Tis October. The air has turned a crisp cool; venturing out, one must brace for a delightful fresh chill. Sweaters are reappearing after a long summers hibernation, smelling like freshly cut cedar with each unfolding. The change of season in Pinswang reminds one of the continuing temporal life cycle that guides agrarian lives so prominently throughout our valley.
It is a time to walk, wander and hike and bicycle; to explore the ruined centuries-old fortresses that line the finger-like valley from the nearby border with Bavaria up to the marketing town of Reutte, the capital of the this region, the Austrian Ausserfern.
This October time is also the best to venture up to ones favorite mountain retreats and inns, as the snow level will be soon be descending and the high altitude paths will be closed. The delectable warmth of a schnapps, freshly made Speckknoedel counterbalanced with an icy glass of Almdudler or local beer will soon be no more for the current hiking season.
Those not at play continue to work, as the fields (now devoid of crops) must be resown and manure spread. They will be shortly clothed in the hard freeze and a mantel of white and the earth will soon be too hard to cultivate until the Spring. Livestock must be sheltered in the barns that are built as part of the houses where the families reside. Half of these very old stately multi-storeyed wood and stone farmhouses, some as old as 600 years, are devoted to family quarters wherein two of more generations may live. Contiguous with the living quarters are the barn and stalls, separated from the rest of the house by a single thick whitewashed wall.
Children are not to be seen out and about; their days are spent ensconced in the few classrooms of the Pinswang combination school, meeting hall and Mayor’s office. The kindergarteners are out enmasse, walking the Roman Road, watching Karl’s cows in the fields devouring the last of the late green grasses.
The trees are a glorious golden red brown mix, but not for very long, as the winds from the east have already started the denuding process. There is great calm and beauty in the manner with which the proud dying leaves spiral their way to the ground; the turning twisting winding fall from the lofty heights yielding a thick decaying carpet across the fields below. Ashes to ashes.
The sounds of wood being sawed, cut and shaped are everywhere, as each farmhouse prepares for the months of serious cold lying just ahead. There are piles of year old logs, having been aged and dried by the almost constant winds, now being split and stacked neatly in basements, along the sides of houses and in special shelters designed to store a winters worth of heat.
Many have already started to light the Kachelofens that inhabit corners in almost every home. This type of enclosed ceramic tile fireplace burns wood, but rather than uselessly expending all heat from a visually soothing open fire, the warm air circulates throughout channels tunneling their way throughout the Kackelofen. It then is released evenly into the surround through the porous tiles, creating a large area of steady unfailing enduring warmth. When combined with a similarly designed Kachelherd (wood burning stove) in a nearby kitchen, an entire small three storey house can be heated for an entire wintery evening with but a few small logs. The earthy unique semi-sweet odors associated with glowing Kachelofen wood waft across the valley, reminding those outside to turn up their collars and pull jackets closed against the caressing chill.
The harvest is now over. The grocery shops large and small are bedecked with a feast of color. Freshly picked apples of every sort, size and texture are everywhere. A plethora of squash including pumpkins, gourds and zucchini for sale are heaped into baskets and wagons. Impromptu roadside stands are doing a vibrant business. Ciders, wines and fruit and nut pastries unique to this change of seasons are now available. Flowers seem more colorful and beautiful in the reduced Fall light; they adorn lapels, hats and hang in wave-like rainbow cascades over the sides of window flowerboxes.
Now, it is time to give thanks for this generous and fruitful harvest. As with many of the living traditions celebrated throughout Austria, doing so takes the form of a village fest; in this case, a harvest festival of thanks (Erntedankfest). Throughout the Tirol, such fests take place at the beginning of October, when villagers gather early on Sunday for a Mass and Procession.
Church altars and portals everywhere are gaily bedecked in flourishes of fresh vegables, fruits, squash, potatoes and flowers; explosions of brilliant color and sweet smells. Each house of the village has the honor of contributing something that they have themselves grown to the altar.
As seen in Pinswang’s gorgeous Baroque Ulrichskirche, the natural tapestry arranged so lovingly on the hard wood and stone floor complements the equally magnificent paintings (completed in 1729 by the highly regarded Bavarian artist Johann Heel) that one can see on the ceiling and throughout the Church.
The bells ring the start of Mass at 8:30, earlier than usual this Sunday morning. Susi and I quicken our pace as we walk from our home, on the via Claudia, passing the Celtic ruins, the frog-croaking Erschbach pond, the Schloss im Loch – a medieval fortress built into a large cave up and in the side of the mountain behind our home – and through the patch of trees that separates the fields from the side streets of Pinswang.
We arrive at the Ulrichskirche just as the village Musikkapelle is playing the final measures of a lively march. The Mayors of both Pinswang and its sister village across the Lech River, Musau, are there. Everyone is bedecked in their Sunday finest.
