When you go for a morning run in Zakopane, you tie a certain type of expectation to your shoe laces. You expect high-reaching mountains and layers of carved hillside. Birds should be chirping and cows should be grazing. But after running into the foggy abyss two days ago, I’ve found that the Polish marvel that is Zakopane could very well be a favorite vacation spot for Stephen King and the Headless Horseman.
For the past couple of days, Zakopane, known as the winter capital of Poland, has been hiding under a blanket of fog. But try as it might to disappear behind the curtain, I am determined to remind this stubborn mountain town that there is only one introvert allowed here and all she’s asking for is a twinge of flawless majestic beauty.
Before I continue to complain about the weather, however, let me just say that running through the fog was actually pretty awesome. I felt like a Spartan solider sent on some kind of precarious mission when in reality, I probably just looked like an uncertain blob lost in the mist.
It was a challenging run that included a very steep and cruel uphill but once I got to the top, the clouds fled ship, the mist cleared, and the sun shone proudly on the mountain tops…just kidding, it was still foggy. I actually think the fog grew thicker at that point. But strangely enough, I think my run through foggy Zakopane will remain one of my favorites for years to come . Something about losing sight of everything behind and in front of me was oddly comforting. For forty minutes, I had a clean slate.
A couple of days have passed along with the fog. Zakopane is finally awake and astoundingly beautiful.
As you can imagine, I had a very different experience on my run this morning. The view took my breath for hostage long before the killer hill did and all I could think about while I stumbled past the spectacular mountains and sleepy cows on my way back to the hotel was how this place reminds me of just about everything and everyone. It would seem that when Zakopane isn’t pretending to be Sleepy Hollow, it holds host to some of my most important memories instead.
The cows slowly meandering through the hillside reminded me of my English grandmother and her peaceful countryside home in Somerset. Granny was strong and quietly adventurous and had a way of scoping out dazzling views and sparkling moments while everyone else was unaware. It seems in her hunt for quiet yet insistent beauty, she stumbled across me as well.
Past the open hillside was a small, hidden trail, protected by lush pines and thick bushes. Trudging through the bashful trail, I was reminded of one of my first runs on the Ithaca Cross-Country team. I was running with my lovely friend Tina through a small trail decorated in fall colors. We were talking about nature and then our futures and then somewhere along the way, I started to realize that I was no longer passionate about what I was studying. Why was I learning about human anatomy and cell reproduction when I all I wanted to do was write: write about everything and anything until I satisfied that incessant itch in my brain? Why not just commit to the fogged-over uncertainty?
After my run this morning, I filled up on a hearty breakfast and good conversation with some of the most humble and energetic Polish people I’ve met. And when lunch came and left me feeling like an Umpa Lumpa gone rogue, I went for a walk just down the road to a beautiful church peaking through a row of wispy pines. The interior of the church was composed of carefully carved wood that reflected a dim light back towards the stain glass windows. The sacred beauty of it reminded me of Sunday School in Singapore, and the loss and gain of religion, and the simple beauty of having absolutely no clue what’s going most of the time.
Beautiful is a chronically overused word but words that are over-consumed stay with us the longest. When I think of beautiful, I think of Zakopane, I think of New Hampshire, and I think of Ithaca. I think of the present and I think of the past. I think about how there is so much time and feeling and the build up of something splendid and sweet condensed into a pine-scented fog hanging behind me. And in front, the fog looks and feels the same.
So when the Headless Horsemen and Mr. King flee town, there is something left hanging in the air here in Zakopane. This is the place where the past breathes the same breath as the present. Time converges, trees grow taller, and headless horsemen find the heart of the matter instead.
Every corner of the world is formed by two walls. One wall is covered in crayon marks and crooked pictures and plastered with the past while the other one is just forming. But when they meet in the middle, they cast a crisp, straight line that leads into the fog. And the simple beauty of it is that you may have absolutely no clue what’s going on most of the time but if you cast a light ahead of you, a small amount of light will fall behind you and shine its splendid rays no matter how far you wander.
Run Through the Fog,