Close to our Harz

Ever since I reached Germany, I have been wanting to go to the Harz Mountains and hike there. We waited for the long 2013 winter to fade, the rains to abate a bit, the sun to shine and the skies to brighten up to their best blues. We made a weekend trip in June – via the towns of Schierke and Wernigerode.

The old wooden houses, slower and relaxed lifestyle, the crisper and seemingly cleaner air were all very rejuvenating. We had stayed at the Youth Hostel (Deutsche Jugendherberge) in Schierke and it did not disappoint! It was located at (almost) the end of the road and thus had little traffic and a good view of the town and an even better view of the rolling hills. At night, we heard the continuous gurgling of a stream from our 4th floor room!

Started the hike in the morning, through a semi dense forest, a mix of old untouched forest along with some areas which had a lot of new afforestation thrown in.

Skies in the summer

Skies in the summer

The ground was soft from the moisture of the overnight rain, and felt like a nice soft carpet, even though it looked hard and rocky. At some places, it was hard and rocky, but that was worth the climb as well, because in the cool conditions, the sunlight felt warm and welcome.

On the trail

On the trail

We saw the sun and the clouds, chasing each other, and their shadows sweeping across the hundreds of tree trunks. In a kind of synchronized motion, the shadow would cover trees from the left towards the light, and the forest would be dark. Then as the clouds allowed the sun to pass through, the forest would light up, as if a curtain had been opened. The trees would light up again from left to right. It was difficult to not be impressed by the amount of beauty on display, in-spite of the simplicity and predictability of it all.  Nature, just being itself, and impressing those who care to look, once again.

We tried to take pics of it, and take a video recording of the same, but an image captures just a slice of the action – one needs to see the shadows moving throughout the place, also using peripheral vision, and smelling the air and listening to the birds chirp and feeling the warmth as the sun shows again. Here is the pic – try to imagine the effect of shadows fleeting across trees and reflecting on the barks of the trees in a sweeping motion. May want to meditate and concentrate as well!

All lit up!

All lit up!

As we went farther up, we saw a lot of trees which had fallen down, broken halfway, or from the roots altogether. These were apparently trees which were infected with bark beetle, because the trees were not native to this region. It was a strong reminder of the ‘adapt or perish’ scenario seen so often in nature.

The harsher side of nature

The harsher side of nature

As we climbed higher, we saw the tree-line and how it had started thinning out. This was just after 1000 metres above sea level, or 1000 m ü NN (metres über Normal Null).

The tree line - receding.

The tree line – receding.

And finally, the view from the top, before we began the descent down.

The view from the top, with winds of 80 kph welcoming us

The view from the top, with winds of 80 kph welcoming us

A day long hike, and while there may be longer, better and tougher hikes; each hike, each experience is something special. That is why, as I write this almost 3 months later, I am tempted and am going to head out again, on my cycle and feel the breeze flow, and my thoughts wander.

Exploding into Spring!

Every evening, just after I would be done with Office hours, I would sit and watch this leafless tree get filled up, one at a time, by birds. Slowly, the whole tree would look full and complete, with the birds looking like leaves in the fading wintry light. In the complete quiet around, the slightest of noises scared them off. So, I had kept the window open, with the camera ready, luckily just a little before the birds arrived. It took a good 15 minutes or so for the tree to “blossom”, and despite the freezing breeze coming in through the window, I felt nice and warm. 

I had been watching these since a few days, and had begun to have a rough idea that these birds were on their way to some place, and used this tree on their way for a short pause. And then, suddenly, breaking the complete silence, was the sound of hundreds of wings flapping, as they all took off in a massive explosion. 

Birds exploding out into Spring

Birds exploding out into Spring

Whatever the thermometer said, at whatever time the sun set, no matter how windy and chilly it was, I was infused with fresh hope that Spring was around the corner somewhere when I saw this sight. I was lucky enough to see it a couple of times before trying to click it. Now, I can almost not wait for the winter to come, thaw away, and for Spring to make such a dramatic comeback. 

Isn’t there something remarkable about the time when seasons are changing and blending from one into another? Is there a lesson in it for me?