‘foot drop’!
    Enjoy the rest of your holiday.

      1. Toffeeapple

        No I haven’t – it is what the nurse told me once and I think it might be a technical medical term! 🙂

  5. Lapsed Landscape Architect Alder Carr

    I love your thoughtful blogs; yours is only the 2nd I follow (Spitalfields Life the other). There’s nothing like being in nature to put human worries into perspective. If only more people realised the world may not be so threatened with extinction.

    1. Bug Woman

      Thank you so much! I’m so glad you enjoy the blog, and I agree about nature and its ability to give us perspective, to realise that we’re part of something much bigger and more complicated than our own lives….

  6. Charlie Bowman

    I am guessing the three hotels open, assuming E & G is shut for the renovations, are the Alpenland, Jenewein, and Alpenaussicht or Lohmann? Sounds like the village is becomingly horribly overdeveloped.

    1. Bug Woman

      Hi Charlie, the Wiesental, Austria and Bellevue are the only ones open this year….the Austria and Bellevue are linked by a tunnel and both of them are on the ‘hill’ above the village. We used to stay at the Olympia but sadly that’s only open in wintre now. There are a few new hotels, but largely within the envelope of the village – the meadows round about are still largly intact! It seems to be a case of building larger hotels on the footprint of existing ones.

      1. Charlie Bowman

        Thanks for that. I have previously stayed at the Deutschmann (opposite the Crystal?) at the entrance of Obergurgl but now under a different name, the Alpenland, Hochegg, and Jenewein. I think though the money made during the winter season allows hoteliers the luxury of a summer off, if only to renovate/update their properties.

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