Posted by: Kirsten | Monday, 19 November 2007

Germany’s Harz National Park: Because It’s There

Atop the Brocken -- northern Germany's highest mountainI had the recent privilege of visiting two sites in Germany last weekend — Burg Frankenstein, which some believe may have been the site (replete with strange local characters) that inspired Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, and the Brocken Mountain in northern Germany, which stands atop Harz Nationalpark, and most definitely inspired Johann Wolfgang Goethe’s writing of Faust.  Then it got me to thinking — what is it about hilltops and mountains and their ability to inspire us? And why is it that some of these high-elevation areas often have this eerie connection to deities, devils, monsters, witches, and spirits? 

Devils Tower National Monument in Wyoming has that devil monicker as well, although it’s a recent amendment to the original name “Bears Lodge” as the natives call it. Either way, there’s that layer of legend and lore that sticks to so many mountain peaks throughout the world.  It’s a fascinating subject.  Moses climbed Mount Sinai and received the ten commandments.  In Greece, the gods lived on Mount Olympus.  In Hawaii and throughout the Pacific, volcanoes were the stomping grounds of angry gods on a rampage.  And in Japan, mountains play a prominent role in their history, literature, religion, and culture.  Is it just geography and the relative inaccessibility of these lofty places that makes them mysterious, or is there something else to it?

Our National Parks have plenty of hilltops to top.  Half-dome in Yosemite and Mount Fuji in Japan get a regular stream of climbers during the summer months — so many that people are often standing in line while waiting to ascend.  Other places like Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park (or the mountain where Burg Frankenstein sits) can be easily ascended with a Smart Car, while others such as Devils Tower, Mount Rainier, or Mount McKinley should only be attempted by the most prepared and well-trained among us.  There are many challenges between these extremes available to you — a hike to the top of Nevada Falls in Yosemite, a float trip down the Buffalo National River in Arkansas, or a bike ride the length of the C&O Canal 184-mile towpath here in Maryland, just to name a few.

So why do we aSPIRe to climb these places and accomplish these feats?  “Because they’re there” sounds silly, but there’s a certain element of truth to that old saying.  While I couldn’t see a thing because of all the fog on the Brocken, it still lifted my SPIRits to make the hike and have that story to tell the family upon my return.  It’s a funny story of overcoming a train strike, several missed connections, avoiding sledders, skiers, mountain bikers, and a narrow gauge locomotive as they materialized from the fog, and improvising one’s way through the unexpected time and time again to its happy conclusion. Signs along the way to Brocken Summit

Will it inSPIRe them to do something similar someday, either with me or on their own?  I think so.  Will it stir their imaginations to want to learn more about Shelley or Goethe? Perhaps.  And will the notion of getting out into the great outdoors and accomplishing something they thought not possible also be more likely? I certainly hope so. 

There are lots of hills to climb, rivers to ford, and canyons to cross.  Next time your family visits a National Park or other outdoor location, study that map, be prepared, and set a challenging goal for yourselves.  There’s more than one kind of “uphill climb”, and perSPIRation can lead to inSPIRation.  There’s no doubt about it.

— Jon

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