Last Saturday saw another edition of the mountain marathon around the Traunsee lake (Bergmarathon Rund um den Traunsee). Around the time I would finish that whenever I participated, I had instead arrived in the area, prepared food and gear, and was headed for the mountains.
Category: Austria (Page 3 of 7)
St. John’s Day, as in: Midsummer Day, the day of the summer solstice, is almost upon us.
It will be the time for mountain solstice fires again, then, and fittingly for both that day and climate change, St. John’s Wort has just come into bloom here, already.
Having looked towards FKT as “fully known trails / terrain,” I have reason to look back at everything that I had encountered during the recent ‘trails of spring’ (#1: Winter’s Last Hold at the Traunsee, #2: Wild Leeks in the Leitha Mountains)
Flowers, pretty as they often are and useful as plants can be, have been among the prominently noteworthy things.
In making plant diversity more obvious in all their many colors and pretty shapes, flowers are good illustrations of the lack of at-home-ness we often have: They are obviously there, they are obviously all different – but how many do you recognize?
And if you want to argue that there is just no need to do so, let me ask what’s the need to recognize different brands of cars or clothes when you can’t eat them, can’t use any but your own, and won’t even interact with the vast majority of people who use them, so that the social cues inherent in them aren’t of any effect.
At least you could enjoy seeing the flowers and knowing what they are; and in knowing them, you could probably find some that could be used as food or tea or medicine, too.
And simply knowing the places you live more intimately, from the roads to the trails, from historic buildings to blades of grass, makes for a different – and better – connection with life.
In all the connected technology and social media connection all around the world, we are all too little connected to the places where we actually are, anyways.
But of course, as a human being, everything that moved was more noticeable also to me; the closer to potential prey or predator, the more so.
The sheep grazing not far from the road just recently struck my eye,…
…as did the mountain goats using the trails as their paths through the still-snowy landscape of a month or two before.
There were also other things.
Not just small animals such as the fire salamander trying to hide away between stones…
…but also more and more flowers. The ones that started emerging just as soon as the snow was melting, and the ones that only came up much later, now that we are moving closer to summer…
Of course, there is much more to be seen than I took photos of; and there is a lot that could be said about them all.
There are commonalities, such as the wild leeks (ramson) that grow in both the Pannonian landscape of the Burgenland I usually live in and the Salzkammergut part of the Alps I regularly visit to run mountain trails, and there are differences between these two areas.
In fact, there are differences just between different mountains and different faces of a single mountain, between the woody hills and the agricultural floors of the same flat landscape.
It’s just a matter of making oneself at home in these places enough to notice it all.
In Austria, and particularly its east, I’ve lived for the longest time. So, it is just natural that I’d think I know this place and find little of interest in it anymore. Jaded and inured to the charm…
To make myself really at home here and remember that there’s a lot I don’t know and can yet explore further – not to forget, to have the fun of doing so – it helps to find contrasts.
For one, there is that nice contrast between spring – with a topping of snow – further into the Alps and the rather more advanced turn to spring at lower elevations, in the east.
(This year though, interestingly enough, I couldn’t honestly say that this is quite how it is. In the lower parts of where I go in the Alps, the fruit trees are blooming at the same time as in the Pannonian east…)
Of course, there are always the cycles to get at home in and to see again, in their new iteration.
There are the circles I run in and always see somewhat anew, whether that should be because something out there has changed with the passing of time, or whether it is because I have changed, seeing something differently, knowing something more, or getting faster or slower.
And, turning from winter to spring, the wind gets slightly – and sometimes, much – warmer (we hardly ever have no wind here), and it’s been time to see the wild leeks emerge again… and to use them.
This, too, has become quite a theme as my interest in food (not least with www.chilicult.com) has become stronger.
These wild leeks used to be what the poorest of people would have eaten, and what anybody who was anything didn’t want to be caught using (or so says my 93-year-old ‘aunt’); like so many things, they have turned into a spring delicacy that is found on restaurant menus same as in supermarkets, in sausages same as in breads sold in the spring.
Amusingly, considering the carpet of these wild leeks one can find in the Leitha mountains (Leithagebirge) – and actually, also where I go in the Alps – they also sell at rather high prices.
If 100 grams are 3 Euro, then what I sometimes step on, as need be, when I go running through those forest paths must be hundreds of Euros worth…
My running there still ranges somewhat widely, along the ‘mountains’ whenever I can, as a big part of the fun is getting into this area designated with the same word as mountain ranges in the Alps, in some select trail segments almost looking the part… but mainly being nothing much more than hills.
Yet, it can offer different views than other places there – another kind of contrast – again:
Still, running here when the leeks have emerged looks little like a classical training run on which time and distance matters the most; it gets slower and delayed whenever the fancy – or rather, the amount of food to be foraged – strikes.
Then, rain jacket and running vest also suddenly find themselves being used not to protect from weather extremes but to serve as wild leek carrying system; the 3L volume is tested well ;)
The passion for exploratory living does, admittedly, profit handsomely from some studies in contrast.
