Of boxes and grappa and bringing people together
We are now in the gorgeous Italian part of Switzerland, Ticino.
What do I like to do here the most? Walk in the woods for hours.
This area is a paradise for hiking. Hundreds of kilometres of trails with breathtaking views of shimmering lakes and distant snowy peaks; wind through mountains rich with endless green forests of chestnut trees.
There is very little underbrush under the canopy of these ancient trees.
The forest is open and rolls away into the cool shadows and each hour you hear the tolling of bells from medieval churches perched on hilltops across the valleys.
There was no wind today, and the cool of the forest is hushed to stillness.
You feel a certain energy in the palms of your hands, as if you are in the company of old and wise spirits, and the sweet call of songbirds trills through the calm air in rising and falling melodies.
We round a turn on the rocky path and it reveals a hillside meadow of tall, lush grass speckled with wildflowers.
Ahead in the bright sunshine glints the pink and grey stone of a monastery built in the 11th century. An old man is cutting hay with a scythe.
This Sunday we are hiking with Bill’s longtime Swiss friend, Niki, her daughter Nica and their two dogs, both energetic border collies.
We are walking and talking about everything in the world, stopping from time to time to throw sticks for the dogs who run madly ahead of us.
In the brief lull we hear a cuckoo bird sing its two-part song. A green woodpecker taps time on a smooth grey tree trunk.
Nica laughs and tells us she wants to show us something special. A lone beech tree stands on a rise overlooking the valley, dreamy in the misty warmth of summer.
It is perfectly symmetrical, the roots spreading up from the dark earth to a wizened trunk topped by a perfect crown of wide branches and a green canopy.
We come closer and there is a weathered wooden box attached to the trunk. It looks like a simple bird house, but without a hole.
Nica laughs and asks us what we think is inside. Bill and I shake our heads and examine it from every angle.
I find this so interesting and funny that the next day I made a contest with my followers on social media to guess what’s in the wooden box.
I did not expect to get dozens of replies.
Here are some of them: a magical ring; a clock counting down to happiness and showing how everything in life is fleeting; a photo album of the tree of life: the roots are our ancestors, the trunk ourselves and the leaves our children; secret letters exchanged between star-crossed lovers.
Other ideas were a book of poetry by a lonely man who lives in the monastery; a handwritten map leading to the lair of a dragon; a compass that spins in every direction; a rope ladder to climb to the top of the tree to reach for the stars.
There were also more practical ideas: Swiss chocolate; nuts for squirrels; treats for the dogs; a box of matches.
My suggestion was that it was a place to put a message to the universe to fulfil your fondest wish.
Of course it was none of these things. Nica giggled and opened the small wooden door. There was a clear bottle filled with an even clearer liquid, and two small glasses.
“This is the grappa pitstop!” she said with a flourish.
This strong alcoholic beverage has been produced in this region for close to eight centuries.
It is made by distilling the skins, pulp, seeds and stems left over when you make wine.
It is often made and drunk by farmers to keep warm in the cold Swiss winters.
If you try grappa even once you will never forget its strong and robust taste.
There was also a small notebook and pen, for travellers to write their thoughts or thanks.
These grappa pitstops are a project created by Nica and a group of seven of her young friends who organise events and fun projects in her small mountain town.
They call themselves the Associazone la Sveglia (the Wake Up Call Association). They built the box and, every time Nica or one of her friends walk in that part of the forest, they bring some grappa and fill the bottle back up.
One of their most popular projects is called Breakfast in the Square.
They cook fresh, local products and offer them for free on weekend mornings in the centre of their 15th-century village; on May 1 each year they even bring musicians to play.
What a thoughtful way to bring all their neighbours together!
As we continued our walk I thought: “Why don’t we make similar boxes in Bermuda and put them in special places?”
Boxes for water, for maps, for descriptions of local history, for snacks, for sunscreen, for anything that might be useful or cheer you up.
How nice it would be to find a box on the railway trail or on the beach paths; something from a stranger who thought about you and wanted to take care of you in a small and personal way.
Nina London is a certified wellness and weight-management coach. Her mission is to support and inspire mature women to make positive changes in their body and mind. Share your inspirational stories with her at www.ninalondon.com