The Happy Amateur Hiking Guide

In my youth I always saw myself as a Lone Wolf and didn’t want to conform to any “group activities” or groups. When I moved up to the Alps, however, I realised that it was not the best way to make new friends. First, I joined in the local church choir, not the best fit since I’m not even Christian, and then I found a hiking group. That was spot on!

After a while, one of the guides in the group asked me if I didn’t want to become a guide too. Well, why not? A week-long course, an exam, and today I am one of six people looking for appropriate hikes, preparing them thoroughly and guiding our group through the paths of the Val d’Hérens and the Valais.

There is much to be thought of when preparing these hikes. Since our group mainly consists of older persons, the altitude difference should be less than 500m (difficult to find around here!) and the hike should not be longer than 4h30. You also have to consider the season and the weather – obviously no hikes in thunderstorms! We visit areas exposed to the sun and at lower altitudes in the beginning of the hiking season (March – April); trails higher up have to wait until July – September.

When my family and friends come to visit, I love to prepare suitable hikes for them too and most of all I enjoy making guided “Botanical Hikes”.

During spring and early summer, rare wildflowers grow abundantly here (see my blog post “Wonderful Wildflowers”) and thanks to knowledgeable friends and the Flora Helvetica I’ve learned the names of most of them. It’s a great feeling to show these little gems to others! Many of the plants are medicinal herbs and this is my favourite area of knowledge to pass on. All those useful plants, that many see mainly as weeds!

Since my region is not very touristic, I don’t offer guided tours to strangers, but that would be nice too. So, if you know a group of people interested in a guided hiking experience in the beautiful Val d’Hérens and its flora, let me know at sabina.sdp@gmail.com!

The Amateur Hiking Guide

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Wonderful Wildflowers

Spring is the season for wildflower abundance in the Alps and every flower lover’s paradise! The variety seems endless; flowers come in all shapes and colours and here’s just a small selection.

This pink flower is surely found in other areas than the Alps, but it’s a good example of how beautiful seemingly insignificant flowers are if we just make the effort to look a bit closer.

Onobrychis viciifolia – Common sainfoin

Purple flowers make a bold statement – they show off, even if they’re fragile and delicate like the tassel hyacinth.

Muscari comosum – Tassel hyacinth

The blue flower is a symbol of Romanticism, for longing and love. The Alpine gentian has also become a symbol for the Alps themselves.

Gentiana Alpina – Alpine gentian

White flowers always have this extra feeling of purity. Some of them are favourite food of my neighbours, the Herens cows.

Trifolium montanum – Mountain clover

There is nothing like yellow flowers to spread sunshine even on a grey day! This one somehow brings out a lot of tenderness too…

Lotus alpinus – Alpine bird’s-foot trefoil

Apart from poppies, red wildflowers are quite rare. One of the rarest in Switzerland is this one; and I’ve even got one in my garden!

Adonis aestivalis – Summer pheasant’s-eye

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Know Your Soil

When I moved to my little house in the mountains, one of the first things I did was to prepare for a small herb garden. It has always been a dream of mine to grow my own herbs! I found the perfect spot next to my garden shed. This little area had a built up stonewall on either side, so it had probably been used for some kind of cultivation many years ago. I bought some sage, peppermint, thyme and winter savoury and I also collected small plants of some of their wild cousins along my hiking paths. Then I planted all the green brothers, sisters and cousins together in my little garden, put a blackcurrant bush in one corner, some flower plants from a friend in another corner, and before I knew it
the area was well filled.
Next to the herb garden I wanted to create a vegetable garden. That ended up being really hard work, since I had to dig deeply into the stony and meagre ground in order to fill the area with richer soil that the coming plants would be happy to live in. A strong and helpful friend gave me a hand and soon 1 x 2 m of land was ready for sowing and planting – but first we had to fence it off, otherwise the deer would end up enjoying the crops
more than I would.
I wanted EVERYTHING in my veggie garden, but I realised that the climate up in the Swiss mountains would not allow for avocados or aubergines to grow 😉 A friend gave me plants of Jerusalem artichoke, rhubarb, lovage and horseradish, I bought small fennel, chard, beetroot plants and sowed kale and carrots.
In the beginning, there wasn’t much that actually did grow, yet the first, tiny harvest filled me with immense joy! To eat my home-grown vegetables and season them with herbs from my own garden was just a dream come true. However, the harvest was SO small compared to the work I had invested into it that it almost didn’t feel worth it. Still I didn’t question my approach, but continued that same way for two more years: trying out lots of different vegetables on my meagre soil, almost always with rather unsatisfying results …
Now I’m at my 4th summer here, and finally I’ve understood what I should use my “garden energy” for – and what not. It IS a fact that my soil is very poor, and even though I fertilize it with cow dung and horse manure it will take YEARS of cultivation until it is rich enough for vegetables like fennel, carrot, chard, leek and parsnips. They just won’t grow properly right now, despite my diligent watering (badly needed in this very dry area).
In the meantime this experience has at least taught me what does work well here. First of all the plants I got from my friend: Jerusalem artichokes, rhubarb, and lovage. Plus onions, potatoes and kale. They now have the biggest space in my garden and they thrive!
I continue to nourish my soil with compost and manure and in a small area I still experiment with different kinds of vegetables in order to broaden my choice. In ten years or so I will have a nice, rich vegetable garden, filled with big, healthy plants ☺ By then I will not only have fed my soil well enough, abut also come to know it properly, that is: what it can produce – and what not.

