In the high Tatras, on the Polish side, the forests are of spruce and pine. I remember walking beneath the slender limbs of tall trees, one winter morning...
We had awoken early, in our car seats, in some nondescript parking lot outside of Zakopane. It was cold, although not as cold as it had been in Slovenia, and the windows remained clear and unfrosted. It took only a few moments to get ourselves ready for that day's adventures: a good stretch, a new pair of socks, a banana and an apple, and we were on our way. Living in a car is easy like that.
In the half light, between the hours of 6 and 7, we began our trek through the forest, with a little food tucked away, water, and wooly hats, to protect from the wind. That wind. I remember the way it moved up through the hills up towards the peaks, the tail ends getting caught in the trees, making them creak and sway in solemn song, like monks in a choir beneath the fading stars.
The creaking noises were a little eery, and in these early hours, when not another human soul was around, it was easy to imagine things...
...bear, fox, lynx and wolf; deer, boar, goat and squirrel,
all living somewhere in the shadows, beyond the first layer of trees. I wondered if they were watching us.
The ascent was gradual, and the path began to follow a small stream, ducking in and out of woodland groves into wide clearings where the mountains could be seen in the distance. They grew larger, as we got nearer. First the snow capped peaks appeared as tiny pinnacles - peeping up from the vast stretch of trees. Then they seemed like a great wall on the edge of sight. Until, finally, when we were standing below them, they shrouded everything, towering over the lake like giants peering into a pool...
And oh, that lake! It was bitter cold, on the edge of Morskie Oko - the Eye of the Sea - the lake was now still, the eye unseeing, covered by a great snowy lid... The wind that had moved the trees to song was now whirling about the mountain tops, composing snow and rock into various formations. I stood there, on the shore, gazing out for a long while, till my fingers grew cold and stiff, and my nose turned red, and my eyes watered and stung. But still I stayed to look - in awe of the incredible beauty, strangeness, and seriousness of this Earthly place. Had I stayed for much longer, I am sure my body would have frozen there. The delicate nature of my human life meant that eventually I would have to go inside to bring my body temperature back up... but just for those few minutes, I was allowed to witness something incredible.
Humans, no matter how delicately they are made, will always feel this curiosity and attraction to the wildest places of our world... It was that particular feeling that led my wandering feet up the mountain.
There, at the top, we ate something warm, talked a while, then met a group of mountain climbers who were preparing for their own early ascent further up the mountain. I imagined that these people were much more intrepid than us, more driven, crazy even, to want to get up so early and do something so dangerous. But then I saw that same twinkle of curiosity in each of their eyes, that I know lives in my own.
This is why we travel... this is why Oliver and I push our limits, live in cars, get up early to walk miles in the cold to stand, if only for a few moments, in front of splendour... because we feel that same twinkle of curiosity and awe that pushes us outside our normal limits.
Our capacity as human beings is made greater by awe.