My life now is different than it was a year ago. I moved during the pandemic; settled into a new place closer to work and surrounded in three directions by wooded hills. When I agreed to take the apartment I did not know how much I needed to be right where I landed.
I’ve spent most of the summer break here in my new home. Aside from a couple of getaway weeks in July, I’ve hunkered down comfortably in Neuwaldegg (the name of our neighborhood, pronounced NOY-Vahld-egg). To my delight I’ve found a new rhythm of movement that has helped me find a top-to-bottom joy I wasn’t sure was still possible.
Gathering life as I go
I wake up, drink water, put on my running stuff. Think to myself what the route should be. Schafberg, Heuberg, Exelberg, Hameau? In any case, all routes will lead uphill. Sometimes there's a stretch on the sidewalk before I can turn off and reach a trail. Other times, it's a walk along the periphery of small garden homes, now refashioned into pricey real estate bordering on the Vienna woods. Houses on hillsides, a few with ridiculous views overlooking the city. I walk through these spaces on my way to the trails that criss-cross these hills. At the start I sought out marked paths, keeping my eyes peeled for stripes on trees: white-yellow-white, white-green-white, white-blue-white. By now I have a handle on which trails lead where. Each trek takes me a bit farther afield, not just up the hill but also down and around until I circle back another way. I try out the occasional unmarked trail and note how it links up with my familiar route. I begin with the long walk, pausing where I please, listening lending my ear to the birds, bees and all the other life gathering itself. I look up at trees even though I can barely call them by name I thank them for their shade, I salute their resilience and adaptability. I can hardly imagine how tired they must be of humans. The paths are varied: combinations of rock, mud, roots, gravel and packed leaves. Weather adds variety: soggy, slippery after last night's rain; parched and cracked following three days' baking in the sun. I note these details as I go, measuring changes that sharpen my sense of scale and belonging. While I walk, I let my mind wander. Ideas get tossed up. some stick in my mind; others follow that dragonfly or catch me up before I trip. I'm open to what comes lingers and fades. these moments feel expansive I savor my aloneness, the quiet, a peace. There are few others out and about so far, a couple of mountain bikers, walkers, with dogs and without; runners. We greet each other and keep it moving. I'm glad not to share I am relieved of any shame of being too slow or too fast; of going too far, not far enough. Every day I can make up my own pace; determine my own course, change my mind as often as I like. I'm giving myself this gift and I always make sure to receive it. At some point it's time to turn around, to head back to where I came from. The route may be the same way or the other half of a loop. It's usually a descent so I jog. And as I jog I complete this puzzle of a gazillion micro decisions about where to place each foot to leap the puddle, clear the roots, to dodge the brush, hurdle the log. On my way down I feed my brain. Eyes are on high alert, ears attuned for potential scare. As trails become my friends I can anticipate their tricky curves and slippery rocks. I know I can't afford injury so there's caution and daring accompanying my every step. When I work my way back to solid ground, to forest drive, the sidewalk home my pace is steady and pushing it just enough to know it's working; I am accumulating a new sense of self and place. I reach the entrance to my building a sweaty mess and proud. This is what it means to hit my stride.