Parts of my very first harvest 🙂

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The Extraordinary Healthy Express Chocolate Mousse

Oh, chocolate, how I adore you….! I’ve been a hard-core chocolate lover ever since my parents (who, surprisingly, were dentists.. ) let me try it. My favourite variety has changed over the years, from milk chocolate with nuts and raisins to 70% dark chocolate with licorice and chilli – but I’m not picky, I’d really eat almost any chocolate that is
offered to me 😉
Let’s face it, however, chocolate is not all that healthy (even the dark varieties), especially not if consumed in larger quantities. And that’s just my problem: once I’ve opened a package I just cannot stop eating before I’ve finished it.
The day my friend B. served me the Express Chocolate Mousse changed my chocolate life! This soft and smooth chocolate mousse tastes heavenly – and the main ingredients are healthy. You will never guess what they are…(bananas and avocados!!)
Bananas have a good amount of vitamins B6 and C, as well as manganese, copper, potassium and magnesium.
• As for the health benefits of avocados, they include a high amount of vitamins K (osteoporosis prevention), C, B5, B6 and E. They are a great source of dietary fibre and contain lots of antioxidants, folate, and potassium. Even though they’re quite fatty, these are healthy monounsaturated fatty acids.
Cocoa powder contains the minerals iron, manganese, magnesium, and zinc, as well as flavonoids.
Another great advantage: this chocolate mousse is super easy to make. Just put together the ingredients in a bowl, mix them a couple of minutes and that’s it!
So when the famous Chocolate Craving hits me I make a full serving and have it for dinner. Without any regrets, neither in my stomach nor in my mind!

The Extraordinary Express Chocolate Mousse
Ingredients for 1 to 2 persons
1 ripe banana
1 avocado
1-2 Tbsp. cocoa powder
2 Tsp. honey or maple syrup
1 Tsp. water
½ Tsp. cinnamon powder
a tiny pinch of salt
Preparation
Mix all ingredients thoroughly with a hand mixer.
Sprinkle (chopped) nuts or almonds on top.
Lift right off to Chocolate Heaven.

With lightly toasted pecan nuts… yum yum YUM!

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Happy Feet

Many years ago my mother told me about a very old man in Austria, who was asked for the secret of his long life in good health. His answer was: the massage he gave his feet every evening. Since then I have been following his advice.
I’m not pretending to be any kind of a specialist in reflexology or massage, but I’ve checked out where the nerve lines endings of my “organs in need” are placed on my foot soles, and give them extra care. Then I just kneed my feet where it feels good.
For my foot massage I use a good ecological vegetable oil, which is a lot better than a foot cream with lots of strange ingredients that no-one can pronounce. It doesn’t have to be a fancy oil, like argan or avocado, I simply use organic coconut, sesame or olive oil that I find in my food store. I also add essential oils. Originally I did this because of the smell, but looking deeper into their effects, I found a good list of essential oils, suitable for feet. My favourites are peppermint and tea tree oil, because of their fresh smell, but also due to their benefits.
Peppermint oil has a calming and cooling effect – just what my feet need after a long hike or a whole day of standing and walking. Tea tree oil is, for example, antibacterial and very efficient in preventing/treating fungal infections.
If I had to recommend ONE thing you to do on a daily basis, it would be massaging your feet after washing them in the evening. Not only for your general health, but also because you will get wonderfully soft feet. A simple foot massage doesn’t take a long time, just a few minutes, but it gives a great feeling of wellbeing throughout the entire body. Afterwards, I put on a pair of soft cotton socks (wool in winter), and enjoy the feeling of calm and care spreading from my happy feet all the way to my happy soul 🙂

