Oh, my shoes, how they have travelled...

Moi, mes souliers ont beaucoup voyagé …

KATARZYNA SKOREK  |  15 AUGUST 2020  |  ISSUE 11

In the middle of the frozen lake: Morskie Oko, Tatra Mountains. All pictures by Katarzyna Skorek, January 2020.

Surrounded by these Mountains, I am standing in the middle of this frozen lake, like a tiny snowflake. 

I feel their intensity surrounds me. I am in their element. I am their guest, and they reveal their beauty to me.

 

I surrender to the strength of the ice below to support me.

The freshness of the wind liberates and energises me. Though it is a glacial wind, it warms my body and my Being.

 

I will never forget this sensation.

 

If I could have stopped the Earth from turning, just to stay anchored and grounded in this moment, to pause and hold onto it, I would have done it.

 

And then it happened. 

A few weeks later, a virus took hold of the planet and forced us to stop, to pause, to stay put.

 

This memory from January in the Polish Tatra Mountains, in the land in which I was born, often returns to me during confinement here in Québec during the pandemic. This memory comes back not through nostalgia, but rather through a feeling of gratitude.


 

I am grateful... to have had this chance to return to the country of my birth before most borders around the world were shut down, for an indeterminate amount of time.

 

I am grateful... to have heard that soft voice inside me whisper… ‘welcome home’… after the plane’s wheels touched down at the Kraków Airport.

 

I am grateful… to have had the chance to create new memories, in person, with my family in Poland; to have visited precious friends and to have created new ones.

 

I am grateful... for all these beautiful encounters throughout my stay and my travels during the last several years that have allowed my dreams: to experience the Tatra Mountains during the winter months.

View of the Tatra Mountains from the top of Gubałówka.

* * *

On this journey, I am accompanied by my Polish friend, a mountain guide of the region. She recommends trails to me, emphasises the ‘not-to-be-missed’ elements of my stay, and offers to guide me through our Mountains.

I live a dream that is beyond my expectations: three days of immersion in the Mountains.

* * *

Traditional family wooden house of Helena Gąsienica-Roj, Tatras guide from Zakopane.

We depart early that morning. The warm light of the forthcoming sunrise guides us between the branches along our trail.

 

For several kilometres, I walk through the snow. The only sound I can hear is my steady breath as it synchronises with my careful steps.


 

Suddenly, I realise that despite my tiredness from the travel and the everyday busyness that has been draining me day-in and day-out … I find myself tuning in with a deep peace and inner strength. 

It is from this place, deep inside, that all blockages and fears rapidly release themselves. With each step, and each breath, the rejuvenating breeze of the mountains takes it all away.

 

I absorb the strength of the mountains. Their power. 

I trust in my body, as the physical and mental fall into sync. 

It all becomes a part of me.

Fears are gone.

Blockages are gone.

I breathe, and I keep taking steps forward.

 

I smile.

 

The snowy, untouched trail leads us with anticipation and excitement between the peaks straight to the summit’s lake Morskie Oko, ‘The Eye of the Sea’.

 

The only footsteps to be seen are our own, and those of others who are also committed to the mountains. 

 

It’s clear that the tourists are still waking up. 

 

On the path to Morskie Oko.

There are just a few more steps.

 

 

I find myself immersed in the beauty of this landscape.

 

I have arrived.

 

I am embraced and welcomed by what has been waiting for me this whole time.

Its soul melds with mine.

* * *

View of the Tatra Mountains at the arrival to Morskie Oko refuge.

 

And then, the Sun greets us at the tips of our noses. It reveals itself between two peaks, and soon enough teasingly hides behind one of them.

 

I take a deep breath and pause, giving my eyes a moment to absorb Nature’s beauty.

 

I close my eyes. I am grateful. I am happy. I am home. 

 

… There is a lightness that overcomes us, once fears are overcome.

 

There is a magic, both within us and around us, that manifests itself once we transcend our comfort zone.

 

I take a moment to anchor and root myself before continuing on my path.

* * *

Resting moment near Morskie Oko.

I know the return leg of the journey needs to be made…

As the years have passed, Poland and the Tatras have become a refuge for me. This particular and unique mountain range that stretches across the border with Slovakia has become a base camp where I can regenerate myself.

