Heavily forested woods surround us on all sides. The air is cool and crisp with the leaves turning to match the fires burning in the hearths on autumn evenings. The ground beneath our hiking boots tries desperately to foil our scientifically engineered treads, failing. Most of the time. A certain stillness fills the air, focusing our senses so that each crunch of leaves and rustle of twigs slices through the air. Gazing up into the canopy above, a sparkling light filters down through a multitude of shapes and colors, a kaleidoscope.
Keeping my sight on the trail ahead is difficult thanks to the natural beauty all around me. Winding along the contours of the valley near Brasov, the trails makes its way from one hamlet to another. Over the mountains and through the woods. The occasional hiker passes us from behind or in the opposite direction. For the most part, silence.
Intermittent breaks in the forest offer up vistas of the surrounding valley and a few distant peaks. Perfect for skiing I’m told. October is too early to be perusing the slopes so a few hikes and bus rides will suffice to satiate my mountain vista lust. I’d just as much love to be hiking to a summit as walking through these autumn colors.
Hisako and I always have this debate. Why climb mountains? Well, “to conquer them,” I say. That rarely has any persuasive power. “To use as an analogy for life,” I’ll follow up with a slightly improved affect. The trust is, I can’t really say why I enjoy the scaling of a mountain. My knees don’t appreciate it. Anything over 3000m has a good chance of giving me a splitting headache. Back and shoulders ache for days after hauling heavy loads up and down the hillsides. These are the physical discomforts that I try and bear with each ascent. The reward? A spectacular view over soaring mountain peaks, meandering valleys, and crystal clear skies. Or…. a blank white canvas. The rock I just stumbled over catching me by surprise in the white fog.
For the moments when the weather cooperates and so does my body, the reward for me is the journey up the mountain. Each step a chance to focus on my sensations and feel one with everything around me. It’s the solitude. It’s the humility. After the challenging day, days, or weeks it takes to ascend I always feel refreshed and invigorated. A challenge isn’t always what I’m looking for, but it tends to be the most rewarding. Something about pushing myself physically has the dual affect of boosting me mentally. I enjoy a meditative walk as much as the next yogi, but a good physical outing helps me push those barriers and focus. Like students of meditation sitting for 5 hours straight because the say the pain in their back gives them a point to focus their thoughts on. A chance to summit with big, sweeping vistas is just the cherry on top. The climb provides me with time to focus and perform my own type of meditation. This is the real reward.
I’m not climbing mountains today, however, and far below the peaks in the valleys and stretching up the slopes are the thick forests. That’s where Hisako and I find ourselves. From the majestic to the miniscule, the forest offers up all kinds of nuances to lose yourself in. A different kind of mediation. I pause during our walk to snap a picture of the canopy covered trail, smothered in color from floor to ceiling. Up ahead Hisako has discovered a huge, white umbrella mushroom. Poking its head out of the fallen foliage. I close in for a shot, but Hisako urges me to get down on my hands and knees so that frills are looking as large as tree trunks. Pulling back I listen to the emptiness of our surrounding and can almost hear that mushroom pushing back the leaves.
20 to 30 minutes later the trail starts to climb a bit higher into the hills and a break in the forest give us great views of the villages down in the valley as well as some distant peaks , peering over a far ridge at us. Tempting me. A stream can be heard tumbling its way down the ravine nearby. We continue along the contour until we get to the stream. It always surprises me how much sound can emit from such a small trickle of water. The stream doesn’t even need a stepping stone to cross it, just one large stride. Yet, we’ve been hearing it for the past 10 minutes. I was expecting something much larger.
Another analogy for life? Expect the unexpected?
The clear water gurgles and playfully splashes us. Carrying crimson leaves to the valley below with aggravating ease. If only we could get back so easily and swiftly say my knees. We linger here for some time, soaking up the sounds.
Rustle. Crash. Thump. Thump. Thump.
My heart has dislocated and is now sitting somewhere in my throat. I look over at Hisako who is staring wide-eyed at a pair of wild boars across the stream from us. The boars stare wild-eyed back at us. I can’t tell who is more spooked. It’s a standoff that must have lasted only seconds, but seems like minutes. Should we back away? Are we a threat? Can I protect us? Am I going to piss my pants if they charge? I can’t read the boars little eyes behind those long, sharp tusks. I just stand there. So does Hisako.
Nature apparently knows what to do and the two boars crash back into the wilderness. Certainly not a scary encounter for anyone from Brasov, probably looked at as a good opportunity for making sausages, but our heart rate stays high on adrenaline. Finally, our hearts slow about the time we drop out of the hills and back into civilization.
We both sigh and feel relieved to be surrounded by humans. Away from the threat of nature. It wasn’t without some trepidation that we made our way into those woods to begin with. Large signs and tales from our CS host warned us of the black bears of Brasov. Those bears have caused a few fatalities over the years. We had expected the worst when the boars came crashing through. Unprovoked there was probably no real danger to us out there, but I’m very glad there wasn’t a snout, beady eyes, and four legged giant mammal staring at us from across the river.
This puts me into a difficult position. On one hand I’m a lover of nature with all its beauty. But it only takes a split second of confrontation to make me run for cover to the nearest human settlement. A part of me wants nature to be like a roller coaster – controlled, thrilling, but safe. Keep those “when nature attacks” moments for Fox and the Nat Geo channel. This may be the thing that most perplexes Hisako about mountaineering, which certainly has its share of dangers. Why seek the dangerous in order to focus your thoughts when you could meditate in the comfort of your own living room or push yourself physically with something like dance? For me, I think it’s nature’s beauty that keeps me coming back and the changing backdrop for my thoughts that keeps me excited. Pushing myself while staring at the bottom of a pool while doing the crawl or planting my face on a yoga mat just doesn’t seem to have the same appeal. As for danger? I probably put myself in equal or greater danger every time I get into a car.
While my desire to get out into the wild was put on hold for a brief time after the boar incident, I’m please to report that I’ve gotten back to my blissfully meditative walks through the woods. The lure of the grand peaks, noisy brooks, and vibrant leaves will always be worth a stare down or two.
Behind the Scenes
Brasov is a picturesque town in the southern part of Transylvania in Romania. Just 30 minutes from Bran (notorious for Dracula) and surrounded by beautiful mountains. The historic downtown is a pleasure to walk through, with one of the oldest schools in Romania as well.
Hiking and skiing is very popular in the region. If we get the chance, someday I’d love to head back there for a vacation. German bakeries in the downtown, it would be easy and relaxing to pass the days.
The warnings regarding bears in the region are very real as these youtube videos can attest to. Try to avoid the mistake that some idiot travelers and locals make. Trying to get in close for a picture or taking pictures at all. Hence the reason for no shots of the wild boars.