Mountain Oasis

 

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View of Mt. Lafayette from the deck of the house

We’ve just come off a 12 day trip to New England, most of which was spent in the mountains of Vermont and New Hampshire. I had been looking forward to the trip ever since we planned it in back in February. Not only were we to take up the challenge of a half-marathon in the heart of the Green Mountains, we were also reconnecting with our tribe-our children, sister, niece and closest friends.

Emily and I at the summit of Artist’s Bluff

I love the new life I am building with my husband. He makes me laugh every day; we are true partners in our relationship. I am grateful that I am in a situation where I don’t I have to prove myself with every breath I take. Also, I have really enjoyed exploring some parts of this new landscape in addition to re-establishing myself as an educator in a supportive and positive school community. But hiking and being in the mountains is one of the things I miss the most about living up north.

If you are neither a hiker nor a runner, it may be hard to understand the joy found in the challenge of a long hard run or a long hard climb. Or even the purpose of arising early in the morning to begin the trek! Although my half-marathon time was slow and the hills nearly impossible to run, the landscape raised me up and the weather cooperated by staying cool. I was so happy to be there! Rolling hills, farm houses, red barns, fields of green and friendly folk enveloped by misty mountains had a medicinal effect even during the hardest parts of the race.

One of the best cures for post-race muscle fatigue (besides yoga) is a good, solid, short hike. My husband and I chose the Sterling Pond Trail at the top of Smuggler’s Notch. At 3000′, it is Vermont’s highest trout pond. With a 1000′ elevation gain, it proved to be the perfect antidote to the previous day’s rolling roads. Slippery, wet rocks and muddy paths were rewarded by the view at the summit.

Sterling Pond, Smuggler’s Notch, Vermont

I knew this was only the beginning of finding my joy and, despite my aches and pains, I was ready for what the White Mountains had to offer us for the rest of the week.

Upon our arrival at the house in Franconia, we were greeted  by this view:

Mt. Lafayette on a sunny afternoon

My eyes welled up. I felt as if I was coming home. And indeed, home came to us in human form as well. My friends rented a place five minutes down the road and we shared many a meal and hiking paths together that week. My sons and stepdaughter arrived a few days later along with my sister-in-law and niece. We had girlfriends, boyfriends and other young adults added to the mix. At times, it felt like herding cats for hikes, but in a good way. Emily and my youngest  and his girlfriend (along with my sister-in-law) were always up and ready to go. And truly, everyone else was a good sport about heading out and attempting (and completing) the climbs.

We talked a lot about finding the joy in the challenge. For me, it isn’t only about reaching the summit, but in touching the earth along the way.

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Wildflowers across from Cannon Mountain

Being in the mountains makes it possible to be embraced by nature in ways that living here does not. The silence, the evergreen scents and sounds and the refreshing tingle of cool air are a reminder of how blessed we are to live on this planet and the need to preserve it.

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Arethusa Falls, Crawford Notch

 

Discernment in the Din

Image courtesy of: theconversation.com

The Secret of Change Is to Focus All of Your Energy, Not on Fighting the Old, But on Building the New~ Socrates

When I lived up North I never took the landscape for granted. In times of trouble, the view from my kitchen window or my upstairs bedroom created a soothing escape. Long expanses of green,wide open white, bold colors, or the gong of spring peepers-it didn’t really matter- each season offered a sight for my sore eyes, music for my ears, fresh air for my lungs and a slower beating for my heart. Now I have to work harder to find a quiet spot in the most densely populated area in the state.

I will admit that adjusting to my new physical surroundings has been one of the biggest challenges to living here. Strip mall landscapes replace the trees and swamps -ugly monstrosities offering plenty of nothing. Car dealerships, fast food joints, car washes, big box drug stores, coffee shops and fast food joints all competing with one another for your attention and hard-earned cash. And the signs! Oh the signs! I’ve told my husband that this area must be the only place where both strip clubs and churches use the same flashing neon advertisements. They’re completing distracting, flashy, and in no way enticing in their invitations to “Join us”.

I am unused to this cluttered busyness and heavy traffic stopping and starting along six lane boulevards. Of course, I would be giving a false impression in stating that the New England area lacks crowded highways and clogged main streets during peak travel times. But given where I worked and lived, those areas could easily be avoided and shortcuts were always available. Moreover, a trip to a more urban area or strip mall sprawl was an occasional occurrence.