On the return journey down the mountain, I think back to the moment when I first fell in love with the mountains, and the times when I fell even deeper in love, time and time again… 

A friend of mine from the city in which I was born had accompanied me through my initiation to the mountains years ago, in autumn. 

I felt like an adventurer on an expedition, and I rejoiced at the opportunity to discover these sacred grounds, both popular to some and hidden to most.

 

I have had the opportunity to return with my Québécois and French friends, to guide them on the discovery of this treasure.

I am grateful to be able to regularly travel here, to the land where I was born.

… but…

 

I am also thinking of the land that welcomed me and that I have made my own. 

Québec.

Since my childhood, this land has been the terroire where I have built my life.

 

This land, its people, and its culture, that are awaiting my return.

 

I continue to walk in this white, deep snow, recalling our Québécois winters in which I will soon immerse myself upon my landing. 

 

I look down at my shoes. They advance one step at a time. I follow them as they recall the direction they must follow. 

Helena Gąsienica-Roj crossing Polish and Slovak borders, Kasprowy Wierch.

It is at this moment that the song of the great Québécois author-composer-interpreter, Félix Leclerc, overcomes my psyche. It is he who sings the song, of such deep meaning and cultural significance: ‘... moi, mes souliers ont beaucoup voyagé…’ 

 

Oh, my shoes, how they have travelled...

 

These lyrics and this tune accompany me back to the base camp of the mountain.

* * *

View of the Slovak Mountains from Polana Głodówka, Bukowina Tatrzanska.

Satisfaction.

 

The hike has ended.

The adrenaline is still pumping.

 

Back at basecamp, I realise that this is not the final destination, but rather, a new start. I still have so much to see and discover.

 

I think of the flight I still need to pack for, but first, I look back on the beauty of these great mountains once more…

* * *

... Oh, my shoes, how they have travelled...

Panorama from the top of Kasprowy Wierch to one of the most prominent Slovak Mountains, Krywań.

 

I double-check my seat belt and put my seat in an upright position. 

The plane begins its descent at the Pierre-Elliott-Trudeau Airport in Montréal. 

As we approach, I see the ground covered in fresh white snow.

 

… I smile…

 

The plane’s wheels gently land on the ground, and we slow down. The engines shut off.

 

* * *

 

I pass the border control, pick up my luggage, and through the glass doors that soft voice ‘Welcome home’ whispers inside me once more as I see my father waiting to welcome me with a warm hug in the Arrivals area.

* * * 

Both my feet step into the snow as I exit the airport. I look at my shoes. 

Oh, my shoes, how they have travelled...

 

I take a deep breath and pause.

 

… The freshness of the wind liberates and energises me. Though it is a glacial wind, it warms my body and my being…

 

I close my eyes. I am grateful. I am happy. I am home. 

 

My home has no borders.

My home is where my heart resonates.

Panorama from the top of Kasprowy Wierch, to Western Tatras.

 

How grateful I am, for these ‘small things’...

 

… like my shoes, unique shoes, in which I’ve travelled … 

… It reminds me of the essential ‘small things’ in life, including that of a migrant: where we come from, where we are going, and who we bring on our journeys through life...

Though mountains are not small, the process of journeying through them, reaching the top, taking a view, hiking down, integrating the experiences of ascending and descending, connect me to my migration story, experience and make me wonder about the unique shoes that everyone wears, walking their own unique path, creating their own journey as a human being. 

… Where have your shoes travelled?

Katarzyna Skorek

Polish native who moved to Canada as a child in the 80s during the Solidarność period, Katarzyna Skorek is an entrepreneur with a master’s degree in management of cultural enterprises from HEC Montréal with over 15 years of professional experience in culture and tourism. Her expertise and research findings have taken her to the European Academy of Diplomacy in Warsaw (PL) where she earned a diploma in international organisations. Her research interests include intercultural and intergenerational management, migration, diaspora diplomacy and cultural identity. She has presented her research and reflections of her own experience as a 1.5 generation migrant at conferences in Kraków (PL), Gdańsk (PL), Dublin (IR) and Ottawa (CA). She is driven by the promotion of her motherland and building bridges between the country that has welcomed her and her origin country. Katarzyna@skorepresentation.com

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