I’ve always struggled with ‘faith’. The battle to believe in the heavens is as hard as the one to believe in myself. From believer to cycnic, my thoughts and beliefs often oscillate between blind hope and indifference. And yet, Christmas has always been special for me. It symbolised new beginnings, family, and a reason to be happy. Unlike Easter, when we had to wear a mask of gloom, Christmas had no such restrictions. Mum would turn into a pastry chef and whip up the most incredible sweets that I’ve tasted. My siblings and I, her little helpers, would pretend to be of some help. Not getting in the way turned out to be more useful instead. Being miles away from: home, years of childhood memories, family, and things that are familiar; Christmas didn’t feel the same and nostalgia quickly took over. Fortunately, we were surrounded by the silence of the mountains and a blanket of white. New traditions would add to the old eventually.
It was Christmas morning and we didn’t have a plan for the day. We woke up late, scrapped the plan to go skiing, and instead opted to walk to the quaint church — we had seen at the town centre. The snow had melted, decay quickly replaced the magical landscapes of the previous day, and sludge made the mountain roads murky. On a whim, we walked further up the mountain, and away from our lodge. Signboards indicated more guesthouses and a facility for children. It was a steep climb with a curve or two, and we made it to the top soon enough. Most families seemed to be leaving and unlike our lodge, there was a flurry of activity here, and a lot more squealing children.
In the distance, we could see a skiing slope on a white mountain top. Basil wondered if he could change my mind, but I stood my ground. I wanted to do something away from crowds or any sort of heart pumping activity, especially if it was new. I’m not sure if the children’s facility was operational. The signboard, outside, seemed spooky and the image reminded me of a popular children’s fairy tale. Snow was still quite thick here and water crystallised on almost any surface.
We walked down and retraced our steps. The crossroads were quite and deserted. It was hard to believe it was Christmas. I tried imagining the festive banter, in different parts of the globe, and was happy to be away from it. The peace and silence was priceless and was a Christmas gift hard to find.
We changed course, midway, and decided to explore another trail. Either Pyeongchang was gearing for the Winter Olympics or some hiker was very excited and left a flag on a rooftop. Leaving trail markers on trees or objects is quite common in Korea. Deeper into the woods — shielded by the trees — the trail turned white again.
At curves, sunlight penetrated the woods, and the trees and landscape below lit up in starlight. There wasn’t a soul on the trail or the valley below. Tyre marks, sometimes paws, indicated activity on the previous day or night; but the trail was strangely empty.
Basil and I walked in silence. He walked faster, lost in his thoughts, and I was lost in what I saw in front of me. Sometimes, he’d disappear around the mountain curve and it would just be his footprints. In those few moments, I was alone, and strangely not terrified, only mesmerised with the beauty around me. At times, he’d wait for me, and continue once he’d seen me. I never asked him what he was thinking, I only hoped it wasn’t about work.
Despite the cold and snow, life struggled and persevered. There was so much hope scattered along the path.
It was past noon and we came across our first signboard. To our bad luck, it was printed in Korean. We could carry on walking further and higher up the mountain, to reach the top, or follow the downward trail of stairs. We chose to walk down as we saw some development, in the distance, indicating the town centre would have been somewhere there.
The lower we got, the browner the stairway turned with fallen leaves. It was slippery and we made it down quite fast. The view of the town, to the right, was spectacular.
After a while, there were no stairs and no trail. It was confusing walking on nowhere. And then, we heard a dog barking. I hoped the dog was tied, for we couldn’t have run without sliding. As we approached closer, we realised the dog wasn’t tied, and was ready for pursuit. We had accidentally trespassed into someone’s private property. We had to take a detour further away and only when the dog lost our scent — the barking stopped. Never before, have I been so happy to see a tarred road.
We had two churches to choose from. We crossed the busy road — to see if we could pay a visit to the church — we’d seen on our way. A member of the church welcomed us in. As we sat there, feeling wet, cold, and hungry; with Christmas carols being played in Korean; I found myself feeling overwhelmed. Thirty minutes later, the service had ended, and the preacher wished each member. We were given special attention and some Korean sweets. Communication was a problem and we couldn’t say much. We thanked everyone and were very happy with the warmth they’d showered us with.
We had microwave pizza for Christmas lunch, at a local convenience store, and trudged back. En route, I lost count of the steeples dominating the landscape. It seemed like Christianity ruled the plains and Buddhism — the mountains. We were lucky to spot some birds enjoying the cool weather.
As we walked further, the landscape changed drastically from mountains to rocky plains. I realised, there was so much happiness that could be found in so less. The roads to nowhere were like my life, always turning, just when I was sure that I knew what I wanted to do in life or where my life would lead me. And the unpredictability of these roads was comforting. Disappointment in seeing what you’re expected to see is quickly replaced with the happiness of appreciating what you’d rather see. I don’t know the names of these roads or mountains and yet, they taught me to appreciate nature as is. Instead or finding answers in walled buildings, walks like these, give me ample reason to find my faith in the simplicity of nature’s nothingness.