I fear I will never adjust to the noise and traffic density beyond the walls of my house and its verdant park view. At times, I identify with the Grinch in the scene where he’s holding his ears as he thinks about the “Noise! Noise! Noise! from Whoville on Christmas Day. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UsMlsDgMXJM)

Changing my mindset is the key to changing my attitude. Some of what I am currently experiencing is part of a universal adjustment to a very major life change. For now, I cannot change where I live. So I’ve tweaked my routine. I bookend my daily commute with quality music delivered by a hip local radio station.  My current occupation is located on a bucolic campus where the only sounds I hear are birds and the youthful loquaciousness of students. I get outside whenever possible. I have set goals to explore the local quiet spots and venture beyond my own environs to seek them out.  My husband and recently kayaked through some lush mangroves which offered comforting green tunnels,tranquil waters and a kind of hush that I haven’t experience since I moved here. Simply lovely!

Building a new life takes time. I will continue to miss key parts of living up North-my boys and closest friends, my faith community and the mountains. And when the need has arisen, I make a plan and get on a plane. I’m learning to trust the process and allow my new life to unfold and reveal itself.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hometown Blues

Credit: patrickeades.com

Where once was my children’s childhood 

Interlopers arrived, knocking down forests

Cutting up well-worn dirt paths

  and paper roads

Replacing them with asphalt for new houses

Knocking down solid dwellings

Constructing cookie cutter outsized McMansions

that clog up the curve in the narrow road

Their children have no yards

Only swamps and useless driveways

 for their many cars and perfect perennial plantings 

This old house sticks out

An eyesore to others, maybe

A tired elder who shakes her head at the soaring towers the new neighbors call “home”

She will miss her inhabitants

The rowdy boys sledding down her hill in the big winters when they were little

Those 2 man baseball games in her drive

where second base was the bed of flowers by the bulk head

There’s still a worn patch of green that was the pitcher’s mound

One man catch and the throws that missed the net breaking windows in the garage

Shattered glass happily dancing to pieces on the ground

The swing set and fort

A place to hide

Games of “lion and zebra”

zooming and zigzagging on endless grass

The homemade sand pit on the side of the garage

Tonka trucks and shovels and pails

 A little boy’s excavation site that never did grow grass

The back forty a favorite spot for the first garden

and those pesky woodchucks!

Summers spent swimming in the kiddie pools

After you were too big, you made the  bonfire pit

A grown boy’s excavation dug with man-sized metal shovels and lots of muscle

Cold nights keeping warm by its roaring heat

Old enough now for hops and barley and other spirits that moved you

Summer nights of fireflies’ halos and cricket sounds and skunk smells

 and deer at dusk and coyote howls

They will visit you in your dreams

 

Day 23.  Happy memories amidst the changes all around us.

Home

Credit: www.nickischroeder.com

Sometimes I want to retreat into that quiet

The space between the noise and the chaos

Abandon the trivial

Embrace the meaningful

The world whirls around me

And I stand in its eye

I want to leave the misery

and embrace only the joy 

I want to sit in the early morning quiet

and listen as the earth wakes up 

I want to hold close my loved ones

and soak in the ordinary moments

that give life to extraordinary memories

Small pieces of  smiles

and laughter

loving tears and deep embraces

 

Day 16. Late, way past my bedtime. A lovely night at home with family. Enjoyed a delightful dinner with a bit of spirits. These are the days I will always remember.

Off the Hook

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Shell seekers

Collectors of sand

Between seasons near the shore

Faces to the sun

Soaking up long lost rays

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Mother Light

Solar Sister rides high in the April sky

Toes dipping in the Atlantic’s low tide

Water bluer than blue

Dogs romping

It’s their playground ’til summer starts to call

 

Day 13. A lucky day. Spent the morning at Plum Island with my oldest son  gathering bits and pieces for June’s big day.

A Hike in the Whites

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Summit of Mt. Willard: Crawford Notch

The backpack sits on my shoulders and hips

  A welcome relief

A warm hug from an old friend

               I smile

        A new climb commenced

Early April-a snow packed path

Standing in contrast to the hoar frost

of October’s last pass

           The rise is not steep

Yet our hearts burst with exertion

Our skin glistens

        Our hams beg us to listen

        222 steps to the summit

Spike rimmed boots keep us from slipping

The view is grand and glorious

We bask in Mother Sun’s heat

 

Day 4.  My fiance’ and I spent Good Friday hiking. A wonderful start to the spring season!

 

 

Cranking It Up a Notch

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Credit: www.its-not-about-the-hike.com

“Because in the end, you won’t remember the time you spent working in the office or mowing your lawn. Climb that goddamn mountain.”

                                                       ~Jack Kerouac

Is there such a thing as a hiker’s hangover? Possible proof of this phenomenon revealed itself this morning-the day after a grueling, not quite miserable climb on Sunday morning. Physical exhaustion and its accompanying aches tempered my usual enthusiasm for greeting a brand new day this work day Monday!

