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Waldeinsamkeit

My love of German language and culture was sparked by my exposure as a teenager to German Romanticism and its evocative vocabulary: words like Weltschmerz that just beg to be left alone by translators. (Not in this category, by the way, is wanderlust, which Germans tell me they only ever hear in English!)

A particular favorite of mine is Waldeinsamkeit, which (if you ignore its pleadings and translate it) can be understood as “forest solitude.” A more idiomatic translation might use the phrase commune with nature, since that’s what it’s about:  removing yourself far from the madding crowd and enjoying the mental clarity that comes with solitude in natural surroundings.


A more idiomatic translation might use the phrase commune with nature, since that’s what it’s about:  removing yourself far from the madding crowd …

If you’re in Nepal, you might naturally do that under a bodhi tree. Here in northern California, you might head to our fiercely beautiful Pacific coast. But Germans? Well, if you’ve ever spent a minute in Germany, you know that they head to their beloved forests! And German Romantics had a pronounced affinity for the woods: their enchanting beauty, their foreboding mystery—and all that blessed Waldeinsamkeit.

When people ask me why I love long bicycle rides in remote natural surroundings and why, when time presses or rain interferes, I can’t get my kicks by riding a stationary bike, I sometimes reply that I need to feel the wind in my helmet or that I crave the acute risk of grave bodily injury. But the truth is simply that I need my Waldeinsamkeit.

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