True Colors

As Tisen and I stroll along Stringer’s ridge, my feet drag through a thick layer of leaves.  As they crunch and swirl in front of my feet, I remember what fall meant to me as a child.

Halloween was, of course, central to the fall experience.  Dressing up in some costume that never quite looked as glorious as I expected it to (except the year my mother cut and sewed her wedding dress into a Cinderella gown for my costume), parading through the yards of our neighbors to go door-to-door for halloween candy.

Even though it was a special occasion, we were only allowed to walk through the yards where adjacent neighbors had their porch lights on and were giving out candy.  Some yards, we got to crunch our way through un-raked leaves while other yards were sparsely dotted only with leaves that had fallen in the past hour.

Stringer’s ridge has no gardener to obsessively clear the leaves away.  They fall and create a weaving of color over the broken and dilapidated asphalt that marks the ridge’s recent history.  As we leave the nearby urban residential area and enter into the preserve, the leaves become denser and the views become more colorful.

Tisen has taken his time getting here.  Me with my camera stopping to shoot frequently had nothing to do with how long our walk has taken, I’m sure.  Tisen needed to sniff and mark every mailbox on the way through the neighborhood.  I tried to coax him on his way, but he insisted in at least making an attempt to leave his mark, even if it was only a gesture by the time we got to about the 10th mailbox.

As we crunch our way through the leaves now, I don’t hurry him, but I do occasionally try to get him to sniff a yard or two in one direction or another so I can shoot while he sniffs.  I wonder how many photographers struggle to get the angle they want because they are walking a 70 pound dog who doesn’t always cooperate?  Sometimes it makes me wonder if I’m the one on the leash.

Given the slowness of our progress and my need to be somewhere in the near future, we take the shortest route to the overlook.  It’s not an overlook in the sense that anyone built a structure or anything.  But, they did clear a few small trees so the view of downtown was unobstructed.

I love this view.  You can see the best part of the riverfront as you look across a sea of colorful trees.  It’s hard to believe there are so many trees between me and home as I look down the ridge and across the neighborhood Tisen and I have just walked through.

I say a silent thank you to the good people of Chattanooga who had the foresight to make this a preserve and then we turn to walk home.


The Climb to Schlossberg Tower

In contrast to yesterday morning, I wake up feeling like whatever bug Pat was fighting has been evicted only to find it’s way over to me. I get up groggily at 6AM, but end up returning to bed until 9AM. When at last I wake up, Pat is already out of bed. We get ourselves ready and head to breakfast, debating what today’s agenda should be. Pat suggests we go hiking again. I suggest we hike up the mountain this time and take the cable car down, as my knees will not take another day of downhill. Pat does not want to work that hard, so I suggest we walk over to Shlossberg and walk up to the tower, which is supposed to be a fantastic view of Freiburg. I’m not sure why I wasn’t tipped off to the fact that if we walk up to a scenic overlook, we will also have to walk down, but I cheerfully propose this alternative, thinking it will give our knees a day to recover.

After breakfast, we wind our way through Freiburg to the restaurant the marks the start of the ascent to the tower. The sign says 1.2 KM to the tower and I smile encouragingly at Pat that it’s such a short walk. As we start up the path, we quickly learn how cramped our poor calves are from walking downhill all day yesterday–each step feels like a massive stretch. But, it feels good and we take it slow. A little too slow, perhaps–a group of octogenarian Germans passes us like we’re standing still. We pick up the pace a bit. After winding our way through several steep switchbacks, we reach a restaurant and realize it’s the same restaurant that we thought we were at below. I am a little perplexed that it seems like we’ve gone at least 500 meters, yet we have only made it from the entry point to the restaurant.

