“Because I would rather be with my grandfather on the Alp than anywhere else on earth.”
Today was a joyful day.
The first time I read Heidi by Johanna Spyri, I was in grade school. I loved the story of a girl nearly my age influencing and creating life around herself. I read it again just a few months ago as prep for this trip, and oh my heart, it remembered how simple the story is and how beautiful the message.
Heidi begins the story as an orphan and in the end, despite adults who have set spheres for her to exist in, has broken through them by loving others and the nature around her. She spends time with Peter and the goats, brings bread to Grandmother, helps Grandfather with chores, and offers Klara friendship.
Johanna Spyri began publishing later in life, and so many stories revolve around the welfare of children. She saw a group of people silenced, and she chose not only to give them voice, but to make one a hero, or rather, heroine. In a vast majority of books where women and young girls were secondary, she gave the world a story of a girl who stands out.
Today we hiked the world that inspired her work.
A train from Zurich to Sargans and Sargans to Maienfeld, we hiked through the little town mentioned in Heidi as the nearest market city and made our way up to Heididorf. Heididorf is the tourist stop for Heidi; it includes many buildings included in a Heidi film from a few decades ago. And then there is the hike to the Heidialp- the place of Heidi’s home and meadow.
It took a good 2 hours to get to the top, and along the way the Heididorf group has put up little stops highlighting the passages from the book that correspond to the location, such as Heidi and Peter’s treehouse, Peter’s spring, the Eagle’s Nest, Klara’s resting place, and more. Oof, the sights. (Also, they say this hike is kid friendly but there were definitely places I could’ve laid down and passed out!!) At the top, we grabbed a table at the Heidi snack shack and looked out over the view. I am sure it was much like Spyri saw herself and imagined time and time again for her little heroine.
On the way up, as my lungs were remembering what walking an incline is like, I thought a lot about how much the story of Heidi lives on, even if it’s a simple story. Nothing awful happens, no great tragedy befalls anyone in the narrative, instead we see a story about relationship: Heidi and her grandfather, Peter, the doctor, Peter’s grandmother, Klara, and Klara’s grandmother. We see Heidi share these relationships with others, and build community among them.
And then there is the matter of her Alp.
Heidi is a character who has roots in ia place where she feels fully free and fully herself: her home on her mountain with grandfather. Her freedom in this place is born through the freedom and empowerment of her relationship with her grandfather, both deeply connected and rooted together. It is a place where together they have made peace.
As I thought about Heidi up the mountain, the relationships she builds and shares, the joy she brings others in caring for them deeply and without shame, and the immense love she has for a place of freedom built on a relationship of love and freedom, I thought of the other women we’ve met so far. I don’t know if Artemisia or St. Catherine or the saints of Rome had these places of freedom and relationship. We can all draw our conclusions, but I desperately hope they did. We all need those places, of refuge and peace. Of hope.
Tomorrow we’ll go to Hirzel (the Ticketmaster at Zurich HB today said “Hirzel? Nobody goes to Hirzel!”) and see the little Johanna Spyri museum opened only a few hours each week. I’m eager to learn more about Johanna and her own world she inhabited and all that inspired her to birth Heidi and give her to the world, a story we could find peace and love in, too.