Korea, Suncheon Jogye San Philosopher’s Hike
I’m always afraid of forgetting memories and never want to forget this one at Suncheon Jogye San. They all share a common place with the snow that comes and goes with each winter. Like the snows that brighten up an otherwise dreary existence, memories are an always-welcome refresher during boring or unhappy times. When homesick or wishing I could go home to be with sick family, memories help. Winter always brings a mixture of feelings, both happy and sad. The cold usually forces me indoors, with fewer chances to walk around.
Being close to Mt. Jiri National Park means that Northbound winter drives away from this too-warm-for-snow peninsula will bring views of snow-capped mountains as far as my eyes can reach. Seeing those bright whites over the dreary dead grass and dormant trees awakens my inner child and takes me back to Christmases spent at my Grandfather’s house in rural West Virginia.
Korea is similar in so many ways to the Mountain State – with resource extraction and development threatening the beauty that many visitors are accustomed to seeing in both places. Above all, there are the mountains and the kinds of people one can find on them. Of course, they are a mix of friendly and not so but the former always outweighs the latter in my mind.
Driving to a mountain near Jiri in December leads us to reconnect with Korea’s physical and personal beauty, after winter begins its cruel work of forcing all the beautiful flowers and colors away. Starting at Suncheon’s glorious Seonam Temple, the snow resumes from an early morning break. There’s almost a festival atmosphere here, with a flurry of activity accompanying the falling snow. Monks walk around and try to keep up their daily business, as our party and others pass through this temple for prayer or a place to get started hiking.
While watching the mixture of snow and sun, our party runs into a kind old gentleman who was, of course, curious about our names and nationalities and all those things that come with first meetings here. Having two sons, the man explains that he’s been served a “dung medal” in life and wanted the benefits that come with having daughters. I don’t understand why he wants to tell us that, but my guess is that he needs to tell someone.
After seeing him and sampling some tea near the temple, we begin walking what’s become known as Korea’s Philosopher’s Walk that cuts through Mt. Jogye. Highlights along the way include stops at an evergreen forest full of corpuscular rays (Thanks Emily!) cutting through, and no snow cover thanks to the canopy layer. This contrast of green with the adjacent white trails makes a welcome contrast to the recent weeks and the hangover found after fall leaves you expecting more color.
The best part of the day comes at the trail’s unofficial midway point, and the meal that everyone is waiting for there. One of Korea’s finest – bori bap – along with some rice wine inside a warm tent help us all recharge. A wood stove fights against the outside elements, keeping us toasty while roasting sweet potatoes that visitors seem to enjoy. Loading up on rice and the assorted vegetables that come with this fabulous meal, round two with the cold begins.
The icy conditions start to win and move towards checkmate as we reach the trail’s end at Songgwang Temple. Not merely just the end of our journey, this monastery is packed with beautiful buildings and the careful planning found at Zen complexes. The snow has mostly dissipated by now, but the cold still keeps its grip on the day. The sun edges closer to the horizon and the day reaches its finale, we reflect on the wonderful walk and things along the way.
These memories wouldn’t have been possible without the person who first wrote about the Philosopher’s Walk, and for the people who decided to join us for this adventure. This walk around Suncheon Jogye San is well known among locals but for me, it felt like a true discovery. This cold memory is thankfully stored forever, in a warm safe place deep inside my heart and mind.
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