The window for hiking before the snow flies in the mountains is closing fast. Having reached our goal of  climbing Mt. Lafayette, the plan for the remainder of the season was to enjoy smaller elevations that afforded good views and the fundamental satisfaction of playing in the great outdoors.

Welch and Dickey Mountains (elevations ~2600′ and 2700′ respectively) in the Waterville Valley is a loop hike that seemed to meet the criteria for my son and I. We headed up for a half-day adventure with his closest friend, Wilson (not his real name), my pal Emily and her beautiful lab, Blaze. The forecast was for cool temps (50 degrees F) and a possible shower around noon.

As much as I was anticipating the day ahead, I was also functioning on very little sleep. I had gone to bed well after midnight and woke up at 5 am to get ready. (The night before was another adventure story which I will share in my next post!).  I was not going to let a little sleep deprivation get in the way of an “easy” family hike. But my hubris would definitely be a factor in the little known challenges this hike would bring to bear.

The drive off the highway brings us to remote country roads fairly quickly.  This hike is off the beaten path with houses separated by vast acres of green. The smell of heat burning in wood stoves is in the air- a bit damp after some days of rain the previous week. The sky is clouded over, lending itself to a day of low energy. Not many hikers are seen in the lot as we approach the trailhead.  Evidence of late autumn and windy storms is present on the path. Leaves cover the trail’s tree roots and rocks. The pungent odor of their last breaths fills our noses. We arrive at the first of Welch’s ledges quickly.

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Views here were pretty decent despite the partial cloudiness.  The mass of rock was well worn but served as a foreshadowing of what lay ahead.  This mountain and its sibling would prove to be a test for all of us.

Much of the climb involved wide open expanses of granite that sloped to varying degrees depending on the path’s direction. This was fine for a little while and would have been a blast on a sunny day. The previous week’s rain left much of the slab slick and slippery. It didn’t take me too long to start losing my confidence as I attempted to scale the moss covered sections.  I went from 0-8 on the panic scale at one point and just sat down and cried. I was genuinely afraid of falling back and then down the mountain! Blaze came over and licked my face and Emily and Wilson gently talked me out of my anxious state. My son took my hand and walked me further along to a safer point on the trail. He said to me: “This climb is going to be a test of your Strong Woman Syndrome!”  Exactly what I needed to hear!

Credit: nhdfl.org

When we reached what we thought was the summit, it started to rain (no showers as the forecast had stated). We donned our rain gear and plodded further along. My boy said he was glad for the conditions as they served as a test. He was right. We had been spoiled by near perfect weather conditions on all our earlier excursions; I was glad to be prepared but dreading the rest of the hike.  We encountered more moss and lichen covered stones before the final ascent of mountain #1.

I have to say that this became a climb of pure strategy. One or two of the boys would go ahead to check out the best possible way on the route and there were times that bushwacking was the best option.  Other times, I just held my son’s hand as I repeated: “Just keep walking”. Or as Wilson sang: “Just keep swimming, swimming, swimming…” He provided the comic relief for our troupe and gave himself a chance to celebrate the boy that still lives inside him. He was a joy to hike with as we watched him traipse and tramp his way up and down and over and even under obstacles.

Credit: alltrails.com (picture this rain-soaked!)

Now and then we would get a break as the trail traveled through groves of trees.  Rocks still ruled but I was never more grateful for the sight of mud!  I cannot recall reaching the top of Dickey. By then the weather was so poor it was hard to enjoy any sort of celebration. Emily did snap a photo of us somewhere. Our faces a witness of wetness and weariness.

It is important when facing a challenge not to lose one’s sense of humor or inner mental toughness. You’re doomed if you don’t. Plus, you wish away time well spent with others who have your back.

One big surprise came upon us as we were making our way:

Credit:www.flickr.com

This is the saddle between Welch and Dickey on a good day (the dog’s name is Salty). Climbing through this was a load of fun!

We just kept coming upon one big slab surprise after another with each step needing to be purposeful and planned. As one hiker said to me as we were making our way down, “There are no heroes on mountains.”  He is right. Better to be cautious and careful and keep the risks to a minimum!

I guess the hardest part for me was the final set of ledges. Straight on traverse with a clear drop-off.

Credit: Google.com ( I think this is the right one!)

Lots of talking through this one. Emily was right with me; she is an assuring presence on the mountain and in my life.

I have no regrets about the choice of climb this round. Hiking experiences are inherently unpredictable; one has to prepare for the worst and always hope for the best.  And be ready for a challenge regardless of the elevation! For me it is always about the company you keep and the memories you make. That’s what makes the mountains matter.

 

Special thanks to Emily for inspiring the title for this post!