The ancient pews are filled. Susi and I note that a date is inscribed with deep permanence into the pew before us…178o it says, along with the initials AW. Little could AW know that more than two centuries later, I would be running my fingers lightly over the desecrating letters, wondering who he or she was. I pause for a moment as I realize that American independence from England was fought for and gained only fours years before that date was scratched by AW into the already aged wood.
Pfarrer (Father) Simon’s sermon is concurrently poignant, celebratory and cautionary. He blesses the fruits of our farmers labors, thanking God for the gift of a plentiful harvest, and reminds us all that one should never take such bounty for granted. Possessing a brilliant intellect, deep Christian spirituality, the fine art of clock-making and a mean game of chess, Pfarrer Simon has blessed Pinswang with his presence as our Priest for the past seven years. Long retired from his previous parish in Bavaria, Pfarrer Simon is now the beloved shepard for a flock of about 700 souls from both Pinswang and Musau.
Mass ends and we file out of the Church. The Pinswang Musikkapelle is now joined by the Musauer Musikkapelle; their worn Pinswang gray and Musauer red-brown jaupe (jackets), white shorts, worn comfortable lederhosen, high socks and white feather-bedecked hats mixing harmoniously with the massed instruments gleaming in the morning sun.
A procession spontaneously forms; everyone seems to know exactly where to be in line. The procession is lead by a gentleman carrying aloft a large centuries old Crucifix. He is followed somewhat timidly by the Ministranten (altar boys and girls) carrying small Austrian red-white-red striped flags and pulling a wagon holding a beautiful handcrafted cross-topped harvest ‘crown’.
The Pinswang and Musau Musikkapelle blocs follow, marching in time to the dirge-like pieces they are playing. Between them are the men of Pinswang, formed into lines of four abreast. They as well as the rest of the procession, march in slow time to the work being played.
Some are elders whose deeply lined faces and white hair tell stories of difficult pasts, of hard lives when, as youth, many went to war, returning in demoralizing defeat to an occupied destitue land. Many, who were forced out of their homes by occupying forces, were not able to return and rebuild until years after the formal capitulation. But rebuild they did, for their children and grandchildren. Speaking with them of these times as we march, they reflect with sober faces, faltering voices and for moments, midst tears, about those near-starving years when there were no harvests.
There are the young, although not as many, who know not of those sad times, but who hear of them during evenings when the family gathers for a meal and Opa (Grandfather) breaks his usual silence on such still private matters. The young know a very different world. Many have left, seeking dreams elsewhere. For those who have remained, there is a sense of tradition. They have rejected the social follies of the latter half of the last century and have returned to their cultural roots. They celebrate this and the other Brauche (traditions) with heartfelt pride. Now, they march together in-step with their parents and grandparents.
Interspersed throughout the procession, uniformed members of the volunteer fire brigade and honored notables carry large, heavy fabric flags; handsewn with the figures of Christ and Saints. Their height and weight are such that even the slightest gust can cause the carriers to lose balance. They are thus accompanied by others who will rebalance the carrier and his priceless flag, preventing both from toppling to the ground.
Next, one sees a lovely four-post canopy providing shade for Father Simon, who is carrying the Sacred Host, visible to all through small clear oval glass windows in a golden Monstrance. It is a sacred picture that, if painted, would be recognizeable in the 17th as well as 21st centuries.
The women of Pinswang follow, smiling, chatting gaily; their traditional colorful dirndl dresses and aprons wafting with the slight breeze of this crystalline morning.
The procession marches in slight steps, winding its way down the slight incline from the Ulrichskirche and into the center of the village. The two Musikkapelle play slow 18th century folk march melodies one after the other. Traffic through Pinswang is stopped and the ensuing silence disturbed only by the melodious bird calls above.
After a reciting of prayers at a small wooden alter erected for this occasion by the old fountain on the shaded tiny village green, the procession wends its way back up to and reenters the Church. The bells peal out the welcome as the Te Deum is sung. It is mid-morning when we again leave the Church.
Now, it is time to take our celebration of thanks to our homes and, of course, the two inns of Pinswang, Gutshof Schluxen not far from the Church in Unterpinswang and Gasthof Sauling just abit further away in nearby Oberpinswang. The men of Pinswang sit around the Stammtisch….the table reserved for village regulars…where local news and rumors are dispensed via the ‘bush telephone’ (chat) in every manner of dialect, and drink is imbibed in copious quantities.
At noon, as the bells of the Church ring out the time, the men pay their bills, wish all at the Stammtisch a Gruss Gott, and depart, heading their separate ways back to homes and farms where their families have been preparing the midday feast and giving thanks for the bounty that will soon be gracing their tables.