Day 8, 12th October 2017. A detour: Der Hubertussee – wohlfuhl wege (feel-good ways or paths).
Yesterday I walked from Lower Austria into Styria and I was all prepared to carry on to Mariazell, the final leg of the Via Sacra pilgrimage, but my kind hosts persuaded me to stay longer. Thus, close as I was, I took a walk around the luminous Lake Hubertussee, along the river Walster and many of its arterial tributaries, through the surrounding forests and back to Mitterbach.
I had woken at 6.30am and done some writing before fresh-air T’ai chi in their garden by the River Erlauf.
Be not afraid of going slowly, be afraid only of standing still
Chinese proverb thanks rob_shiatsu.
When we were all ready, I was driven to Lake Hubertussee where two partook of a sugary breakfast, and Gudrun and I shared cheese and red pepper on rye bread. Amor, the toddler, played while we sat in the sun.
I walked away from the ‘family’ group around 11am, past the statue of the Imperial Kaiser Franz Joseph hunting. He was Emperor of Austria and King of Hungary (amongst other titles). I guess he must have come here for sport, but it is such a special place it is hard for me to imagine that.
There was the moon again, in the day sky, like one of those off-white, grapefruit jellies.
I spotted the Hubertskapelle (chapel), every sight more magnificent than the last. I thought it had a golden window but it was the gilded autumn leaves in the sun through the gap. Weed and sky-white cloud hung under the surface of the lake; gentle air caressed my arms.
Walking gives me the time to question things and here it was the ethics I have been raised with in the light of the unorthodox relationships I had encountered during my travels. Being an outsider and therefore able to witness the repercussions of them, I needed time to muse on the difference between opening to what might be possible thereby bringing new experiences, a way of challenging the norm; and at the same time asking myself whether it is possible to avoid being taken advantage of. I thought about ‘truth’, when or where it is important to tell it; if it is always necessary to do so; and if yes, to whom?
Then I became aware of the geese honking, taking my attention away from my thoughts and back into my surroundings. I continued, mindfully.
At the top, of course, I took the path down again, alongside the river which was diverted through attractive grey stone walls, channelling the water where man wanted it to go, and into yet another wonderful lake downstream.
There were brown-planked houses with simple pointed roofs which matched the pines, poised for take-off on the mountainsides opposite; virgin-white water cascaded between mossy cushions and knobbles of silver escarpment; sparkling orange, autumn foliage illuminated it all – it mesmerised me.
Once away from the lake one can walk and walk this trail and not see a soul, and it is to be relished.
There are lots of signs at some junctions (the red and white signs with numbers indicated the cycle routes), but then again there are places soon afterwards with none. Which way should I turn? My phone (Google) maps were OK, but in the middle of the countryside there is rarely coverage. I discovered that the best way to know when there was a signal was to leave my data and sound on. That way when I happened to walk into a zone, some message pinged in which alerted me to check the location. Otherwise, it did not drain my allowance or disturb my peace because it was so very rare.
Occasionally, unexpectedly, a village, no, not really that big, a collection of houses, appeared out of nowhere and helped me find myself on my GPS.
It was a mighty, majestic landscape of grey crags, dark brooding firs, and flaming beech atop: stimulating sights. I went slowly, I sat and watched the grasshoppers, stretching out this gorgeousness because I did not want it to end. The sun connected the sky and the earth, and created pin-prick stars for a moment on the water, and then they were gone as I rounded the corner into the shade. It was all so sensual and I felt alive to every sound, smell and feeling.
I get filled up with space when I come here.
Karine POLWART from ‘Wind’.
I went up and over and round a small mountain and had a bit of an epiphany at the summit. It was that sort of a day. It seemed to be the summation of this Via Sacra pilgrimage. I had very clearly set out my aim in advance: to help others while I travel, and I realised that I must then trust that all the encounters I have are beneficial to those I meet as well as to me, even if I do not understand how or why; that the time we spend together is enough for them and me.
I wrote down what I could use on a leaflet to give out as I make pilgrimages: ‘I am an experienced bodyworker. I am walking from place to place offering a moment of touch. You do not take your clothes off to receive and we do not need to be in private. If you are tired or in pain, sit down and I will give you some support. There is no fee or charge. I can be what your energy needs to know itself better. For the time we are together.’
And I reflected that to do this I have to arrive in a calm state – I have to have some energy left after the walk, which is another reason why I must pace myself. It is important that I treat myself like that, that I experience the joy of the ‘camino’, take time and rest in nature, so that people can tell I am trustworthy (in therapy speke, I am being congruent) and believe that I can help them. And that is it. It was all clear, there, in that magical place.
I gave some Shiatsu, of course, while I was staying in Mitterbach, by way of exchange for my bed and board. I also joined in Spanish and creative dance classes, and I shared some baby Shiatsu with two of Paula’s clients while she sat in and watched.
‘If you take seven steps to help one patient, it is the same as circumambulating all the Buddhas. If you give medicine one time to one patient, it is the same as having made charity to all sentient beings. When you fulfill the wishes of one patient, it is equal to having made offerings to all the worthwhile objects.’ Thanks to Max P.
