Posted by: Nazausgraben | November 11, 2009

GATSCH


Our friend Reini has published a book about the Tirolean folk hero, Andreas Hofer, whose 200th anniversary year is being celebrated throughout this region. Titled “Franzosen-und Bayernkriege im Ausserfern und Allgaü (The French and Bavarian War in the Ausserfern and Allgaü), this a marvelous work, describing the little known period of the Bavarian-French alliance against Austria during the years 1789 to 1816. On this evening, sitting in the Library at the High School in Vils (a short drive from Pinswang), I listen as Reini enthralls the audience attending his book signing with stories of heroism, national pride, inspiring leadership and great courage.

In closing his narrative, Reini notes that tomorrow he will be up on one of the mountains overlooking Vils and Pinswang…something to do with helping cultivate the young tree growth against being eaten by deer and other such denizens of the higher altitudes. Susi suggests that I might want to help him with this noble task. Although I have absolutely no idea about what this effort entails, I readily agree.

“Wonderful!” Reini’s face becomes alight when he is informed that I have volunteered. “Make sure to wear your oldest clothes.” A strange request, sending a brief bit of doubt whirling through my mind. Just what will we be doing up on the mountain tomorrow?

Tis’ tomorrow and we are trundling up the road behind Vils…up onto a mountain path. Passing a forlorn ski hut at the base of the mountain, we depart from asphalt and rumble along what is nothing really more than a rough-hewn thin double track footpath. 

We are following another vehicle up the path. It is pulling a trailer…the contents of which are as yet unbeknownst to me. The angle of attack quickly increases as we truly start our motorized climb up the incline.  Reini’s well -worn all wheel drive jeep-like vehicle loudly rumbles and rattles, jerking hard to the left and right; giving the impression that every screw and fastener is being loosened, and that the entire aft end (with me in it) will soon depart the rest of the vehicle. I peer off to my left, and note the precipitous drop through the trees to the base now very far below.

We make a series of tortuous switchback turns, pushing higher into the lush greens and browns of the deep mountain forest. I don’t know how high we are, but Vils and Pinswang are now hidden under a cloud layer sitting well below our vehicle.

We’ve stopped. Both cars are pulled off to the side of the path, making room for some mad elk that might want to pass us by on its way to the summit…perhaps to munch some of the delectable morsels of young trees with which I am to shortly become involved.

Ejecting myself from the cramped single rear seat of Reini’s car, I see now that I am but one member of a small team. In addition to Reini and myself, there are two other volunteers and a team leader. The leader is the Jaeger (hunter) of Vils; the others are his colleagues and friends.

I must note here that unlike in some other countries where one need only purchase a weapon and head into the wild blasting without regard for license or understanding of what they are doing, the Jaeger of Austria and Bavaria are very special folks; highly skilled in weaponry….possessing a great deal of knowledge about the environment, the lives of the creatures inhabiting said environment, the laws addressing hunting and the great responsibility associated with this function. Jaegers are tested and re-tested to ensure that they are more than qualified for the job. In the end, each village has only one Jaeger. Others may hunt, but only under the supervision of the Jaeger.

But why is a Jaeger leading our team onto the mountain…and having anything to do with trees? My query reveals the answer to this puzzle. Apparently, the Jaeger and his fellow hunters have not culled the deer population to desired levels. The deer have sought out their favorite delicacy…the soft succulent tips of young, growing Evergreen trees. Munching away the tree tops essentially prevent growth and may result in further harm to the forest. Too many deer…to many trees in danger. The Forster (Forest Ranger) who oversees the general well-being of the forests was not pleased…or so I am informed. Thus, it fell to the Jaeger to lead us, his team, up the mountain, to prevent this feast from taking place. But just how?

I quickly learn the answer and in doing so, finally understand why we should wear our oldest clothes. We march over to the trailer where we are given a thick leather belt, to which is attached a large metal cup about the size of a old-fashioned canteen bottom half. The belt is tightened and the cup positioned at stomach level in front of each of us. A heavy sack of …well, how to best describe this…a semi-solid ‘gatsch’ …the consistency of which reminds me of soggy oatmeal with too little milk… is then opened and dolloped into our cups. Abit of drinking water is added and stirred with a small tree branch to make the gatch more viscous.

