Off the Beaten Track: An Autumnal Walk in the Augustusburg Woods

Off the beaten track
Off the beaten track

My trusty point and shoot camera and I have shared some great views and preserved a few unforgettable memories. For this weekend trip to Leipzig and  though, I deliberately left it in my dorm room. There was something exhilarating about the idea of being away from the components of modern life, to be footloose without letting a camera lens mediate my interaction with the physical world. Here was an opportunity to experience the freedom, beauty, and stimulation that are inherent in an exploration of a mountain’s quiet secrets.

I was glad that I didn’t have much more than a few layers of clothing and a bag of food on me when we set off on the nature walk. This event was significant for me out of the whole bunch of other things we did for one reason alone: walking meant movement and movement meant possibility.  Conversations about the philosophy of science or modern politics could develop as organically as the environment I found myself in.

This was a chance to get lost and retrace our steps uphill, teachers and students alike wondering about the right path to take and in the process, all the while stumbling across amazing vistas of a sepulchral Autumn landscape, adorned with auburn trees and restless, overcast skies. It instilled a sort of serene, profound stirring of the essence of moods, like seasons that are perpetually on their way out.

When you go walking, it’s best not to ask ‘how far?’ or ‘which way?’ You just go.  It doesn’t matter if the temperature isn’t more than five or six degrees on a given Saturday morning or that you’re with twenty odd people, the majority of whom share those lukewarm relationships of newly formed acquaintances.

If you looked closely enough, Nature was giving you lessons in Life in things as mundane as a salamander crawling between a crevice, a grouping of wild mushrooms, a babbling brook under the bridge you all stood on. Cross it to get to the other side, find excitement and danger, jump, see the stars, step out into the world and know what it feels like to finally see everything with both your eyes for the first time.

Traipsing among trees with birds, the steady drip-drip of raindrops and the excited laughter of children in our ears became an extended metaphor of sorts for our arrival and future endeavors at ECLA. Wandering through the minds of some of the most exciting and influential philosophers, charting the unfamiliar territory of our own “Self” and learning that we “cannot know” can be an odd combination of frustration and delight.

So we read Kierkegaard and Plato (who like to go bowling with each other deep in the woods on the weekend) on buses, hungering after the possible wisdom in their words. Our teachers, themselves perpetual scholars, navigate paths old and new to show us that there’s a lot of knowledge to be had on the other side of each following page.

With what is sure to be an intellectual march of sorts ahead of us, it was an encouraging treat to act out the coming months in the form of a simple, steady, and sensory-satisfying stroll through the hills.

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