One of the sweetest feet I know 💎

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Outdoor Meditation

Next to my garden shed there is a perfect space where I can sit outside and meditate unseen and undisturbed. It’s a quiet little corner; the only living souls passing by are the cows or donkeys, sometimes grazing next to my garden. (For a city dweller it might be a challenge to find a place to sit outdoors, but a balcony, a forgotten area in a park, or the garden of a friend might be options.)
I deeply enjoy meditating in nature. Apart form simply refreshing me tremendously, nature meditations have many other advantages. They help you
• become more receptive to your natural environment: sounds, smells, and feelings
get grounded. When your thoughts wander off as you’re meditating outdoors, you simply have to tune your mind back by listening to the sounds of nature.
• connect to unlimited numbers of negative ions in the Earth. These ions flow into your body and help you decrease inflammation, as well as blood pressure.
• synchronise your body’s rhythm with the earth’s natural vibrations (7.83 Hz), the circadian rhythm. The natural rhythm of the natural world takes us with it, and subsequently it takes us back to ourselves.
Unfortunately I cannot meditate outdoors in the morning; at 6 AM it‘s still too cold up here, even in summer. However, the late afternoon, when the sun is low and just shimmers through the leaves of the wild cherry trees in my little meditation area, is perfect. On an old picnic blanket with my meditation cushion, in the soft half-shadow, sometimes caressed by a light evening breeze, I feel viscerally connected to the natural world. Sometimes I do a Sky Meditation, but the simple fact of sitting outside, enjoying the fresh air, the sounds of nature, and the support of the Earth brings me back to myself in a wonderful way.

Right there, right then… 🌼🌼🌼

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Training the Other Hand

When I was twelve years old, I fell off the bike downhill and broke my arm. Unfortunately it was the right arm. In those days you were doomed to wear a big cast for months, and on top of that it happened in spring when you’re filled with energy and just want to jump into lakes and climb high into the green branches of the trees! Well, I got used to the cast and trained up my abilities to be able to take care of myself and my school work with my left hand. Luckily, I was (am) ambisinistral, i.e. I already did certain things with my left hand, like lighting matches or playing Dart. Therefore I learned to write legibly with my left hand rather quickly. The hardest thing to do with the “other hand” was actually
brushing my teeth!
A while back I decided to pick up where I’d left off at twelve and started training my left hand again. Mostly because it was fun, but also because I thought that using the other hand more often would create new synapses in the brain.
When reading more about this on the Internet, however, I found that that’s not the case. Certain articles even warned against using the other hand, claiming that your brain would get confused. Well, on the Internet you can find anything and everything, so I still decided to risk it. Now I’m doing two pages of left-hand writing each day – and my brain does not seem to be more confused than before 😉
In the beginning of these exercises my handwriting was awful, but it has gotten much more fluent and legible over time and it feels great to grant the left hand more space and a bigger importance in my life.
Isn’t it amazing what you can still learn at a fairly advanced age? How you can play with your abilities, stretch your limits and gain new skills? This facet of the human existence never stops to surprise and enchant me! As Mahatma Gandhi puts it: “Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.”

I’m not there yet..! This is artist @mmanalena (Instagram)

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Nettle Hummus

My friends say I’m the only person they know who has actually planted nettles in her garden… ! I know they sting, but I just LOVE nettles (and they’re tucked away in a far corner of my garden, just in case 😉). The Swiss herbal expert, reverend Johann Künzle put it this way: “If the stinging nettle had no spines it would have long since been eradicated, since its virtues are so manifold”
1. Vegetables and flowers get stronger and more beautiful when fertilized with
nettle manure.
2. Nettles have so many good health qualities: nettle tea has a positive effect on liver and bile, hypertension, arthritis and may help to relieve urinary infections. It also notably strengthens the immune system.
3. Externally, nettle tonic (prepared like tea) can be used as a facial tonic and as such relieves problems with allergy, acne and eczema. If you have greasy hair or dandruff, try a nettle hair rinse.
In the spring cuisine, stinging nettles are a fresh, wild vegetable with a wonderfully earthy taste. They are twice as rich in iron as spinach, have much more calcium than cow milk and more vitamin C than oranges! You can prepare them like spinach, make a soup or a pesto or why not try the beautifully green nettle hummus below?

