Stein After Stein

When in Rome, as they say, one tends to follow the customs of the locals.  Turns out, when in the Rheinland, the same general principle applies.  At least we drank the beer and sipped the glüwein, even if I never really embraced the sausage and sauerkraut.  We spent our Saturdays strolling through the countryside, forking over a few marks for ten kilometers and a commemorative beer stein.  Or two.  Dozen.  We scoured the newspaper each week for the outings that included our desired prizes.  We mapped each location and determined which towns were the shortest distance from our burg to the next decanter in our collection.  We only participated in those walks that included a ceramic trophy or a glass for keeping our beer warm.  After all, when in Katzweiler…

Most volksmarches, these mini pilgrimages around our expat fatherland, even kept Son Number One with his three-year-old little legs moving briskly towards the goal.  We’d start in a little town, walk two blocks this way and three that way and we’d find ourselves paralleling farmlands, passing through forests, and seeing the backside, the inside, the hidden side of Germany up close.  We wandered down dirt paths, over rocky roads, and dodged mud puddles, or at least I avoided the mud, until we returned to the local rathaus for refreshments, nourishment, and, “Prost!”  With each metal flip cover or a symmetric pilsner pillars, the collection grew.  When in Kaiserslautern…

Solo Hike

My last volksmarch in late spring takes me to a town outside my comfort zone, not just this new town forces me to drive new roads in a new direction, but because I am hiking this one alone with minimal command of the language, and only the occasional, “‘Tag,” or “Tschüß,” to make my way through town.  It’s raining.  I’m straying from the American cores and wandering through grassy fields which might double for landing trips.  I run, and I never run.  I wear a yellow rain poncho cloaking myself like a tent, and I’ve spent the bulk of my life avoiding rain gear.  I keep a mental list of the places I pass and then repeat it aloud so as to keep a repeating list of what I have seen.  I am stepping briskly and stepping into a fuzzy new experience for myself.  But as they say, when in the Saarland…

I am nearing the end of my first solo hike.  In the years to come, I will become a seasoned pro at passing through nature and letting it penetrate me.  Sometimes winded, sometimes wiped out, sometimes wet from the rain, but always refreshed and replenished and renewed, I accept its offerings.  New experiences change us and traveling and living abroad obviously implies such alterations, but more than a change of language, or a change of environment, a subtle, lasting change affects what matters most, and as nature surrounds me, touching me permanently, I am transformed.  I reach the end of my walk, and the end of my duration in Germany, and as I accept my reward for my ten kilometer stroll, I clasp the prize in my hand, a terra cotta bird bath, marking a baptism of sorts into the next phase of my life.  When inspired…

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