I consider bringing the headlamp.
It’s in the same basket as the map, which I fished out carefully before leaving on this hiking venture. My large topographical map is indispensable; I bought it a few days after moving to Kandern, and it has been a fixture on every excursion since. I love this map. Emily has an entire series of photographs of me reading my map. I always take the map.
The headlamp, though, seems less necessary. I glance outside, where it is foggy but bright, shrugged, and leave it in the basket. It’s 2:00 PM.
We walk up towards Schloß Bürgeln (pronounced “SHLOSS BOOR-geln”) in dense afternoon fog, marveling at the way the fields melted into dewy greens and greys. Our path wound up and up, among the solemn crowds of barren trees that wade through the stillness of late autumn.
Josh, visiting for the weekend as part of a longer tour of Europe, asks us if we spend most of our weekends hiking. I shrug and nod. “If it’s nice out,” Emily adds. “If not, we watch The Office.”
Josh grew up in the same valley in Washington State, looking up at the same mountains that I did, and I wonder if he understands how I cannot even imagine being bored while there are hills, valleys and forests to explore, a magnificent living map just waiting to be walked across. It’s true; there’s little else to do in Kandern on the weekends. But this is more than enough.
At the top of a muddy, leaf-strewn logging road, an 18th century castle materializes through the mist. In the midst of drab, forbidding wildness, we explore the precise labyrinth of a country garden, where roses bloom despite the cold. A genial tour guide welcomes us into the warm, restored castle. She has grown up in these hills, she tells us, spent her girlhood walking up to this castle for cake at the cafe on weekends. Her love of this place shine through her telling of the remarkable history of the castle, and asks us to imagine ourselves guests in this castle. We look through the windows at the grey etchings of leafless branches, as she tells us about the Alps and the Rhine, hiding majestically just behind the clouds.
I forget not only what time it is, but what century, as we three guests in Schloß Bürgeln lose ourselves in our guide’s stories. When our many circles through the rooms of the castle bring us back again to the entrance, we open the door to find that it is nearly dark.
It’s only then that I remember the headlamp, our faithful companion the last time that we had to descend in the dark. That time, the light saved us from many a wrong turn, pointing out the tricky signs on the web of Black Forest trails. Today, there would be no such help.
As the one with the map and the route (and the headlamp I didn’t bring), I feel somewhat responsible for getting us back. I remember most of the trail, but not all of it. Several times I pause on the road, unsure of a turn from one forested road to another. Every time, though, either Josh or Emily remembers.
“No, see we need to go down here. I remember this sign on the way up.”
It’s the value of walking together, I think as my companions assure me that we’re on the right path. Alone, I’d surely be lost, but together we can help one another. We all remember different things, as each turn caught the eye of one of us, but it’s three memories that find the way home. Such a lovely picture of the beauty of community, how we help one another find the way.
Sometimes I like to imagine that I’m walking alone, mapping my own route. It’s never long before God reminds me that it is His way that matters, and that I’ll never find it unless I’m following Him. In the fog, with my friends, I remember that we can serve as guides to one another, speaking truth in love, pointing the way back home in Christ.