|View to Schmilka, Sachsen|
The night turned out to be just what you would expect a quasi-legal* "alternative" Christmas Eve in a cave to be: we shared food and cooked over the fire that we all helped maintain, there was copious smoking and the drinking of large quantities of wine and Glühwein, we read aloud for each other, and when we woke up the next morning, the view was wonderful (see right). If you had to leave the Boofe to pee or get some wood, it was, in fact, a silent night. The star-scape probably would have been glorious if not for the snow clouds.
To get your gift(s) from the Weihnachtsmann, you either had to sing a song or read something. For my first present, what turned out to be a German-English Saxon cookbook from my roommate, I was having too much trouble sorting out English and German in my head to sing anything more complicated than "Jingle Bells". For my "Secret Santa" gift--a really sweet pocket knife and a chocolate Santa--I adapted a passage out of my German Bible (here from the NRSV):
Who has woe? Who has sorrow? Who has strife? Who has complaining? Who has wounds without cause? Who has redness of eyes? Those who linger late over Glühwein, those who keep trying new Glühwein mixtures. Do not look at Glühwein when it is red, when it sparkles in the cup and goes down smoothly. At the last it bites like a serpent, and stings like an adder. Your eyes will see strange things, and your mind utter perverse things. You will be like one who lies down in the midst of the sea, like one who lies on the top of a mast. ‘They struck me’, you will say, ‘but I was not hurt; they beat me, but I did not feel it. When shall I awake? I want another drink of Glühwein.’ ~Proverbs 23: 29-35
Later, at maybe 2:30 am, someone realized that the Christmas story hadn't been read yet and asked if I would do so. So I read the nativity out of Luke 2 for those who were still around the fire. At a quarter to 4 the fire was dying and I wanted to lie down, if not fall asleep quite yet, so I took off my boots and changed my inner pair of socks, then zipped myself up in my borrowed sleeping bag (coat, hat, scarf, gloves, and all), and did fall asleep. I woke up at 7:30 as if my second alarm had been set but was able to sleep for another hour, until the guy sleeping next to me needed some of the acetaminophen I had in my bag (hangover, maybe?). Awake but not wanting to venture into the cold, I lolled in the warmth of my Schlafsack like a hot tamale until my roommate had started the fire again. Then it was time for a leisurely breakfast.
Hiking had been planned but the rest of the group was much slower to start the day, so I finally packed my stuff up and set off myself. I made my way back to the trail through a light snowfall and then climbed the rest of the Lehnsteig. It was rather dangerous going both up and down, as where the earlier snows hadn't been trampled by hikers on Christmas Eve, it came up to the top of my knee caps. Thankfully there were often handrails to help with the very steep trail. It being Christmas Day, I was the first one to trample the freshly fallen snow. You can
On the way down it would have been nice to have someone else there for reassurance; although my roommate was just a cellphone call away, I prayed I wouldn't twist my ankle between the steps and break my leg. I tell you the truth: never in my life had I wished more for a cafeteria tray; then I could have slid part of the way down! As it was no bones were broken, and back on level ground I took more photos of the trees, and the snow, and the burbling brook. When I did slip, it was on the ice from the car tire tracks back in Schmilka. Camera rescued after falling out of my pocket, I finally made it down to the ferry dock, rather wet and cold, but close to catching the train back to Dresden and a warm bath a couple hours later. I still find the little river's-edge villages charming and snapped some photos through the snow-covered train windows (also on flickr).
Today was Second Christmas, and I used the occasion to relax at home and with an ex-pat family before writing this post, a love letter of sorts: to God for so ordering the laws of nature that such beauty results; to my friends here for the holiday cheer; and to my friends and family far, for reading this. Merry Christmas to all of you!
*--After we got there I learned that they had been warned on other trips that it is illegal to make an open fire in the national park; I couldn't figure out why, if this is so, there were large logs arranged in a square in the cave. At any rate, no ranger found us this night, and no one had to pay a 600(!) Euro fine.