My personal practice for that (as you, my dear readers, may have noticed ;) ) are trips to the Traunsee in the Salzkammergut, Upper Austria.
I’m back (at?) home in Austria, wondering if I’ve failed with the small (photo and writing) projects I started in and on Beijing because I’m not finished with them… and yet I realize that this is just one of those points where being somewhere else can actually bring you closer to a place.
It’s not this dream that “if only I were *there* rather than *here*, I’d be so happy and everything would be so great” that people sometimes fall into that I am talking about.
Yes, I know.
Where you are can be familiar and “at home” just as well as it can be that familiar hellhole you want nothing but to get out of – but so can any other place.
We have a natural tendency to think in such ways.
We get used to what we always see, tell ourselves that somewhere we don’t know would be much better, and end up liking or disliking both here and there based more on what we decide to focus on than all that’s really there.
This process plays out particularly well when it comes to foreigners in China, where a whole other level of exoticism or “going native” or criticism or you-name-it comes into play.
One of the constant debates among “China watchers” circles round and round the (im)possibility of knowing China when you are not living there.
It just happens too often that some expert/pundit visits Beijing, Shanghai, and Shenzhen and pronounces the power that China has become. Equally as often, experts or analysts sit in London or Washington and declare China’s impending collapse.
Meanwhile, “old China hands” live in the midst of all the chances and changes and challenges in the country and shake their heads over the naiveté of these pronouncements.
You may have noticed something similar when it comes to your own country, or even city or county:
The further someone is away, the simpler their statements about a place, and the more convinced they may often be about them.
At the same time, however, the opposite problem can also apply:
Being in the midst of a place makes one only too aware of all the nitty-gritty details of daily life, but less likely to look down deeply into the history of this place, or up and at longer-term trends and patterns.
When we are in a place we “know” (i.e., we have been for a while and know our essential ways around), we don’t usually even notice any sights that are of note to others from farther away anymore.
This is what has always struck me about my China experiences (especially because it was the same pattern I then noticed about my attitude towards my native Austria):
Living there is great for the direct lived experience, indeed.
But the same direct experience also makes for so much focus on everyday things that happen and that need doing that there is little time and energy for anything else.
Only when I’m back somewhere else do I get to better libraries and more of an interest in understanding more deeply what I had been observing before. Not to mention the critical distance from which to try and see larger patterns, not just everyday problems.
It’s just this kind of a balance that is a back-and-forth between intimacy and distance, engagement and aloofness, that we actually seem to need in many a situation.
Even romantic interest doesn’t work without some degree of separation (at the very least, enough for interesting individuality); variety spices up life; the familiar becomes more interesting (and all the more comforting, often enough) only once it has been the unusual.
It’s one of those typical “not at home” things:
The place where, or near where, you live is a place you may feel comfortable-enough in, or not at all happy with, but typically a place you don’t quite know as well as you may feel.
(Yet another example, also, of a feeling of truth that isn’t reality?)
You are not a tourist there, so you don’t feel the excitement of it; you have to go there, so you go the places you have to go and do what you need to do. And that’s that.
Case in point from my life: the Wiener Eistraum, late winter’s ice-skating rink in front of the Rathaus (Town Hall) just closed its 20-year-anniversary run last weekend, and it was only last week that I finally visited it.
For the first time ever.
I’ve not been able to go out running since then because the rented (wrong size) shoes took quite a bit of skin off my ankles, but it was worth it.
Not just was it the first time I finally went there, I went there with my wife.
She’s already rather bored from life being unexciting, and at the same time jaded with Vienna as the city where she has been going to university for a few years now – “Vienna just got announced the most livable city, again? So what?”
I have been in or at least near Vienna for way longer (feels like “between time”) and I am slow to jump into “fun” activities, anyways.
Seeing how temperatures have been rising, I rather notice all the energy that has to go into the cooling for the ice-skating rink and would much rather see the lake we have nearby freeze over again. That hasn’t really happened, and we certainly didn’t have everything required to go ice-skating there when it did, since my childhood years…
Good thing, then, that we decided to jump at the chance of having fun at the “Eistraum,” when we did, before it’s closed again.
First time ice-skating in a long time for me, first time ever for my wife.
So, I’m not going to show you what she looked like, she’d hate me for that – but she went from constantly holding on to the railing to moving along by herself within a pretty short time.
Good example, then, not just of the nearby opportunities we should probably make a habit of jumping at rather than under-appreciating because they are close by, but also of the things we can learn when we do so.
Look around, and I’m sure you will also find things to do and places to go, and with them activities to try out and skills to acquire and new things to learn, that you never got to just because they’d be close-by and seemingly always there, anyways.
We are, only too often, all too used to the peculiarities of modern life that we know as normal – and for that, we are in all the greater a need to actively make ourselves at home.
Back from the Bergmarathon around the Traunsee lake (once again), off to the OutDoor Friedrichshafen shortly, I finally put together a little video chronicling May’s Via Natura Ultra Trail (race report here, ‘high’ notes here, training – or rather, non-training – thoughts there). Instead of cutting together a Bergmarathon video, which will come later ;)