The best kept secret of the whole world !

Today i am going to let you in to a secret. No, it’s not the secret of the philosopher’s stone or the Bermuda triangle … It’s the secret behind the beauty of the Swiss alpine forests. Those who have travelled around Switzerland and wistfully gazed at those picture perfect alpine forests covering the mountain sides and wondered how on earth a natural forest can look so prim and proper – the answer is those wonderful guys at the Bergwald project and people like us. How does it all add up to enhance the alpine scenery – read on.

On a cloudy autumn day, a bunch of 25 odd folks from different areas in my company descended on a small town in the Graubünden area for a volunteering event. On arrival, our ‘forest guide’ instructed us to form a semi-circle. This immediately challenged our intelligence! Semi-circle – haven’t heard of that in years. After a few minutes of pottering about, while most managed to grasp the concept – some colleagues were left stranded in the middle and were doubtfully staring at the rest of us as if we were performing a strange medieval ritual. A quick roll-call and 10 minutes of instructions in swiss german prepared us for the day ahead. Being linguistically challenged in the intricacies of swiss german, my understanding of the instructions was limited to – ‘grab a sickle, hack some kinds of shrubs, don’t hack the other kinds, repeat till lunch… and watch out for the deers (whether to hack them or not – was a questioned to be pondered later)’. Then we were showed the sickles to be used – looking at the large circular glinting edges, possibility loomed large that some of us novices will surely end up hacking something more than shrubs. The aim of all this (as explained by my kind colleagues) is to maintain the bio-diversity of the forest of that area and allow certain trees to grow better. I find it pretty cool that so much energy and thought is put into such specific fields. But what do we (people who deal only in powerpoint presentations and e-mails) know about this?

Anyway, the work begins and we start to hack away. Millions of aim-hack-look-wonder-aim-hack sequences and thorn cuts later, i finally manage to clear the overgrowth and weeds around a few delicate alpine saplings. I take a breather to admire my handiwork, the forest guide passes by, stops for a minute and provides us inspiration in that wonderful swiss german accent – Gut gemacht! (well done). Then i see him peering closer at a plant and can make out that something is not up to the swiss-standards (remember here i an Indian), he points to a branch of a small tree which i have been trying to protect and says – “Das pflanz ist zu gekrümmt, nicht schön” (That plant is too crooked, doesn’t look nice), takes the sickle from my hand and proceeds to chop it off in a single expert movement. I stand there flabbergasted and suddenly it sinks in – So that’s how those damned forests look so good ! Every tree, every branch must be perfect! A few more of such sequences and inspite of sickles flying around everywhere, all of us survived till lunch in one piece. Lunch ….. What can be better for 25 ravishing folks (normally used to sitting around desks in Dilbert style meetings) than hot soup, grilled sausages, big hunks of swiss cheese, salad, chocolates and some home-made cookies, all washed down with alpine herbal tea & coffee .. and all this in a middle of a forest!

By 4 o’clock the day is done, hundreds of saplings are now free to blossom into perfectly formed trees that will enhance the beauty and the bio-diversity of the forests, we are satisfied with a day of volunteering out in the nature, away from the presentations, meetings and e-mails.(Though  many of us could not resist a temptation to make that quick call back to office, and in doing so presented quite a funny picture : energetically barking into the phone and waving a huge sickle in the other hand, as if threatening the person on the line – do as i tell you, otherwise ….). In spite of our aching legs and hands, at the end of the day, we stood there admiring that fact that we could actually see the results of our hard work (unlike some days at the office !).

….. so next time any of you gaze at those alpine vistas, take your binoculars or the mega-zoom digital camera & look a little closer, you just might find gnomes like us hidden among the forests, hacking away!