Each of us is provided with thin rubber working gloves. What a sight we are…toting gatch about suspended before our stomachs, bedecked in multi-layered tattered old clothes, rubber gloves, hats of all types and sporting mountain boots. And off we go, following the Jaeger up onto the side of the mountain…really…literally…there is no path…we just find a stone or small outcrop of dirt onto which to set our feet and go up. It is quite steep, and handholds are limited to some unstable dead wood protruding from tree stumps.

It is about then that I notice something abit peculiar about where we are walking. There are very few trees here. Save for the occasional Pine or Evergreen, the area looks as though it has been harvested for lumber…or devastated by an avalanche or mudslide. There were a large number of trees higher up on the mountain face, and off to the sides, but we were climbing on a portion of the mountain face that had been somewhat denuded.

It is unclear why there are so few trees in this particular area. It is possible that many have already been harvested, or that animals have eaten more than their share, or that heightened levels of vehicular pollution from the highway below have resulted in increased mortality. It is most likely a combination of all three.

In terms of the last reason, most Tiroleans, I believe, would like to continue maintaining strict control on the times of day that heavy vehicles are permitted to travel the roads of the Tirol, thereby limiting the noise and air pollution that are already impacting mountain forest health. Indeed, such restrictions have been in place for many years. However,  recent news reports suggest that the enforcement of such local restrictions  by Tiroleans has elicited great umbrige from a number of members of the outsourced government, who demand unfettered transport throughout all European Union nations (sorry….‘member states’).

We all stop to survey the scene. Unlike my companions who had all grown up climbing this mountainside, I am already showing signs of some wear…and a bit of weariness is already setting into my legs. I note this because we are on a constant steep upslope…there is nothing flat here, and much of my attention is being devoted to remaining upright. A sudden loss of situational awareness and I will be head over heels rolling down to that ski lift shack, now many hundreds of unseen feet below…with nary a tree to stop me all the way. My ankles are not happy with this, and I am wary to climbing any higher.

The Jaeger and the other members of his team get to work. Here finally is the answer to much of the puzzle. We are to fan out across this area, find evergreens that are young, no taller than waist-high, dip our thumb and two fingers into the pinkish blue gatch, and slap a thin coating of the goo onto the tips of the trees..all the while trying to avoid getting it all over the lower branches.

This I proceed to do..not an easy task with my entire unbalanced torso  waving as if in a gusty gale. The result is that I spill more gatsch on the lower branches, the ground and myself. Indeed, with each step to another tree, I find myself depositing a trail of gatch. I look around, embarrassed by my sloppy lack of dexterity, slight anxiety about the steep altitude between me and terra firma, and the Jackson Pollack masterpiece I am creating all over my short and trousers. I become quite self-conscious as I am certain there are a half dozen deer watching my performance…. laughing hysterically as I paint their forest a sickly pinkish blue.

The others in the team have already disappeared around the side of the mountain, climbing and painting the tree tips with expert precision. Here I am, mired in gatsch and not helping the trees that I have come to save.

Reini has been keeping a watchful on my ‘progress’, and has been directing my path in the search for more trees…especially the tiniest of the young, just eking their innocent ways into the pink-blue gatsch world. He shouts that I should climb higher and proceed across the thick grassy mountain face. Must I really go higher? I don’t know how I am to get down from this point. Still, I put on my best military face and march on and up, splashing and splurting gatsch with each step. Still, I note that with each step, I’m gaining abit more confidence…my footing is becoming steadier, and the heights no longer intrude on my task.

After an hour of this, I am already feeling at home on our mountain. My ankles are now beyond pain…and are planning to torture me further later tonight. For the moment, they are keeping me upright and going.

About four hours have passed, and the Jaeger has just gathered the team together for Brotzeit…our midday snack. Now, I usually don’t stop to snack..I like to get a job done as quickly as possible without pause. Yet, this is the perfect time to do just that. I sit on the sloping mountain, balancing myself on the downward slop, and gaze out onto the magnificent scene. The grand mountain range that rings Pinswang and Vils, stretches to either side of us, towering well above our lofty perch. The ancient trees surrounding our working area suddenly seem thicker, fuller, encroaching, providing shelter and safety.