The Via Sacra pilgrimage runs from Vienna to Mariazell, Austria. This is an account of my day 7, 11th October 2017, the first half of Stage 4.
I was on foot with my backpack, not walking overly far each day although there was a lot of uphill. Without stopping for more than 10/15 minutes twice, I was savouring the countryside because such beauty should not be rushed. Moving slowly from a to b to c, this is wandering rather than hiking at speed, so it took me longer than the guide said it would. Taking photos was, as always, almost obsessive: to share and to show those who have not visited. I also answered messages sometimes (unnecessarily), and constantly checked the map as I went along to avoid getting lost.
‘..follow the Buddha’s simple advice: “When walking – just walk!”‘ quotes Adam Ford in ‘Mindful Thoughts for Walkers, Footnotes on the Zen Path.
Today’s route: Annaberg, by-passing the towns of Joachimsberg and Wienerbruck which are on the road, up Josefsberg (berg is mountain in German), that is, over the Türnitzer Alpen and down again to Mitterbach. It was the gentlest morning followed by a terrible climb, but all in glorious sun.
Birds trilled as I left the youth hostel (Junges Hotel). It had been a strange and rowdy experience there: no-one spoke any English and indeed, the mirror in my room was framed with the word ‘Welcome’ in every imaginable language except English which is unusual for an internataional place. The staff were friendly enough, despite being so very busy.
I startled a single deer under the trees – no wonder she did not usually expect any one to be there as it was thick undergrowth: nettles, twigs, a steep slope and a river to cross. Of course I had taken the wrong route but I could not turn back – somehow that was the worst of ideas. I emerged scratched and panting, to admire the wonderful mountain.
There were sounds of cow bells, as you might expect, and again, memories of the story of Heidi (by Johanna Spyri) with the mountain and its squat houses with brown balconies. They were all girdled by a majestic raptor: was it an eagle? It had a big fanned tail and a hooked beak and it circled through a sky blue enough to rival an Iberian one.
Once I got my breath back it seemed a good time to visit the Catholic Parish Church which I had seen from the outside the day before (a mixture of medieval and early Baroque features). The crocheted seat covers, the stained glass, the late Gothic vine painting 1440-1444, and the detail on the organ (1898, Max Jakob) where the angels seemed to be having a real drama, were all worthy of admiration.
Then the path descended, downhill through the village and out along the Annaberger Kreuzweg, into the cold shade where modern Stations of the Cross can be found at intervals. As with the Camino Frances in northern Spain which is 500 miles (800 kms) long in its entirety but can be shortened to the final 62 (100kms) in order to get the compostella (the certificate at the end), there is a shortened Via Sacra which begins here in Annaberg rather than in Vienna but still ending in Mariazell.
I crossed the Brücke uber den Tannbach (built in 1870) and admired the trickling brook and pretty homesteads in the distance.
It was a very steep and hot climb to Josefsberg (the third Sacred Mountain) but a relaxing stop for a snack by the horse exercising ring of white sand, and the spectacular view from the top. I peeked into the tiny square (also Baroque) chapel because my information had told me about a series of fascinating wall paintings in the presbytery. There was no sign of them inside.
There was a woman moving boxes of flowers outside the house next door, so in my broken German I asked her where were the frescoes. She did not understand! So I tried in English and unusually, happily, she did comprehend that. Lo! she was the key holder and proudly unlocked doors, showed me around and told me all about them.
It was a fascinating interlude and I would highly recommend them to other visitors.
My mind this Autumn time, turned to grief and the passage I read on Facebook (and now cannot remember the source) rang true. I had time to reflect as I made my way.
‘You have to pick it up, hold it, feel the weight of it in your hands, on your heart and within your life. You have to feel the whole loss. Grief demands to be felt with an insistence that needs no sleep. You either allow yourself to encounter the feelings or you remain encased in a shell of yourself under a misguided sense of self-protection.’
A few days before I had checked out Shiatsu practitioners who lived in the area, and to my delight I received a text in reply last night offering me a bed in exchange for a session. Petra is native to Mitterbach and she lives there with her baby son Amor, his father Mao from El Salvador, and a delightful friend Gudrun. They are very active in the town, giving Shiatsu and baby Shiatsu, yoga, chi gung and dance classes, hosting festivals and being patrons of architectural murals.
I came down from the mountain with quiet echoing in my ears. I was earlier than I had anticipated so I sat in silence on the outskirts of the town, acclimatising to the busyness and noise up ahead. My meet-up with Petra was by a pond outside a cafe at 4pm. A father was playing guitar while his children played in the sandpit. Nearby a family carried a baby in a papoose with 2 other kids shrieking delightedly on a make-shift raft. Older women sipped pink wine in the sun. I felt mellow and more at home than I had so far on this pilgrimage.
They live by the Erlauf river on the main street, with a garden where we had our evening meal. I brushed up on my Spanish at the class Mao gave that evening for people in the town, and was generally made very welcome. Many thanks to these kind people who opened their home without ever having met me before.