Tag Archives: Hiking

The Forest

Can you smell the forest?

The question came after hours of walking, after hours of talking, laughing, catching up with some friends and getting to know others.

It came after the marvels and exclamations over rocks we don’t see closer to home, after jokes about how we could (or could not) climb these rocks.

We walked through sunshine, through narrow fissures between massive rock formations, up wire ladders.

We found ourselves up high, able to look down and out and far beyond.

We spent the weekend in Sächsische Schweiz, a national park jointly maintained by the German and Czech governments due to its location along country borders. It’s known for hiking and cycling, as well as for climbing on the beautiful, imposing sandstone that is so different from any rock I have climbed.

Sandstone is so special that different rules apply while climbing it and we spent a few moments watching skilled climbers, suitably impressed. For us, it was enough to play amongst the massive boulders.

As we walked, sand and pollen clung to our clothes. They’re further along in spring than we are.

We camped in an abandoned greenhouse, overgrown with trees and flowers, glass panels lost to time and, perhaps, visitors. We cooked with bottled water and gas that we brought with us, emptied the basin that served as a sink into the bushes, and discussed the merits of the extremely clean compost toilet.

The birds woke us before dawn after a late evening watching the fire turn to embers and then finally to ash, and the sun was slowly drying the dew off our tents when we convened for coffee much later on.

Watching the sky, we headed out again, first to the rapeseed fields that were everywhere and then back into the forest, learning the names of different trees along the way.

I’d never been in a forest with trees like this.

I’d never been in a forest with rock formations like this.

We shared snacks, experiences, stories, and felt the wind change. We found a cave where it was cold inside, and we would have lingered but the sky had changed, too, along with the scent, texture, and weight of the air.

Later that afternoon, the rain came fast. Nature speaks to those who listen.

Can you smell the forest?

Glow

The weather gave us a gift this weekend. We had sun, blue skies, and temperatures perfect for being outside. (Although nothing really seems to stop Germans from being outside, which I like very much.) I was out late Sunday morning revisiting a route I’d taken with a friend some weeks ago. We had looked in vain for sunshine that day and the walk was bound to feel different this time.

One thing I have always noticed about walking with my camera is that my senses are sharper, and not just my eyes. I see the world differently, but am also more aware of how it tastes, how it smells, how it feels, and where I stand within it.

In other words, the more present I am, the calmer and more peaceful I feel. The camera around my neck acts as a reminder. Likewise, the more experienced I become in meditation, the more easily awareness seeps into my everyday life. I pause more frequently, slow down, notice, breathe. This is what it means to be mindful.

Lately there have been several loving-kindness, or metta, meditations in my routine. The warmth that I experience through these practices is not unlike the warmth I experienced last weekend in the sun. The world opens wide and it calls.

What I like most about metta meditation is that it makes obvious our connection with one another. There is a physical sensation, a warm glow, that comes from that realization.

There is a warm glow that comes from wishing loving-kindness to others, similar to the sense of rejuvenation that comes from being in nature. I have learned that these are needs for me, needs rather than wants. I would like to think that I am a better person to those around me for having learned this and sought this out.

It is easy to form connections that are light and fun, to play outside on a sunny day. It is not always so easy to get out in the rain or cold, not always so easy to touch another person. But so often, it is the experience of doing exactly this, of embracing difficult conditions and searching for the light, that plants us firmly on the ground.

And this is when we can not only look, but see.

A Week in the Thüringer Wald

A couple of weeks ago, I joined a group of students for a week in the Thüringer Wald, or Thuringian Forest. Our trip was their first group outing since Covid, and it was a delight to be in a reasonably rustic environment with young people who were both comfortable in that context and genuinely glad to be there.

This campground relies significantly on volunteer labour for renovation work and there was a great deal to do. This wasn’t the type of trip where we were doing that, but I think it would have been good fun.

It was dark at night and we were able to see the Milky Way and the Big Dipper, though my photography skills and equipment cannot attest to that. We also made a fire every night, making for a much warmer evening than we would have had otherwise. There’s poetry in sitting under the stars in the cold, but there’s comfort in sitting under the stars with a fire.

While the afternoons were largely free, we had activities planned each morning. A real highlight was the hike led by the campground director, Dagmar. She taught us about the bark beetles that are killing the young trees here in the beautiful Thüringer Wald. The devastation is occurring rapidly in part because of the monoculture that was once common here for logging. It was really sad to see so much empty hillside and to think about the consequences, such as landslides and flooding, that occur under these conditions, also making it really difficult to grow new trees. And trying to do so when they’re being attacked by bark beetles is, as we learned, no easy task.

It’s also interesting to contrast the immediate environment of the valley where our camp was situated with the forest conditions around a village just 15 minutes away by car. (And, for that matter, the stunning environs in yet another part of the Thüringer Wald where I’ve been twice to climb.)

One thing I am really enjoying about Germany is how much it looks just like you might expect from a travel brochure. A walk on our penultimate day from one town to a bus stop in another town was a lot of work on hills but they were really pretty hills.

On the last day, only about an hour from school, we spent the afternoon by a lake. There’s so much here that is a fairy tale – berries and mushrooms in forests that people just happily pick, for example – and it has been so lovely experiencing it all.

This part of the state of Thüringen (Thuringia) is right on the border with Bayern (Bavaria). You know that place. Home of Oktoberfest. Indeed.

After so much time on the Little Red Dot that is fully part of my heart, it’s a real gift to be somewhere else. I’m looking at the world with different eyes and for that, I am grateful.