We continue up the incline, much of it as steep as basement stairs. We pass enormous trees covered in graffiti as well as ancient ruins also covered in graffiti–we are surprised by the tagging every where in this relatively small town. At last, the climb gives way to a flat place where a playground with large wood structures provides a place for young children who aren’t exhausted to burn off energy while their parents catch their breath. I notice there aren’t any children here. I recline on a chain link hammock in the middle of the structure long enough for Pat to take a rare photo of me. When I view the photo on my camera, I remember why I prefer to stay on the other side of the lens.

We continue on to the next stretch of the path, winding our way up even steeper climbs. Finally, we come to the ruins of a tower with a serpentine path up to the top. We look over the view and I shoot, enjoying the breeze as much as the scenery. I turn around to shoot the other side and see another mountain behind us. I lean back to take a shot and, there in my lens at the very top of the next mountain is a structure silhouetted against the sky that looks remarkably like the symbol we have seen marking the path to the tower. Yes, I have just discovered that we are not at the tower at all, but only at a stopping place on the way.

I break the news to Pat. The tower looks far off in the distance, but we are determined to make it there. All wisdom about “enjoy the journey as much as the destination” abandons me as I focus on putting one foot in front of the other to finish this climb. I wonder how they measured the 1.2 KM–perhaps it was as the crow flies or, perhaps they meant it was 1.2KM straight up? Whatever the case, we redouble our efforts and leave the octogenarians in the dust (I am not proud to say that I was pleased that they turned around at the first tower because I would have been humiliated if the climb to the top was just an afternoon stroll for them). At last, we come upon the steps leading up to a grassy field where the viewing tower sits. It’s a crazy looking structure–giant logs support a spiral staircase up the middle with viewing platforms at multiple heights.

We enter the spiral stairs and I start counting each step. Then, I realize that perhaps in Germany this is not considered OCD as they have actually numbered the steps for me. 159 steps later, we arrive at the second to last viewing platform, but the steps narrow and continue, unnumbered. I climb up 16 more steps to the next platform and discover that the steps go up even further, past the viewing platform and shooting into the sky like an abandoned step ladder. I climb to the very top, but the stairs sway side to side. I take a step backwards and brace myself against the rail, every fear of heights I’ve ever had suddenly screaming in my ears, “Get down!” But I will not retreat until I have at least a couple of shots from this vantage point–it truly is an incredible view of Freiburg below and, for once, there is no fog. I manage to let go of my death grip on the rail long enough to snap a few careless photos and then I retreat to the platform where Pat waits. A man comes up the stairs below and the entire tower sways as his weight shifts with each step. Although the swaying is less amplified on the platform than it was on the stairs to no where, I am happy when Pat suggests we go down another level and sit on a built in bench for a while. When we sit, we notice a small lock snapped on the fence below the rail. It is engraved with two people’s names and a date. It seems like a nice way to tag something.

We cautiously make our way back down, but my left knee immediately starts with it’s shooting pains after only a few steps. I use the handrails to lift myself down, trying to save my knee for the descent down the hill. My knee really shouldn’t hurt this much–oddly, it’s my right knee that I previously injured, yet my left knee always starts with the pain first, my right knee catching up later. We limp our way down to the restaurant, feeling very old indeed. We decide it’s past time for lunch, so we might as well take a break and eat here. Unfortunately, the nice restaurant is no longer serving lunch, only coffee and dessert, and they send us up to the beer garden above. It’s only one flight of stairs up, so we settle at a table there and Pat goes up to the stand and orders food for us. He returns with what looks like a plate of worms. It turns out, it’s some meat like bologna that’s been sliced into thin strips and tossed with vinaigrette. Pat frowns at it–he says it’s not prepared properly and that it isn’t what he had in mind. We each try it. While it isn’t as bad as a plate of worms, it’s not significantly better. We manage to get down a couple bites each and then shift our focus to our beers. The beer is good. We sit in the sun filtered through heavy trees and drink our beer thinking life is pretty good in spite of the bologna salad. The view was worth the climb and the sore knees and, after all, we’re sitting in a lovely beer garden enjoying German pilsner with nothing else that has to be done today.