Mai

As a tourist you have a unique opportunity in May to see real village life. During the summer there are many tourists in the area, but at this time you have Gimmelwald to yourself. The new farming year is just beginning. The whole family set out for the fields armed with buckets and rakes to clear away stones and the leaves of last autumn. The men manure the land and repair fences. The arrival of spring in the mountains is always dramatic. Crocus and spring gentians appear overnight, and hundreds of thrushes can be seen pecking worms. Occasionally we receive a visit from the oldest inhabitant of the Bernese Oberland, the 'Föhn' wind. Almost without warning the Föhn clouds appear behind the Ebnefluh. The fall wind hurtles vertically down to Stechelberg and roars with all its might up the rock faces. The power of this wind is unbelievable. Twentyfive years ago the roofs were blown off 24 houses. Only someone who has experienced the power of the Föhn can understand why the locals live in fear of this wind. The wind howls through every crack and you feel that the house is about to fly away. Piles of wood covered with corrugated iron are particularly vulnerable. Heavy stones placed on top to weight it down fly through the air with the corrugated iron, which I have seen being blown several hundred meters. The Föhn also has a great influence on a person's state of mind. Some suffer headaches whereas others are intoxicated by the Föhn. I belong to the latter group. I cannot sleep and am hyperactive. After the Föhn I can at last sleep again. Then comes the rain or snow. Because the Föhn is a very dry wind it would only take a spark to set the whole village on fire. This means that the men of the village have to keep watch when this wind is blowing. Always two men together, they take turns throughout the night to walk through the village and check that all fires have been put out properly. Smoking outside is strictly forbidden. These measures have so far protected Gimmelwald from falling victim to the Föhn. A large part of Mürren was burnt down in a Föhn storm in 1928. At this point I should also mention that it is compulsory for all inhabitants (woman included) of Gimmelwald to join the fire brigade. Fire-fighting exercises take place during two weeks of the year, with three exercises each week, in April and October. In May our valley is a paradise of gentians, villous primroses (Primula hirsuta), alpine pasque flowers (Pulsatilla apiifolia) and thousands of other flowers. In every pond frogs and mountain salamander are spawning. Only someone who has looked closely at a mountain salamander can have an idea of how beautiful and colourful the animal world is. The ibex, who have spent the winter on the highest ridges, now come down towards the village. If you are lucky you can find the first edible morels now. It is now time for the farmers to start working in the fields. The first job is to clear the meadows of stones. Milking is strictly men's work, but women and children can also help to clear the stones away. Many women now pick the tender dandelion leaves with which they make a delicious salad. Towards the end of May all inhabitants of Gimmelwald suddenly start digging their potato plots as if following a secret command. Potatoes and vegetables have been planted on the same plots of land for decades. Sowing, weeding, watering and all other gardening jobs are definitely women's work. With their long experience they can even outwit the most adverse weather conditions.