I was soon in Slovakia (on my way to Siberia), and friend Jana and I were hitchhiking to the Low Tatra Mountains.
A stout, glossily-dressed, blond girl picked us up and managed her comfortable car's stick-shift with soft hands. Monika seemed nice; she told, in sweet but complicated Slovakian, how things lately haven't been going her way.
Later, Julius picked us up in his ancient truck made out of blocks. Inside the gumdrop-shaped front seat, his huge, round, tough-leather head hunched towards the wheel wearing thick glasses and a tooth-missing smile so witlessly content it ought've pushed me out of the vehicle. He was smart, though.
Darkness fell. The quiet road wound up and over and beside green, wavy plateaux with night pine trees and - somewhere - an endemic species of flower. Julius' open bed carried supplies for his stone-carving company. Slovakian Jana would later say she didn't like about him that he spoke fondly of the communist days and his work in a cigar factory. (The Soviets had occupied Eastern Europe, and - though the stories of communism don't sound that bad to me - Jana's and many families regard those times as dark.)
For nearly a week, we stayed at Jana's parents' holiday apartment and saw Slovakia's nature.
One day, we were hiking the dry-yellow ridges of the Low Tatra Mountains. Big, heavy rocks dropped down below us to a harsh step in the mountain, where snow-slides dipped to a flatter spot. I saw the air between those singing, magnificent rocks as nothing; the air as silence; peace.
It was a new way to see! All things were merely wonderful disturbances in the nothing. I could easily feel their forms, to see things as they were. And this had been a goal of mine in meditation. Don't see things that aren't there. See not the sky. Perhaps we, through our vision, fill the emptiness with comcepts of ourselves. But, if we see in the air emptiness, and not thoughts and complications, we cease for a moment to exist - often a meditator's goal.
"the true Me is space" - Kerouac
For the rest of the day, I looked at spruce-baby trees and trailside rocks and climbing mountains. This way of seeing made me smile and smile. It occasionally made my blood pressure race excitedly.
Reality was centered on the ground. In grassy valleys, sheep and solitary trees hung above the hills. A mountain stream sprang through the woods, like a mystifying fountain. In the pastelle-colorful center of Liptovsky Mikolas town, quiet like all Czechoslovakian centers, the wide town hall building, trees, statues, and benches erupted from the flat plaza.
Even if you're not seeing your peaceful, inexistent self in the air, the Slovakian nature makes you smile. A high-grass, squirmy "V" valley opened up atwixt dominantly-large pine trees, slowly revealing its mountainous nooks to the hiker. Jana spotted a black-and-bright-orange salamander crawling dinosaurically on the ground. In the Kopcek Hills between the Low and High Tatra's, we had to scale bulky metal ladders and hold onto chains for security as we hiked a blue-walled canyon. A hillside, climbing trail through gentle deciduous forest was said to be the brown bears' ideal habitat, but we didn't see any. (Jana was rather afraid of bears and lightning. This late May, it stormed and downpoured daily.)
Jana left a day before me, and I camped near Liptovsky Mara, a big man-made lake. Skinny-dipping in the cold, deep lake, with snow on the Low and High Tatra's in both directions, in solitude, brought a tremendous feeling and caused me to want to thrust my fist in the air in celebration. "Outside nudity" is a new Act of Spontaneous Ecstasy for me. The couple that arrived meanwhile may not have been so ecstatic about it.
- peace, Modern Oddyseus
Thanks to Stano; Monika; "Tom"; Dodo; Jula; and Julius for rides!
Much thanks to Jana, mama, Jano, & Brano for a great trip!