Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Das Wandern

O Wandern, wandern, meine Lust,
O Wandern!
Herr Meister und Frau Meisterin
Lasst mich in Frieden weiterziehn,

Und wandern!

Perhaps the only thing I really truly loved about living in Switzerland was that I could quite literally step out my door and walk into the wilderness. Zürich is small and centralized enough that you don't have to go far at all to find yourself in the middle of nowhere. As I was deeply unhappy and exceptionally poor, wandering through the forests of the Alpine foothills was relaxing, interesting and affordable.

I have a good sense of direction and there are many paths or Wanderwege leading out of Zürich, so I rarely made any plans and seldom relied on a map. I would just see where my feet would take me and then, when I was tired, I would find my way home.

I recall one occasion where I did unfortunately get turned around, and instead of heading for home, I was unknowingly going further away. It was a cold, dim, overcast day (as per usual) and I couldn't rely on the sun for direction until it was too late and the sunset turned the clouds a gentle shade of lavender. I came upon an enormous, unfamiliar lake, and decided it was time to pull out the map, which I consulted in the alpenglow.

I realized I had reached the Greifensee; after hiking for three hours and then thinking I'd turned around and headed an hour toward Zürich, I despaired to realize I was now four hours by foot from home. It was getting dark. Based on the map, I decided to head for the town of Uster on the other side of the lake and then take a train back. It took me another two hours to reach the station. I was exhausted when I finally got home, but it was a great adventure.

It's a pleasure I find difficult to replicate in Manhattan, having traded alpine forests for the urban jungle. New York is one of the best places for walking, sure; but for indulging in a bit of escapism and isolating yourself from distractions to be alone with your thoughts, Sixth Avenue and Houston isn't really ideal. The closest you could come would be Central Park, but even there you're hard pressed to be truly "alone" anywhere for more than a few minutes. I love getting lost, but you can't do that in a city built on a numbered grid; even deep in The Rambles, the soaring skyscrapers permanently orient you.

The Wanderlust, as the Germans would call it, has been nagging at me again. For the last two mornings I've awakened and left earlier than necessary for work, getting off a few stops ahead and walking. Monday I got off at Canal Street and walked east toward the Bowery, then down Water to Wall Street. Today I left even earlier, got off the A train at West 4th, and zigzagged through the West Village, SoHo, Chinatown and the financial district. (For a little perspective, a forty-minute subway ride from my apartment got me to a location that is one hour by foot from my office.)

No, there are no quiet, gurgling streams to come across, and I'm not likely to catch a sudden glimpse of a deer or a heron through the trees, much less crest a hill and find myself gazing at a panoramic mountain view, but New York has an infinite and inspirational beauty all its own.

Ach, Bächlein, liebes Bachlein, du meinst es so gut;
Ach, Bächlein, aber weisst du wie Liebe tut?
Ach unten, da unten, die kühle Ruh!
Ach, Bächlein, liebes Bächlein, so singe nur zu.

*All photos by the author.


little-cicero said...

You got me there, Andy!
Can't argue with that!

Matthew said...

I just got back from a bit of travel that left me a few hours to get out into some of the nicer parts of Germany. It really reminded me of how nice it is to be able to go tromping around the countryside. I miss it.

Thunder Jones said...

How long were you there? Do you still die a little inside when you see what we pay for beer and wine compared to Europe?

Andy said...

No, I die a little when I see what Europe pays for gas and what we pay for college. I lived in Zurich for 10.5 months.

Esther said...

That sounds and looks very beautiful. I'm from a country area and I love to wander also. It would be nice to have some real wilderness close by again.

Esther needs to take a trip to the state forest before hunting season begins . . .

Luke said...

The bike paths along the hudson have great vistas and a few hidden nooks that no one seems to know about. You could also try hiking into Inwood Hill park. Sure the paths are all paved, but I still got turned around and found some pretty isloated areas in there. But yes, it's not the same as Germany, I'm sure.

Andy said...

I know, but honestly, Inwood Park kinda creeps me out a bit, especially after that girl was murdered there last year. Isolated, yes. Her body was there for days, even with all those people looking for her.