Im Wald

Karah Kemmerly

Last week my program leaders took us on a day trip to Feldberg and the Schwarzwald (or Black Forest), where we went on a fairly long, but not too strenuous, hike. The weather was sunny, and we got to enjoy fresh air with lots of German families. Despite sore feet, it was all in all a very good day.

What struck me most, though, was not simply the spectacular scenery, but being able to feel what the forest is. I’ve been in forests before, of course, but while wandering around streams in the Schwarzwald, I was able to imagine the families who told stories about this forest and other forests centuries before I was born. The people that somehow both feared and revered what would happen if someone got lost in the trees.

As a child, I loved fairytales. I watched many animated renditions, Disney and otherwise, of classic stories. I dressed in costumes and acted out roles and constantly read different story anthologies. From a very young age, I appreciated the characters and morals that became real through storytelling. As I’ve grown older, that fascination has continued. In fact, since reading the grainier stories recorded by the Grimm Brothers, my interest in fairytales has only grown. Not because of the darkness and violence that was rarely present in Disney movies, but because these German fairytales contained a complex character that I had overlooked as a child: the forest.

The forest is a place of juxtaposition. Predators and life-giving food. Shelters and vicious cold.  Anyone who has heard the story of Snow White, or Schneewittchen, has seen this. At first, the main character is lured to the woods to be killed, but later she finds safety and security by hiding there. Today I felt these juxtapositions again and again. The terrain isn’t always easy on the body, but there is something rejuvenating about being in the forest.. Although hiking does in some ways give us a chance to connect to nature, it also reminds us how separate we are. We remain on trails. The forest stretches on and on, and there is something very spiritual about how it seems to be both dangerous and timeless.

I know that juxtaposition can be found in almost any story, and I know that writing a paper on light and darkness within a novel is really very tenth grade, but I do feel that simultaneously occurring opposites are important to making characters, literature and life interesting. The intensity of emotion stemming from juxtapostion-related conflicts drew me to German literature. The mixture of city streets and thick forests, techno and opera, old buildings and new buildings, progressive policies and dense history are what have made Baden-Württemburg such a rewarding place so far.