Recently, a friend who I haven’t seen for a while, and I hiked up The Hill together. A misty day, damp, humid; no chance for a view once on top. Yet, we continued, the grass soaking the bottom of our trousers, wicking the dampness of the trail up our legs, our path littered with hundreds of salamanders, also known as red-efts, or newts.
“500” my friend remarked, as having been the most he had ever counted on a hike. “I’m sure we’ve seen more than that today.”, before we had even reached the top. Each of us took care not to tread on any of the orange creatures that had become too numerous to count.
Our conversation meandered as we walked, he under the weight of a recent loss of a loved one. We spoke of his family; how close he had been to the family member who had passed. He told stories of his children, and their adventures and accomplishments on far away mountains in the Rockies, Canada, Russia, and beyond. I listened as we walked, offering comfort as I could, and genuinely appreciating his tales of other hikes in other places, with other folks.
Hiking in the mist, with few landmarks, absorbed in conversation, we were almost disoriented as the top of the mountain seemed to come much more quickly than usual. “Home, sweet home.” I said as we reached the top – a place that both of us have been many hundreds of times, during all seasons of the year. We looked out into the mist, a wall of gray, knowing from memory what the expanse beyond looked like.
As we turned and began to descend, as is my habit, I thought to myself “Hey buddy!” when passing the place that I had
spread the ashes of two beloved dogs. I thought of other friends. Over the years, some sustained fatal injuries on the
mountain; some have died. There are the ashes of many beings, some human, sprinkled here and there on this mountain.
Growing up, I kissed girls on the mountain. At least one friend proposed marriage on the mountain. Some friends admit with a wink that their children were made when they found themselves alone while hiking here.
Having reached the age that joints are more painful from rest than activity, I try to hike as much as I can to avoid the pain and immobility of body parts that are worn and torn. I am not alone. Other dear friends hike for the same reason, and to ameliorate the symptoms of other diseases.
Another friend, having lost members of his family on the mountain, hikes nearly every day he’s home as it makes him “feel closer to his family”.
Certainly, if one spends enough time in any place, memories of these life events accumulate. It is a blessing, however, that for those of us who frequent The Hill, our reference place for these events comes with an abundance of gravity for physical exertion, and kindred souls whose company nurtures us, comforts us.
The Hill is a place where it is easy to remember the words of author Ram Dass about the meaning of life: “We’re all just walking each other home.”