For sure, I love trees. I am what Gerrie – long time, but now retired, chief car-guard at Cape Town’s Cecilia Forest – describes as “’n vrou wat bome vry” (a woman who makes love to trees).
So, although their blood corpuscles erupt with embarrassment every time I wrap my arms around another beautiful tree, my family were not surprised when I included, in the schedule of a recent European holiday, a week’s camping in the Black Forest (Schwarzwald). And, with the big and much-maligned pines falling hard and fast on the mountain side around Cape Town, they knew that a sojourn in a forest or two full of tall, green and handsome – not-to-mention, unlike their African offshoots, treasured – fir, pine and spruce would be on my have-to-do list.
Accordingly, and fuelled by my fixation with foliage, we went in search of the definitive German tree. I saw it in my mind’s eye: tall and very straight with orderly branches and shiny leaves, somewhat unyielding to the touch, but appreciative of the attention all the same. I dreamed of enclosing it in my arms and leaning my ear against its coarse trunk. I imagined tapping into its ancient core and hearing its life experience, ring by ring. (I am not entirely crazy – I only imagined that I would understand tree-German.)
The search began when, having left Strasbourg, we branched off the autobahn at “the gateway to the Schwarzwald”, Baden-Baden and lumbered our way east, along the cool and dappled road that led past the small spa town of Bad Wildbad. (It is impossible to drive through Bad Wildbad. A 1,7 km tunnel through the nearby mountain ridge means that all through traffic is diverted around the town, ensuring that the streets are given over almost entirely to pedestrians.)
About 10 km south of Bad Wildbad, on the lush banks of the river Enz, we found our woodland sanctuary.
Kamping Kälbermühle is one of those astonishingly tranquil and unknown places that you want to brag about having stumbled across, but which you also badly want to keep to yourself for fear of breaking the magical spell of the undiscovered.
Operated almost single-handedly by the charming Frau Schroff and laid out on an abundant meadow alongside the river, the campsite is small and pastoral but exceedingly clean. The grass is dense and green underneath your tent, and the trees are tall and wide above. Drinking water – sweeter and purer than anything you have ever paid for in plastic – is piped from a spring on the mountainside and flows continuously into a small well beside the river in the campsite. Much to the delight of my then 12-year-old son – whose fascination for fish exceeds even my ardour for arbor – the deep, clear pools of the mossy-banked Enz are home to fat, slow brown and rainbow trout. What’s more, the Schwarzwald Gästekarte issued to us by Frau Schroff on arrival included a fishing licence for the area. (The gästekarte (guest card) is a useful coupon provided by the Black Forest tourist organisation. In addition to fishing, it provides visitors to the area with free access to public transport, museums, thermal and spa baths, tennis courts, swimming pools and numerous other facilities.)
The Schwarzwald is famous for its many panoramic and well-maintained hiking trails – there are about 23 000 km in total in the region – and Kälbermühle is ideally located for access to numerous clearly marked paths and tracks in the eastern fringe of the area. Trail maps are freely available and some of the walks – such as the “historischer rundwanderweg” (historical circular walk) that begins near the campsite – include places of interest at which you find intriguing information on that particular spot.
So, having pried my son’s hands from around his fishing road, we set off to search for the tree in earnest. Spongy underfoot, the shaded paths wind gently up the mountainside, bridged occasionally by neat wooden structures that traverse lively little rivulets trickling happily valley-ward. On either side, the Schwarzwald – the setting of many of the Grimm Brothers’ fairytales, let’s not forget – rises high and dense. It is a wilderness of dark wood, twisting vines, fluttering leaves and dappled sunlight, magnificent, peaceful and rich in colour, aroma and texture.
After about 12 km, we stopped to rest for a moment. I sat down on the musty forest floor, stretched my legs ahead of me and leaned back against the splendidly solid silver fir that reached about 40 m above me. As I raised my eyes upwards, a breeze rustled through its leaves: “Bitteschön (you are welcome),” I heard it whisper, just as I knew it wood.
(This article appeared in The Weekender in March 2009.)