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European Holiday Update #3: A Birthday Stroll in a Polish Forest or Spacer Urodzinowy w Polskim Lesi

Ok so it's not today and it's not a real holiday but the last and final special day in the cluster of chaos known as The Holidays (on Planet Christina, anyway) is my birthday. It so merrily and not-at-all-irritatingly falls on January 4th. This year, because Berlin won't stop being so grey and miserable (seriously, stop it), I decided I wanted to try and see some green trees for my birthday. So, on my husband's suggestion, we drove a few hours southeast for a weekend in Karkonosze National Park in Poland.

In the 90s, this area became one of UNESCO's biosphere reserves protected under their Man and the Biosphere program which is a scientific initiative aimed at improving the relations between humans and their environment. From what I can tell, the initiative's goals are to raise awareness and education of ecologically special landscapes to avoid their resources and habitats from being exploited and to reconfigure the relationship between the land and the local communities. They say this reserve "represents a unique island of arctic nature in Central Europe and an extraordinary crossroads where arctic and alpine, lowland and mountain elements mingle within a relatively small territory". Pretty cool! Who doesn't love some mingling mountain elements? This park contains a wealth of biodiversity for the area, a few ski lifts, and many hiking trails, and is managed by both Polish and Czech authorities as it's split in half by the border between the two countries. It was very cold while we were there and we didn't get to hike as much as I would've liked as there was more than a few inches of snow on the ground and none of the trails were cleared. But, as Berlin is currently lacking in anything remotely resembling foliage, it was really great to get out there, hear the wind through the forest, and see some green stuff.

Wikipedia says there are grey wolves running around in this place, and that the Polish side is home to 30-35 mouflons, which are a species of wild sheep. We didn't see any on our walk but now we all know that there is something called a mouflon so that is pretty fun. The forest was a lot different than the California forests I grew up wandering in or the Pacific Northwest forests I studied at University of Washington. Here, there were old, thick beech trees intermixed with slender firs and spruce. As a West Coaster, it was a unique combination to see. I'm not used to seeing big deciduous trees mixed in with such small coniferous trees, but I'll spare you my European-ignorant forestry observations.

The poor guy that is never sparred during the vocalization of said ignorant observations, my husband, who is privy to the redwoods and sequoias of California, is constantly reminding me/antagonizing me that there are no big trees in Europe. He tells me this regularly as I ask where all the big trees are, regularly. Much like he doesn't understand how public transportation could possibly exist yet be so incompetent in the USA, I find it hard to believe there are only skinny trees in Europe. I also find it hard to believe that my Northern European husband doesn't have proper footwear for snow...

I simply can't and won't believe this to be true (the tree thing, not the shoe thing), so my search for a healthy stand of European trees with a circumference larger than my wing span continues. Wikipedia says there are some old-growth forests in Europe, but it also says that half of Western Europe's forests were cleared before the Middle Ages (476 AD). Tough break. The closest old-growth forest to Berlin is The Boubín Primeval Forest in Czech Republic, also a beech, spruce, and fir mix. Apparently, there was a large spruce in Boubín named "The King of Spruces" and it was a healthy 450 years old, 57.6 meters high, and had a circumference of 508 centimeters, but it fell down in a windstorm back in the seventies. But it must not have been that cool because no one bothered to take a picture of it as far as my Googling can tell. For some perspective, the average height of a mature redwood is 61-74 meters and the circumference around 950-1,400 centimeters, but now I'm just bragging. Speaking of bragging, here is an old photo of me living my best life and hugging a random redwood off the side of the road in California.

All in all, it was a great birthday adventure to my first Polish National Park and UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. I needed some fresh air, topography, and spruce needles in my life and that's what I got. I would love to go back to Karkonosze in the summer to do more hiking and maybe get so lucky as to spot a wolf or one of these wild mouflons. Or, better yet, finally find a big ol' European tree that needs a hug.

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