My True Czech Love

"Why did you come to the Czech Republic?" is a question I've been asked so many times that I should embroider the answer onto my reusable shopping bags.  Depending on the day, hour, and age and gender of the asker, I answer the query differently.  God.  English camps.  Fulbright.  And each of these have some part in the narrative of my being here.  Yesterday I realized another answer I could give in the future.  Love.  I lost my heart in this country.

Some people wonder if I came or stayed here because I fell in love.  For that one I usually laugh and give a disappointing "no."  But, if I were to tell a love story, it would be about Krakanoš.  He is the legendary lord of the Krkonoše mountains.  My first time in the Czech Republic was in 2004, when I was 16 years old.  This Iowa girl had at that point never been out of the country nor in the Appalachians, Rockies, or any other mountain range.  Thus my first day in the mountains was July 7, 2004 when I set out with a group of Czechs and a few American camp teachers/leaders for a a day hiking up and around Česká Budka.  I remember it being the longest walk I'd ever been on, and I remember being thrilled by the forests, streams, and rocks.  As we reached the Polish border, I reveled in the fact that I didn't have my passport.  (These were days were passports were still checked as trains crossed borders.)

Happy Charity in the Krkonoše, 2004. 
Somewhere near Česká Budka in 2004, taken by my old digital camera 
Through the other memories of that English camp--the people, faces, and moments of cultural discovery--it is moments from that hike that I can recall with clarity.

*       *        *

Last week I asked a few Czech friends if they'd be willing to help me take an American visitor, Sarah, up into the Beskydy Mountains.  The spring-like weather of late made me brave enough to attempt the hike, as did the lingering envy after seeing some photos of cheerful friends before frothy clouds which presided over the horizon.

Emails and SMS's were sent, and on Saturday morning, Sarah and I rode along with Petr towards Frydlant, where we would meet another Petr and continued up towards Lysá Hora, the highest mountain in the Beskydy.  The men were good-spirited and glad for the opportunity of fresh air.  No cross words were said as the crisp air whipped through the valley and we began the journey.  Smiles, tea, and Horalky were shared as we paused to enjoy views, a rest, or a photo op.  Shortcuts were suggested, but not insisted upon; hands were lent at slippery spots and patience abounded.

At the summit, the wind whipped around us, eager that we should remember our breath and that we were living beings.  After eating klobaska with mustard in a basement pub steaming with hikers, we left the chatter, cheering, and the sound of Olympic speed-skating to descend the mountain.  The cold greeted me outside, and as my chilled teeth smiled at the glittering mountains, I wondered if it was they who which had really lured me back to this country.


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