Waldeinsamkeit

Waldeinsamkeit

Waldeinsamkeit (n.) (German): The feeling of being alone in the woods. Embodies a connectedness with nature and the peace experienced in that moment.

You know the feeling. The one you get after an early morning swim in the ocean – the flowing electricity that passes through you as you dive under that first wave. Or the sense you are filled with when you go away camping, switching off but switching on, more connected than ever before. Walking through a hushed forest, pulsing with life and energy. You feel like part of something more. Small, but not scared.

Living on the road for six months travelling around Australia, I realised how alive and at peace I felt. An easy contentment. Leaving (or escaping) Naarm/Melbourne between the two lockdowns, my partner and I ventured up the East Coast, excitedly stopping at national parks and beaches along the way.

We had set up the back of our 4WD Pajero as a camper, building a bed in the back with storage underneath – our wardrobe and kitchen. The pair of us shared just two square metres, meaning we spent a lot of our time outside cooking, reading and chatting wherever we pulled up for the night. Mother Nature was our living room, our kitchen, our bathroom and our backyard. Million-dollar views were the daily – and all for free.

After a few weeks of meandering along the coast, it struck me how calm I felt. As the sun nestled itself into the horizon and night settled in, I found that peace had settled within me too.

I began to write about those feelings, searching for words to describe how sublime it was living in nature. Nothing in my vocabulary seemed to capture it. For one of the first times in my life, I felt like my language was failing me. 

Maybe the English-speaking tradition doesn’t have a word for belonging in nature, I thought. Only words to describe cutting it down.

This was when I discovered Waldeinsamkeit: a German word that embodies the feelings of peace experienced as you walk through a forest. Broken down, Waldeinsamkeit is made up of the word for forest – Wald, and loneliness – Einsamkeit. It also has a rich spiritual and cultural significance for the German people.

I was so excited: a word to encompass these feelings! And a beautiful one at that.

A few weeks into our travels, my partner and I stumbled across a stunning beach campground just north of Mulubinba/Newcastle called Samurai Beach on the traditional land of Worimi People. Our stay here still lingers as one of the most vivid memories from the trip. 

Parked and set up in the sand dunes, we hopped out of bed in the morning straight onto plush white sand. Grains clung enduringly between toes and sheets, and our days were punctuated by nude swims, communal cooking and sharing stories around a fire. 

We went for runs along the beach – hurriedly turning away from the leathery naked men standing in power stance, hands on hips, junk blowing in the breeze and looking out to sea (nothing will be able to remove this image from my mind, ever). We plunged into the embrace of sapphire waves, big smiles plastered to our faces and laughter hanging in the air like dragonflies skimming the water’s surface. Everything glistened on these days.

I was awash with an intense clarity. To bear witness to the sun rising and then setting every day is a special experience, and I wondered how often I would look up and watch this primordial tag team back at home. 

A few months and a few thousand kilometres down the track, the raw, acute beauty of the Northern Territory stirred an equally powerful response. Encounters with landscapes that predate life on earth left me in awe. 

Treading with care through this ancient, magical land, I became a tiny bit closer to understanding the special relationship that Australia’s First Nations people have to Country. I felt their wisdom and connection reaching back through millenia – something I can only begin to imagine.

After traversing the centre of Australia, down past Mparntwe/Alice Springs, Uluru and Ikara/the Flinders Ranges via the Oodnadatta track, we finally reached Tarntanya/Adelaide. It had been over two months since we’d encountered a big city.

Immediately, we were swallowed by the churning stomach of concrete, asphalt and artificial light, with not a skerrick of red dirt in sight (although we are still finding red dust in the car to this day). We headed to the city centre, parking our dust-enshrouded vehicle and wandering the streets to get a feel for them. I was shocked: shocked at how I felt so out of place. Everything seemed so wrong, yet no one around me was questioning it.

My heart rate began to ascend. Flashing signs, thousands of people, shops full of things. I felt like a wild animal. How had this been normal, how was this ever natural? I had a panic attack, chest constricting and head swallowed by anxiety.

We all become accustomed to the way we live, and as humans, we adapt pretty quickly, but the jolt I felt returning to the city came as a wake-up call. It prompted me to look at what I once considered normal in a new light. The perversity of rampant consumerism and detachedness from nature were made profoundly clear through my visceral reaction. This is not right. My knowledge was as solid as concrete. 

The quotidian pause to watch the sunrise or sunset is eclipsed by the demands of capitalism. As our lives and priorities are swept away into an overwhelming swell of appointments and work and commitment, we lose what connects us to ourselves. When we are workers and consumers before we are creators and communities and humans, we feel lost. 

Living with few material things in the bush has taught me to value that feeling you get out in nature, and to seek that feeling all the time. It has given me a deeper reverence for the land on which we live, of which Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander sovereignty has never been ceded, as well as perspective on city life and the detriments of capitalism. Mostly, it has fuelled my profound appreciation, adoration, of our natural world and ignited even more passion in me to protect it.

As hard as it is to find Waldeinsamkeit living back in the city and studying, I am constantly planning trips out of town, even just for a day. Seeking out natural places amidst the buildings and sitting under the trees always helps. Or, if I feel really overwhelmed, I go back to my memories of Samurai Beach and let those waves wash over me again.

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