Hiking from Alpbach 6-13 August 2012
As the mountain track ahead split in two, I saw it. Sitting regally in the centre of the crossroads, surrounded by the blinding bursts of yellow, green, red and pink flora to which I had become so used in the past week, was the elusive white flower itself: Edelweiss, object of my journey.
I grabbed my camera in one hand and fumbled for my glasses with the other as I jogged, grinning towards the Silver Star. After four days trailing through the Austrian Alps, four days of being fooled by sighting after sighting of imposters, lookalikes and imitators, here was the real deal. There was no mistaking that distinctive shape: the woolly, shooting petals and the bright yellow heads that lent it an almost extra-terrestrial beauty.
Reaching the crossroads I pulled my glasses and the camera up to eye level and pointed them down towards….a bright white stone sitting in the middle of the flower bed. I sighed and returned to the trail. Duped again.
“Don’t feel down, Frank,” laughed Erwin landlord of The Edelweiss, my new favourite hotel, as he filled a glass with Edelweiss, my new favourite beer, back in Alpbach that evening. “There are people who live here all their lives and never see the real one. Just be happy you got to see the village!”
I smiled, accepting the beer and wisdom but inside I couldn’t help but be disappointed. Inspired by tales of the romantic history of Edelweiss, I had come to see it for myself. Though I had discovered the fairy-tale setting of Alpbach and the otherworldly wonder of its highlands, I had failed in my mission.
The next morning would be my last in Austria so I took it easy and walked a short trail to a small lake in the valley. The power of the autumnal sun gave the intense colour of the countryside a yet more hypnotic quality and, consumed by the fresh beauty, I though again on what Erwin said. It really didn’t matter whether I saw Edelweiss or not. I had seen all this and that was enough.
Close but no cigar…
At the crystal waters of the lake I decided, in my contentedness, to take a quick dip. As I emerged dripping from the water and reached water blind for my towel, my bare foot slipped on the wet grass below. Landing backside first on the plush bank, I quickly sat up, looking in all directions to make sure nobody had witnessed my tumble.
Turning to the left I found myself nose to nose with a peculiar little flower, both strange and familiar. It was small yet perfectly formed – a white diamond, centred with a bright yellow flash. A dizzy rush of excitement surged as I realised what I was staring at. I reached for my camera and glasses and this time they confirmed, rather than dashed, my excitement. Finally I had met the star herself and she was even more charming, uncanny and wonderful than I imagined.
Edelweiss for real!!!