Yesterday, my daughters and I drove from Vermont and crossed over the White Mountains, in a route I love and have travelled for years. This time, though, with a daughter’s friend, we stopped at a place in the mountains I’ve always rushed by, at fifty or sixty miles per hour. The point is near enough to the end (or, backtracking, to the beginning) of the trip that I’ve never wanted to pause.
In a meadow along the Sacco River, with enormous granite mountains steeply rising on either side, the area was exquisitely beautiful. The river flowed clear, clumps of bluets bloomed in the emerald grass, and the mountains held us like a pair of immense hands. In the bitter depths of winter, hail, snow, fiercely unrelenting winds pummel these slopes, but this spring May afternoon, I remembered my childhood infatuation with Johanna Spyri’s little orphan Heidi.
As a mother, years later, when I read the book to my first daughter, I was appalled I had missed the heavy-handed Christian urging in this novel; this book was radically different from the book I had read over and over as a ten or eleven-year-old child. But was the book really different? What sang to me in the story was an orphaned child who loved her grandfather, a bed of fresh hay, the shimmering constellations, toasted cheese sandwiches and mountain meadows of wildflowers. Through her life’s circumstances, she experiences loneliness, cruelty, abject misery, and yet love of the mountains draws her beyond her own particular unhappiness: love of beauty and the inherent goodness in people is the staff of her strength.
Sanctimonious? Need not be.
But she had to go to bed first, and all night she slept soundly on her bed of hay, dreaming of nothing but of shining mountains with red roses all over them, among which happy little Snowflake went leaping in and out.
– Johanna Spyri, Heidi