22 Dec

It has been a juicy few days here in the Black Forest.  A good balance of new experiences, and some of the comfort of home.  The hills of the Black Forest are greeting me from my window.  The sleet and rain tempting me to stay warm and comfortable inside.

I am coming to my last few days in the Black Forest with Michael and Imke.  Changes always met with mixed emotions.  Yesterday their daughter Skadi gave me an art project she made, a hedgehog called in German “igel” (pronounce eagle!).  It is little things that I notice and I am grateful for.  It has been nice to be surrounded by the warmth and, well, the reality of a family.  Michael and Imke have shown me that life can be simple… even with responsibilities.  Even in the midst of the chaos of having a family and small children.  And they have shared their experiences, their “german-ness”, and their interests generously and lovingly with me.

Here is a little snippet of German culture I learned yesterday… Michael got a haircut… and I asked Imke… “did Michael get a haircut?”  “Yes,” she said.  And added, “In germany, when someone asks if you got a haircut, you respond..’no, I fell down the stairs…!”  What?.. Now, I can’t say that I exactly “get it” , but I like it.  Shortly after I arrived at their home, I used the statement, “That is not my cup of tea..” and Michael offered that in Germany instead they say “that is not my beer..”  Okay, sure.  Why not? And it continues…

Yesterday I took a long stroll again through the near-by path in the valley of the Black Forest in Hilpartsau.  A recent discovery with the direction of Imke.  I was just amazed taking in the beauty… so different from the nature and landscape of Louisiana.  Strong, powerful streams, hills flooded with trees… and these great big… birds!  I first spotted one on the top of the building.  It was there, larger than life, unmoving and I thought… Is that real?  I stopped, and watched, and then… it moved!  Big beautiful bird.  It looked similar to birds I have seen in Louisiana, but bigger, and well… different.  There was a man heading up the path way and I stopped him asking… of course, “do you speak English?”  He nodded and then spoke in a friendly way, but mostly in German!  He offered the name of the bird, “reiher” he said.  I learned later that in English this means heron and it was a grey heron, popular in this area.  I repeated trying to mimic his expression.  And from there on, he became my guide through the woods.

Listening to someone who does not speak the same language as you takes a lot of attention.  He was very friendly and willing to communicate with me using expressions and acting out and pointing when necessary.  He had a few English words in his vocabulary, and I had a few German words in mind so between the two of us we communicated… perhaps!  There was just a small moment when he was speaking in German that I actually understood what he said.  I could pick out the few words that I knew and fill in the blank.  I felt, a little… successful!  But beyond that it was often just unknown to me.

We came to the end of the trail in the next village… a point where all I knew was to turn around and go back.  As a good guide he insisted I follow him and we headed into town just a little bit, then up some stairs and headed towards the hills heading back towards Hilpartsau where  we came from, but from a different view.  I loved walking amongst the hills and was surprised to find that the sometimes silence walking with this stranger was not uncomfortable.  We went to a spot that had a lovely view of the next town and then he showed me the trails in the dirt from the wild pigs that come out at night.  And then, eventually, when we returned to almost home we smiled and parted ways.  “Next time” he added in German and through demonstrating with his hands  “we need to bring an English/German dictionary!”

The night before I found myself basking in the welcoming hospitality of  Beate and Lefteri who live in a village not far from Hilpartsau.  They are a  German couple, Lefteri of Greek heritage, and members of SGI, a Buddhist organization of which I am a member.  I called them through a contact of a friend of a friend.  Originally I left a message on their answering machine in slow spoken English, hopeful there was an English speaker on the other side.  Later that day I received a friendly return phone call, directions and times for the train, and a welcome invitation to their home for the SGI gathering.  I arrived the next day  in the early evening, greeted by Lefteri at the train and was welcomed by their warmth and gentleness at their home.  There was one other member there, Andy, and their two children.  We chanted together and then shared a little personal information about ourselves and our experience with SGI and Buddhism.  We were gathered on the comfy floor surrounded with a fluffy carpeting and a variety of pillows.

They were generous and curious about me and my experiences and lovely in their sharing about themselves and Buddhism.  They spoke English and told about their beginning with chanting and Buddhism.  I was reminded through the conversation the importance of the practice is responsibility for the self and our own lives, no matter what our challenges or experience.  That is why we chant everyday… returning to and connecting with that greater larger self known in Buddhism as “Buddahood”.  We are all powerful, all part of the great whole.

Afterwards, we gathered in the kitchen for a bit and enjoyed some conversation and some good bread, greek cheese, olives and other goodies.  Beate sharing that when they went to Greece to visit family, the parted with a large chunk of Feta…to get them through the winter!  We took time to share a little about our lives, about America and Germany.  Our understandings and experiences.  And then it quickly was time to catch my train.

I returned home to Imke and Michael’s to receive an email from Beate and Lefteri.  A gentle reminder of the connection and time that we had.  A feeling extended like a warm blanket encouraging me as I continue on my journey.

I am almost packed for my departure from Hilpartsau.  Still secretly hoping that I get into the Vipassana retreat that starts tomorrow… I am on a waiting list and have been holding out making plans in hopes that a list minute opportunity comes my way.  But one way or the other, either the retreat or return to Wettenbostel, it seems I will be leaving tomorrow.  The bittersweetness of good time spent and the interest of new times to come.

The children are bustling downstairs and I imagine Imke is preparing a meal for lunch.  Imke is a great cook.  The food we ate the other day was so good I could almost scream.  “What is it that you put in your food? ” I asked.  She responded, matter of fact, that it’s love.  And its true.  I can feel it and taste it… that”x” factor.. something undefined in the food that invites you in to enjoy it.  And so with that… with the good experiences and good loving, nurturing food I have enjoyed here I find I am … full.  Full as I prepare to leave the Black Forest.  Well fed.  In many ways.

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