The Magic of Sils

What little goblins and a starving village have in common with a unique natural phenomenon.
Picture of Miri Roth

Miri Roth

Swiss Landscape Photographer

The Fairy Tale of Sils

Legend has it that long ago – when Sils-Maria was still called Seglias- Majoria (“dairy on the pastures”) – melting snow caused the lake Sils and the River Inn to burst their banks, flooding the meadows, the forest and the village, cutting off the dairy from the rest of the world. 

«Wildleuchten» to the rescue 

When the little goblin-like creatures known as «Wildleutchen» who lived in the Val Fedoz discovered, that the storage cellars of the people of Seglias were also taken from the water and the inhabitants were going to starve, they decided to help and come to their rescue. As the «Wildleutchen» were little creatures, who could neither fly nor swim, they came up with a very unusual idea to deliver food to the residents. They packed potatoes, nuts, apples, onions and eggs into balls of larch needles, placed them onto the water and the reliable Maloja wind carried them across the lake Sils to the hungry people. 

It was the children of Sils who discovered these balls on the shore and brought them to their parents. At home in the warmth, the balls burst, revealing the foodstuffs thanks to which the people of Sils were able to overcome these difficult times. 

The real «Silserkugel»

The flood is history, the people of Sils no longer suffer from hunger and yet, if you are lucky,  you can occasionally find a «Silserkugel» (Sils balls) on the shore of Lake Sils. 

But it`s not from a «Wildleuchte» who did send you a snack egg. 

Every late autumn they can be spotted on the shores of Lake Sils: spherical, of yellow caramel-coloured larch needles. Sometimes darker ones can be seen under the water surface. These are somewhat older. Whether small like a golf ball or football-sized: Anyone who discovers a «Silserkugel» on their walk can consider themselves lucky. 

This product of nature has become a collector’s item and adorns furniture and window sills not only in the Engadin. Tourists are also on the lookout for this holiday souvenir – and they find them. But the collecting fever also has unpleasant sides. 

«Silserkugeln» take their time 

Since even the smallest find is a joy to the heart, it is becoming increasingly difficult to find large specimens. However, no one can be blamed for being fascinated by these beautifully  shaped creations, which are the result of an interplay between wind and water.  

The balls need time to form. Just like a snowball that gets bigger the more it rolls down the slope, taking snow with it, small balls get bigger when they have time to turn on the bank and take new larch needles with them. 

But how does it work? 

The larch needles floating on the surface of the water are driven by the wind – mostly the Maloja wind – from the southwest to the northeast. They like to form around sprouts: scattered leaves,  pieces of moss or the smallest branches floating in the water. 

Driven by the wind, the  caramel coloured needle bands move in the direction of Sils.  Whether along the Chastè peninsula or on the banks of the Sils shallower water, the torn apar formations grow, incorporating new material and in the constantly moving lake water, they grow into spherical formations. They are usually of various materials, mainly larch needles, particles of the sandy-loamy soil in the shallow Sils bay and the resin of the larch needles may contribute to their strength. Above all, the constant tossing and turning of the waves over weeks seems to contribute to their stability. The spiky structures are fixed and fragile at the same time, especially when dry, they can easily disintegrate, and their colour can range from light yellow to black, depending on their age. 

Will you be lucky? 

So keep your eyes open on your next walk in Sils, maybe you’ll be  one of the lucky ones to take home a “Silserkugel”.  

And if the real balls are scarce again, you can pick up a sweet replica made of marzipan,  chocolate and meringue at the Grond cafeteria in Sils on your way home. 

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