I can now peer down into the valley. Most of Unterpinswang can be clearly seen from this mountainside perch. The Lech River winds its way artery-like from left to right. Pinswang itself appears above the river. I can see the bend formed by the Stiegelberg..the mountain at the base of which is St. Ulrich’s Church. To the northeast, I can see the rest of the village…and there it is…our home sitting alone across the farmers fields…next to the Erschbach and medieval mountainside Schloss im Loch fortification. I wonder if Susi is sitting on our porch, gazing up into the mountain across the valley. She can have no idea that I am doing likewise with great affection in her direction.

In should be getting back off the mountain, down to rehearse some organ works that I am to play during Mass at St, Ulrich’s on the coming Sunday, and I have the opportunity to do so. But when asked by the Jaeger if it time for me to descend, I tell him no; I want to stay and complete the job. This task has become a labor of love. Here on a steep path-less mountainside, trodden by only wildlife and gatch-slingers, in the rising fog bank that has begun to coat the air, blotting out the sun as its wistful grey tenuous fingers ensconce the trees about us and paint the area with a cool wet melancholy, here is where I wish to remain for now.

A quick meal of Jaegerwurst (dried sausage), fresh bread, a stick of Milka (chocolate) and cold spring water, and we are off once again to our task. We proceed up the mountain, higher and closer to the thick woody area marking the flattened top of our mountain. We tread perilously close to the edge of the grassy edge, carefully treading in the footsteps of those directly in front.

Suddenly, we turn inward and experience a pleasurable sensation not encountered for many hours…flat. Ankles are no longer twisting and cerebellar reflexes stop working overtime, as we find ourselves walking on an undulating grassy wooded mountaintop. As if on the signal of a Director, the fog permits the Sun to peek through, sending long, fairytale shafts of beaming gold through the trees…alighting like a flurry of searchlights pointed at the ground, blocked by the long cast shadows of the thick woods.  It is magic.

There is some snow at this height, and the air has taken on a distinct chill. We walk in silence, for no matter how often one has been here, there is never a sense of complacency here. Rather, one is consumed by a transcendent stillness and beauty; an experience one encounters at mass, or when listening to a Bach Passion or the second movement of Beethoven’s Eroica, or when gazing so deeply into the eyes of a beloved.

The Jaeger shakes us out of this bit of solace, instructing us to recommence gatching. There is much young growth on this side of the mountain, the side overlooking Vils, and it is all downhill from here. Wonderful! Just point myself downhill and…..falling…falling…gatsch everywhere. Hard landing on my posterior. Only my pride damaged this time. Still, I curse my clumsiness at not recognizing that despite going downhill (which would seem less of a challenge than the earlier climb), this side of the mountain had been in shade. More snow had accumulated here and as it is melting, it has left this face of the mountain extremely slippery. The rocks are coated with moisture and the previously helpful thick grass is now matted down with dangerous wet. The walk down is going to be slow.

Still, after yet a few more hours, I have been able to paint the tips of many a young tree. I look back and can see a wide area that I have painted, and can feel just abit of pride in this accomplishment. I cannot tell if I have indeed made any difference, but can only hope that the nasty gatsch will dissuade any trespassing critters from devouring my full days work.

Now, the sun is making its way slowly toward the mountains to our west….over the other side of the valley in which Vils proudly resides. Slowly…carefully…falling once..twice more…I finally make my way down to the flat of the walking path where Reini has strategically placed his car. We bid the Jaeger and one companion farewell; they will remain abit longer on the mountain. For the rest of this team, however, we are tired and covered in gatsch. We pile into Reini’s car and make our way back down the rumbly path to the beautiful green valley so far below.

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Responses

  1. It is always an adventure to read your posts. I feel the achy ankles and the fatigue with you! I’m curious–what is the gatch? Is it foul tasting or smelling so that the animals don’t approach? And is the success rate high in saving the trees?

    Sounds like a great way to put bored teenagers to work!

  2. Hi Andy,
    Gatsch storty was a hoot. Well-written, but I liked the olive picking adventure better. I could just see you there. Maybe we can do that together next year? Maybe with a Verona tour?
    How about a Thanksgiving blog and a carolling blog? Keep it up!

    Things here are great. Love,
    Silvia


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