Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Suddenly I See

 "And when I look around, I think this, this is good enough, and I try to laugh at whatever life brings. 'Cause when I look down, I just miss all the good stuff. But when I look up, I just trip over things."
-Ani DiFranco 


7/27: 14.4 miles. Dalton, MA to just north of the Mark Noepel Shelter (Catch found a super awesome stealth campsite for us on a ridge line)

7/28: 13.6 miles to a stealth campsite just past the Massachusetts-Vermont border. We're in Vermont! There's cheese here!

7/29: 13.9 miles to Vermont 9. This is where Dumptruck's Uncle Bob picked us (Grim, Whistle, Dumptruck and I) up to take us to his home in Vermont for the night! We were going to bring Catch, but there wasn't enough room in the car, and Catch very graciously made plans to stay in town with another hiker. WE'LL CATCH HIM AGAIN, BY GUM. 
Uncle Bob is Dumptruck's Father's Uncle. IT'S BEAUTIFUL HERE. Uncle Bob and Aunt Martha made us so much food, there are no words. Uncle Bob took us to the Vermont Country store, took us on a tour of a local carpentry shop that makes only drums, and let us play around in the yard like children. Bob and Martha treated us as family, even though the last time Dumptruck had seen them he'd been only 14.


Sometimes, when I stand on the top of a mountain, there is a moment of freeze. The world around me doesn't grind to a halt;  it simply stops halfway through an inhalation of breath. I am weightless and hovering, my toes just brushing the crest of the ancient seismic wave beneath me. This does not always happen, though views are beautiful as a general rule. This absorption of time, this second without ground, only happens when I suddenly become aware that I can see where I came from, and I can see where I am going. 

I don't mean that I usually hike with a blindfold on, smashing into trees and causing all manner of hullabaloo among the startled forest creatures that scramble out of the way of my noodling legs. To the contrary, I try my best to hike with my eyes wide open. This does not reliably save me from falling over rocks, tripping into logs, slipping over invisible leaves, stumbling over my own feet and face-planting into puddles of mud, but at least I can usually see where I'm going. When I am in motion, I need full use of my visual senses, lest I become one with the trail in a much more intimate way than I am prepared for.

Two nights ago we were hiking in an evening thunder storm, rain pouring over our bodies, and suddenly it became pitch-black even though it was only 7pm. Dumptruck and I had to stop hiking, even though we were about a quarter of a mile behind our hiking partners, because our headlamps were nearly out of batteries and we were literally hiking blind. Using our hands to pat the ground, trees and rocks, we found a flat enough spot to set up the tent just off the side of the trail. We unpacked and set up in complete darkness (and rain), so accustomed to the routine that it was remarkably easy to do everything blind. The air mattresses were inflated, we changed out of our soaking wet clothing and dug through our food bags to find some tuna and an avocado to eat. I suppose we don't always realize how much our muscles have learned until we are robbed of other senses.

When I say that sometimes on the peak of a mountain, I can see where I am going, I mean that I can see the path that the trail will take me over mountains to the north. This happens much more rarely than you might imagine. There is often a lot of tree cover in the way, and even if I can see some peaks to the north of me, it's usually tricky to figure out exactly which ones the trail will snake me over. It's sometimes a little bit easier to figure out where I came from, if I can see to the south, because I have the recent muscle memory of the climbs behind me. But even that is rare. There haven't been a lot of 360 degree views over the past few months (though I know in New Hampshire and Maine we will be getting more), which means I've mostly given up on laying a cartographic grid over the landscape in my view.

We spend so much of the time with our noses facing downward. For us hikers, we have to look down most of the time, lest the roots wrap themselves around our ankles and yank us down to do involuntary trail inspections. For Dumptruck and I, before we left for the trail, we were looking down at smart phones. Maybe we were looking into the enveloping warmth of a line of text from someone we love. Maybe we were looking down to read something new that we hadn't learned before. Maybe we were looking at a map. Even when we were trying to get somewhere, we looked down to move forward. Now the modus operandi is the same but the scenery is different.

So, on the rare ocassion that I can stand on the peak of a mountain, looking straight ahead, and see the future in front of me, and my past behind me, laid out in perfect visual form, it makes my breath catch in my throat. The thin line between what will come and what has already come to pass. The line between forward and reverse. The line between hope and memory. I can see where I am going to be. I can see where I have been. Is that all that fortune-telling is? Being high enough in the sky that you can see farther than people on the ground? Probably not. Real fortune telling involves the bones of small mammals, an 8-ball,  a bunch of sticks, some fairy dust, Whoopi Goldberg and a motorcycle. Or something like that.

When I got to The Cobbles, an outlook that gives one a view of the northern part of Massachusetts, I could see exactly the path I was going to take to go over Mount Greylock. In the photo below, Mt. Greylock is the tallest peak toward the right of the frame.

Is it the boots that bring me there, or my feet?

It had been a fair amount of time since I felt that weightlessness, that feeling of floating above the passage of time. But there I was; there we were. My hiker family and I. Grim: strong, confident and hilarious. Whistle: kind, playful and gracious. Dumptruck: dumptruck, dumptruck, dumptruck. And Catch, who I am still getting to know, but I would describe like an adorable tree frog. And we could see our future ahead of us, just on the other side of the valley.

And it was good. Just that. It was good. And that is good enough for me.

Clever Girl 

Sorry for the lack of specific stories this round; to make up for it I am including many photos. Feast your eyes!

The second to last day for these sandals

Libby- I hate for you to find out about it this way. But at least she looked good!
"Catch, how did you get up in that tree?" "Oh, Grim put me up here."

Catch tried to make a hammock out of his tarp.
Who needs sleeping bags when you've got fleeces like this?

Atop Mount Greylock

Dumptruck and Uncle Bob
Strawberries from Martha's garden!

 At the drum factory. A multi-purpose sign if I ever saw one.

 Better living through passive aggression.

 Whistle being amazing. Grim can also juggle, but I didn't manage to get a good photo of it.

 Martha and Bob's cat: Foxy.

Oh look, a giant pink rubber ball. Let's hit each other in the head with it.

Oh look, a hose. Let's hit each other in the head with it.


  1. involuntary trail inspections....heh. You child are enchanted. We Muggles are enjoying your odyssey immensely. Thanks for the "Grim" shot. Bern informed me it was there before I got to it, he loves killing my surprises. To be clear, It was I who enjoyed it, not Bernie. Journey on and watch where the hell your walking.

  2. Thanks for all the pictures:-) and please..... try to keep Phoebe from jumping off anymore cliffs! Also, I would like to know if that strawberry is from a day neutral plant (they produce all summer) or if june strawberries are just now fruiting in Vermont?

    Mama Whistle

  3. Love all the pictures! Did Dumptruck get his camera operational again? Yours or his...they're great! Wonderful sentiment on what one can see and not see. Your ability to turn a phrase is superb. Love and miss you so much! Give hugs and kisses to everyone! Love, Mom and Dad

  4. I've been to Mt Greylock! Beautiful up there. I miss you crazies! Can't wait to see you again. <3