As I sit here, on the first properly sunny day of this year, I can’t help thinking that today would be perfect for a picnic. I have always loved the idea of picnics, perhaps from my eternal fascination with the Mad Hatter’s tea party, or maybe the idea of conjoining one thing I love (food), with another (being outdoors). Either way, this thought took me to one of the most special picnics I’ve ever had – I would even go so far as to describe it as ‘breath-taking’ – in the Black Forest, Germany.
This was my first trip to Germany, and was quite the flying visit, given that the whole trip involved traversing five countries in two weeks. I like to call it a ‘sneak preview of Europe’, because those two weeks were definitely not enough to sate my wanderlust. I will write about all of those experiences in time, not necessarily in order, but when the time feels right to rediscover those memories. To be frank, it may be several years before I can bear to stomach some of the more uncomfortable and downright cringe-worthy experiences (I’m talking motorway breakdowns and minor sunstroke, alongside ‘ga-ga’ Satnav and misplacing the odd thousand euros). But all will come in time, I promise.
So, here we were in the Black Forest, trekking along a fantastic route filled with waterfalls, zig-zagging back and forth around the great expanse of leafy green; being dazzled every few steps by sunshine, which resolutely broke through the thick layer of foliage to throw a golden hue over the ecosystem below.
Having reached the top of the zig-zag path, I decided we were high enough to have a decent view whilst picnicking. Our diet for the two weeks was a rich supply of ham and cheese sandwiches, which we varied daily by choosing an assortment of meats and cheeses. (Since then, suffice to say, I could probably count the amount of said sandwiches I’ve consumed on one hand, but when you’re trekking through forest and mountainous regions all day, believe me, it becomes quite a delicacy to have almost all major food groups in one meal!) The important aspect of the picnic of course had little to do with the food here, but rather the environment and view! That said, I do sort of wish I’d taken just one snap of those oh so faithful ham and cheese sarnies…
Anyway, stomachs grumbling, we found ourselves on a slightly less beaten track. Of course we followed this, treading with a newfound, strange expectation. A few minutes later, I saw a break in the trees ahead – a clearing – good, I thought. I sped up, something other than the yearning for today’s salami and edam concoction urging me forward. Then the path ended. That was it, we couldn’t walk another step. Not because we were content with the spacious clearing we had found, or because we were simply too hungry to wait any more, but because ahead of us lay nothing except a gaping drop and a deep valley basin, crammed to the brim and overflowing with forest. And, like some wondrous mirage sent as an offering from the trekking overlord, right smack bang in the middle of the clearing, lay none other than a picnic bench.
I was stunned. This was it, the picnic place of all picnic places, the place where I could eat my sandwich and forgot the somewhat samey flavour, whilst surveying the dark, foreboding grandeur at my feet. So that was what I did. I munched and overlooked the kingdom below, pretending it was all mine, and that every leaf and branch, every pebble and stream, every waterfall and river was mine to appreciate and protect from civilisation.
I didn’t want to leave. I wanted to create a new habitat and live in the forest forever, with or without my ham and cheese sandwiches.
Unfortunately, such reveries are ephemeral, allowing only a glimpse of euphoria before reality drags us back and forces us to return to daily life. To our commutes, our offices, and the tantalising, bittersweet countryside views; the air blowing the fresh scents, heavy with pollen, on waves of summer air which glide through the window, remaining just out of reach…
…Until next time, when we will load up the car, pack the ham and cheese sandwiches, and hit the road in search of the next picnic spot. For what is life, but a series of intermittent distractions between meals. It all depends on how we make the most of those stretches, to open our eyes, hearts, and minds to the whole forest, as well as the individual trees.
I hope you are all having a wonderful weekend, and I hope this post lends some inspiration to the upcoming picnic season!