Here we are again, finally, in Stonington. It’s a grey, rainy day, temperature in the mid-fifties, wind picking-up: a day much like some we had in Georgia in January. It’s not an inviting day to get out paddling, but my eyes keep wandering out over Webb Cove and I know how invigorating it would feel: the chilly water and wind, the waves bashing against granite. My mind wants to go, but my body says otherwise.
We arrived here at Old Quarry last night and moved the contents of our car into the apartment above the office. We’ve been making coffee and figuring out where stuff goes, looking outside thinking “should we paddle?” But I’m feeling worn-out, my limbs heavy and sore, a blister on my big toe still subsiding. It’s from the last week of play, and perhaps the last month of travel catching-up. We’ve been on a lake in New Hampshire, a family place where I haven’t spent much warm-weather time over the last dozen years. I was glad to be at the lake, and though it’s a nice place to paddle a kayak (and we did most days) I felt more inclined to hike in the mountains or try my newly-learned canoe-poling skills.
Actually, I spent more time there gardening, trimming brush on the point where, 25 years ago this August, Rebecca and I were married. I spent hours with loppers and shears, sometimes while standing in the water, trimming the undergrowth that was crowding-out the twisting mountain laurel with its snowy bunches of flowers. I’d tell myself I’d just cut away a few branches, and my focus would narrow into a meditative state: clip, clip clip, and onto the next. Hours would pass and I’d look out at the lake and the mountains and think “gee, I should go paddling.” Then I’d start trimming again. I guess, deep down, I’ve got some need to take care of a piece of ground. We felt it in Georgia, where I mowed the first lawn we’d had in 17 years, but resisted most urges to get into long-term landscaping. Rebecca and I have moved around a lot, but the point is the one piece of ground that we keep returning to.
But on Thursday I went hiking. I chose the Skookumchuck Trail trail because it ascends the 3000-plus feet to Mt Lafayette’s summit in 4.7 miles, rather than the more popular, but steeper trails that make the climb in a shorter distance. I wasn’t on top of my walking routine, and I’d hardly even walked up any hills since last fall. I imagined an easier walk, but in the first ten minutes of my hike, I knew that the summit, should I get there, would be hard-won. So I tried to slow down, pausing by the brook to take pictures of flowers. There was no one else on the trail.
I have hiked up Mt Lafayette many times since I was ten or eleven years old. The sixth-highest of New Hampshire’s White Mountains, Lafayette is the high point of the Franconia Ridge, a spectacular stretch of alpine tundra that drops steeply away to valleys on either side. Aside from the more gradual grade, the Skookumchuck Trail offers a less populated walk; only one other car was parked at the trailhead. After about three hours of quiet, solitary walking, I encountered the other hiker- a man a bit older than me who’d paused at timberline. We chatted for awhile and then I continued onto the ridge.
Lafayette’s summit was crowded. I ate my lunch, watching hikers arrive and pose for photos. I obliged a French-speaking couple who wanted pictures of themselves, but didn’t ask for the favor in return, thinking I didn’t need another shot of me on a mountaintop. Then I thought better of it and felt strangely self-indulgent and vain when I snapped a couple of selfies. After all, who knows when I might get there again?
The part I’m leaving out- and my excuse for including this story in the blog, is the pain. Going up that hill was hard work, and several painful spots had developed well before I reached the top. For the trip down, I used my trekking poles to reduce the impact on my knees, but a hot spot on my big toe officially turned to a blister that I felt with every step. It felt great to jump in the lake when I returned, but I knew I’d be feeling the hike for several days.
Add poling a canoe to the list, and it helps me, as I sit here looking out at the rain on Webb Cove, to inventory the various aches and pains. And it also helps me appreciate the efficiency of sea kayaking, perhaps explaining why it is a popular sport for so many of us who are realizing, bit by bit, that we’re not getting any younger.