"In the deep snow the countryside looks like fairyland. Hans and [his dog] Barry plod through the snow, between the snow-laden trees, which look like great big hooded gnomes. Everything is glistening and shining in the moonlight, and the branches of the old limetree cast magic shadows."
--Ferdinand Steenaerts, The Boy From A Village Called Trub
Lime trees in Switzerland (also known as the Linden Tree, or Tilia europaea), are magical trees. They can live for thousands of years, and feature in some of mankind's oldest religions, myths, and legends. Historically, villages held court under them. Today people use them to track the seasons of the year, as a symbol of the changing face of Europe, and as an aid to understanding the cosmos.
The Lime tree's leaves and bark can be used to make tea, medicines, even shoes. Some communities have trained the tree limbs to grow horizontally, and hold dances in the trees. Learning about the Lime trees' significance gives me another reason to visit Switzerland. If I visit during the winter though, I'll have to watch out for those "great big, hooded gnomes." While J. K. Rowling suggested in the Harry Potter novels that gnomes are mischievous but harmless, Terry Brooks has revealed their warlike nature in his Shannara series, and the ease with which they can be subverted to evil causes. But then there's the Travelocity Gnome. He's become a patron saint to travelers. And many gardeners, the world over, enlist Gnomes to watch over their gardens.
When I was growing up, my church frowned on drinking and dancing. We were taught that such harmful activities would lead to our downfall. Yet the Swiss not only drink and dance, but they do so in their magical lime trees. As the Swiss are smart people, it's safe to assume that they wouldn't drink and dance in trees if they regularly fell out of them. So what beneficial force uplifts the Swiss, and keeps them safe during their tree-parties?
From the way Ferdinand Steenaerts links them with the magical Lime trees and the beauty of the Emmental region in winter, it's got to be the Gnomes.
Related Dragon Cache entries
The Familiar Flavor of Terry Brooks
Related Internet Links
Lime Tree Society
Lime Tree Symbolism
Russian Grannies dance in Lime tree slippers