Omi took me to the woods.
My memories of times with my German Grandma on my mother’s side are walking on pine needle carpets along tree lined paths in Hessen Germany. She’d look for mushrooms on the way while she held her walking stick and as we meandered along on those paths in the woods, Omi would sing German folk songs.
And, sometimes she’d grasp my arm and we ‘d wander arm in arm, her smiling brown eyes peering into mine with warmth and acceptance.
To get to the woods with my Omi was an effort. We’d wait outside of her house for the bus to take us into downtown Bad Homburg, a few kilometers from where she lived, and after getting to town, we’d transfer to another bus that would take us out of town where we’d get out at a stop that felt like it was the middle of nowhere, but it was somewhere, it was near a hiking trail.
In German, hiking is “wandern” which is a great word if you stop and think about it. When I think of “wandering” in English I think of roaming or meandering without worry of destination. Adventure. I am reminded of the poem by JRR Tolkien that has the phrase in it, “Not all who wander are lost.”
In Germany, the trails you walk on are really fun, especially because sometimes you’d come across a café in the middle of the woods where you could stop and get “Torte” and coffee or hot chocolate. Sometimes we’d get “KinderKaffee” which means children’s coffee, and I think they called it that because it was caffeine free.
Because my Omi lived in Germany and I lived in America, I did not get to see her very often, only every three to five years. And then as I got older, I’d visit her on my own and then later with my husband and then later with my kids. And, hiking with her continued to be a tradition with us. Getting us outdoors, in the fresh air. In the woods. Experiencing life together in nature. Many people talk about women being into shopping and malls and stores, but not my Omi. It was the woods that she was all about.
When I did my student teaching at Marshall High School in Portland, Oregon, I taught an American Literature course for seniors, and we studied Henry David Thoreau’s “Walden,” (also known as “Life in the Woods.”) One of my favorite quotes from Thoreau is “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms.”
My Omi lived deliberately, taking us to the woods, sucking the marrow out of life. She loved adventure and getting outside. She built memories with us, and as I look back, even though I did not get to see her that often, hiking and walking in the woods with Omi are some of my fondest childhood memories. Being in the woods with Omi.