Drumming of rain pushed most welcomed cool breezes through the bedroom window last evening.
Heat wave broke; still days of summer left!
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.”
When the snowpack leaves, hilltops
slowly draw pale green spring upward
from the hollows’ wet floors,
like a new wick pulls oil
from the lamp to it’s flame.
Recently, the subtle climates of
summits and valleys synchronized;
temporarily, shared the same season.
Ripe, waist deep grass coated slopes
from top to bottom.
Already, here on the hill, leaves fade,
dawn temperatures dip to warm Winter day range.
Regardless of rain or heat to come,
grass will never grow as thick as it had
until after the snowpack leaves again.
Rain or shine? Long pants or short?
Under a mostly cloudy sky, we start up,
The wet long grass soon soaks our pants.
Well hidden in deep grass,
Waiting still as mother instructed,
Nearly stepped on,
A spotted fawn bursts from her tiny resting nest,
Startles us, flushes, bounds away.
Wading up the sharp slope coated deep in summer,
The air cools, our breathing deepens.
The summit resolves – we are inside clouds!
Following a misted path along the mountain’s shoulder,
Orange salamanders litter our descent.
A thick heavy drop, then two, then ten, then more!
Thoroughly wet, we make our way to the valley.
Thoroughly happy, we make our way to the valley.
Days on end of wet makes strangers
of the sun, moon, and stars;
Causes the grass in the yard to grow
deeper than dog snow.
A glimpse of moon through breaks of clouds
soothed last nights’ troubled sleep.
A pileated woodpecker brightly punctuated
early morning’s milky sky.
Abundances of lilac and apple blossoms
contrast each other against pale clouds.
Early afternoon shadows finally cast
from reluctant breaks in endless clouds.
Fleeting rainbows remind us of promises
that will never be broken.
Rain can’t get the best of us
Sun, soon come!
Maybe nothing so defines the character of this area as stone. Look up, and you’ll see Elk Mountain – the biggest chunk of it around. Scratch a few inches of soil in the yard to plant a flower, or leave your mower deck a little too low, and you’ll find it.
Not until working with stone, to stack it for a wall, or arrange it for a patio, will one gain a deeper understanding of it’s nature. The uninitiated might think that stone work is monotonous and physically demanding, and they would not be incorrect.
After completing a stone project, one understands that successfully working with simple stone requires deep mental focus: one must keep a mental inventory of available stones, be able to visualize each stone’s shape, how the shape changes if the stone is turned over, how the stone will fit with it’s already placed neighbors.
Stone is intolerant of rationalization: “There is no such thing as a half-finished stone wall – either you have a stone wall, or you have a pile of rocks”.
Stone, with unfeeling ambivalence, accurately acquaints us with our strengths and limitations: how many stone shapes can one keep in mind, how heavy a stone can one lift, how long can one work with stone before rest or food.
A completed patio gives paws and boots a chance to scuff off mud, keeping the house cleaner.
A completed wall defines boundaries: where yard ends and flower beds start, makes “good neighbors”.
A project working simple stone rewards us by revealing it’s nature, and ours.
Clippers sweep the sky cold, pushing hard fronts, trailing soft flakes.
This morning, brilliant silver white gaggles fly high overhead:
Finally, the Snow Geese abandoned their summer homes.
They will not stop here; even now, open water is further south.
Arctic air and beings visit early this season.
Mist, coaxed by the sun,
Rises like ether,
Gilds Summer’s last dawn,
Splendored in gold
Ode to the snow crew,
Some of them ski, some of them ride,
All of them slip, all of them slide
Ode to the snow crew,
Zero degrees water and cold,
Zero degrees makes more snow.
Ode to the snow crew,
Sliding and climbing, midnight to dawn,
We awake to corduroy grooves in the snow that they blew