Nettle Hummus
Ingredients:
3 dl cooked or 230 g of preserved chickpeas
80 g nettles tips
1 Tbsp. olive oil
6-8 leaves of wild garlic/1 garlic clove, pressed
1 Tsp. lemon juice
¼ Tsp. salt
¼ Tsp. fennel seeds, crushed (facultative)
freshly ground black pepper
Preparation:
1. Pick the top leaves from the nettle with gloves. Rinse them in cold water (can later be used to water your plants!).
2. Bring slightly salted water to a boil. Add the leaves, stir well and let them simmer for 3 min. Pour off the water, but drink it since it’s packed with nutrients. Gently squeeze the remaining water out of the nettle leaves.
3. Mix all ingredients in a food processor or hand mixer to a smooth dip.
4. Drizzle over some extra olive oil, and serve the hummus with bread and/or fresh vegetables.
5. Feel how you are eating spring!

For all GREEN lovers!💚

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Elective Affinities

I have two brothers and we are very close, the three of us. Recently my younger brother threw a party for his even birthday and once again I enjoyed the company not only of family members, but also of lots of good friends that we all have in common. This is a double blessing: not everybody has siblings and not all siblings get along with each other.
However, I don’t have a sister, something I really missed as a child. I longed for someone who was always there to play with (since boys often like to play other games than girls) and someone to share my innermost secrets with. Well, if you miss something hard enough you often end up getting it, one way or the other… In the course of my life I’ve made several very good female friends, as close as to be called “sister from another mister”. In German there is a beautiful word for this kind of dear friends, close as family members: “Wahlverwandtschaften”. It is translated to English as “(elective) affinities”, and means family that you have chosen. With these friends you feel as close and relaxed as you (hopefully) do with your own family. If you, on top of that, even share parts of each other’s history (school, university, clubs & associations, workplace etc.) and know each other’s families the relationships reaches an even higher level.
These kind of friendships might last since childhood, but sometimes they form rapidly: my latest “Wahlverwandschaft” is quite recent, but due to a special personal chemistry and to B’s openness and generosity we shared each other’s lives, feelings, and families
really quickly.
I am old enough to have close friends with grown-up children that I’ve known since they were babies. When a connection is created with this second generation it really feels like a confirmation of true elective affinity!
Are there friends in your life that you would call “Wahlverwandschaften” …?

My chosen sister B., as in Bluebell💙💜

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Bookstore Bliss

Bookstores are my favourite stores! Unfortunately, they are a species in extinction, due the raging e-commerce. Private little bookstores, run by amazingly well-read and well-informed book specialists are hardly to be found anymore, but OK, a big Waterstones is not bad either.
When visiting my daughter in Britain I always return to the local Waterstones and spend hours rummaging through my favourite sections (Mind, Body & Spirit, Poetry, Health & Lifestyle, Food & Drink), book by book. Due to the limited size of my book-shelves at home, I allow myself to buy only one single book (and at home as one goes in,
one goes out), so it really has to be well chosen.
This year I left with a beautiful poetry book: “The Everyday Poet – Poems to Live By”. It was a difficult choice between this rather small, beautifully hard-covered compilation and a much thicker paperback poetry compilation at the same price. At last I settled for the smaller one, because I easily get overwhelmed by too many poems at once, because “less is more”, and because I really liked the approach of the editor, Emergency Poet Deborah Alma. She works in an old ambulance where visitors “take part in a free private poetic health consultation with the Emergency Poet, and within 10 minutes will be prescribed an appropriate poem, verse or lyric”. Badly needed in our world, so lacking in poetry!
Travelling back from Cardiff took me around twelve hours, so I had ample time to read the book, to choose a favourite poem, and to learn it by heart:

There Will Come Soft Rains
By Sara Teasdale
There will come soft rains and the smell of the ground,
And swallows circling with their shimmering sound;

And frogs in the pools singing at night,
And wild plum trees in tremulous white,

Robins will wear their feathery fire
Whistling their whims on a low fence-wire;

And not one will know of the war, not one
Will care at last when it is done.

Not one would mind, neither bird nor tree,
If mankind perished utterly;

And Spring herself, when she woke at dawn
Would scarcely know that we were gone.

Such a beautiful book, inside out 💚

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