Prayer for the Forest – Day 9by Thomas Zahn - 2020-12-05
Getting colder now. This leg of my journey was supported by Marie and Justin. Marie walked with me, from the beginning, the whole day. Justin provided the logistics, moving the car from place to place, as we traveled. Twice, he met us on the path, and joined us as we prayed. On this particular day, I am sure that it would not have been possible without them. Overall, the day’s walk was about 15Km. At first the temperature was below freezing. The path was icy and treacherous. Fortunately, it warmed up to about 3˚ C (about 37˚ F). To keep warm we simply kept moving…
We departed the quiet village of Zvikovec, on a path that led us through recently plowed fields, barely covered with snow. The ground was hard beneath our feet. We were glad to reach the forest, as it felt somehow warmer. We passed large cages where pheasants were bred, and followed a long fence line that was an enclosure to preserve Daněk (fallow deer). We could barely see a large herd, huddled on the opposite side. They probably sensed some danger, as Otik was full of excitement at the scent of something new.
We kept moving, out from the forest, and up to the village of Chlum. We entered this small village, passing the old schoolhouse that now was used also as a town office and pub. A few meters further, and we were in a picturesque village square, like so many others we had visited before. This one was exceptional for the well cared for old houses and farms, a playful sense of irony in the signage, and a war memorial that seemed to take inspiration from C.S. Lewis’ description of a lamp post as a timeless beacon. The setting was that of a storybook.
As with each of the prior legs of my journey, there were some noteworthy challenges today. Besides the temperature, the terrain was far more difficult in places. We descended and ascended far steeper slopes than I had previously. For this, I was glad to have companionship. A slip here could have been harrowing, leading to dire circumstances, for someone walking alone. I wondered about those pilgrims who earlier followed such paths, and the risks they had to endure. Luckily, there were no falls, just a missing bridge over a creek, that was too deep and wide to jump. A fallen tree, covered in moss and ice, provided the way to cross. Slowly, carefully, we managed without incident.
There were also gifts from the day. A hunter’s shrine to St. Hubert and the Goddess Diana. A prayer for the forest. Pears and apples, frozen on leafless branches. Even the village of Hřešihlavy (sinful heads), sadly a shadow today of its former beauty. Here, the grave markers of Jewish inhabitants, a restored chateau beside a neglected church, and the ruins of once prosperous farm houses, filled us with hope. As we journeyed, we saw only one person, exchanging a warm and pleasant greeting. Dobrý den!
The final 3Km went slow. I was nursing a sore ankle. Marie kept me warm with her company. It was only 4pm, but the sun was already setting. Although there were no cars on the road, we walked awkwardly in a recently fertilized field. At least it was not muddy, she quipped. It was cold, but soon the three of us sat in a small inn at Liblín, sipping warm cider, and wolfing down hermelín cheese and tlačenka. It was now as dark as a starless night outside, but we were warm and contended inside. We gave thanks for today’s journey together.
Finally, this was likely to be my last walk of the year It has been a magical and healing jouney. I am surprised that my legs have had the strength, and I have not suffered too much from a lack of breath, or the desire to reach each destination. With all my heart, I am grateful to those who have joined me and helped to make this journey possible. I am already looking forward to walking on the Way of St. James again. And so, I leave you this prayer we found on our way today, A Prayer for the Forest;
I am the warmth of your home during the cold winter nights
I am your friendly shadow when the summer sun is burning
I am the truss of your house, the board (top) of your table,
I am the bed that you sleep in, the wood you built your ship from,
I am the handle of your pickaxe, I am the wood of your cradle and coffin
I am the bloom of goodness and beauty
Please hear my plea: Do not destroy me!