Writing Resources from Fifteen Minutes of Fiction
Cadillac Mountain SunriseRows
Awaiting the sun -
A golden knife, slicing the gloom
A chill fall morning:
Lonely stars hiding behind
black, invisible banks of cloud -
disappearing even before the sun's first light.
Fearsome, silent giants,
Rows of monstrous, forbidding sentinels
creatures of granite, lumber, and loam,
dwarfing the grandest works of man.
Wisps of grey mist
obscuring steep granite slopes,
speeding north upon a biting wind.
A bare rock.
A sheer drop.
A cold wind.
Below, a winding gray ribbon of highway -
Wending between orange and yellow mountains.
Rocks, harsh and jagged, with serrated edge,
A thousand feet straight down.
The sun, streaming through cloud breaks,
tempts us with unfulfilled hopes -
Hopes of warmth.
Hopes of clear skies.
Drops of rain, mixed with snow,
crystalized on impact,
forming frosted, brittle shards,
a frozen white coat for evergreens.
Drops of rain, mixed with snow,
crystalized on impact -
a treacherous glaze upon the rocks
melting, flowing, freezing again -
icicles glisten from each boulder's edge.
A mountain peak in the clouds.
White - as blinding as the night.
A ghostly silence in a world disappeared.
cut and burned by sleet.
Cairns coated with white ice,
molded by the wind and
carved in frigid patterns.
A field of desperate trees
struggling to survive
half hidden in mists,
sagging with snow and ice.
A world of dreams
Separated from our reality;
we intrude on its strangeness
like sleepwalkers in a land of mystery.
Over rocks, between trees,
Bringing us back to reality.
Rolling over blankets of autumn leaves.
Diving headlong over sheer faces,
Pummeling rocks without mercy.
View of Mount Katahdin from Patten, MaineFrom twenty miles away I see him
Rising above the cold and wintry snowscape:
A gargantuan child who lies comfortably amidst the hills,
Draped with a woolly blanket –
Resting, and at peace.
I have stood upon his shoulders
As he slumbered on quiet summer days,
And I've seen the world as through his eyes:
Bright and clean and far away,
And fading into purple emptiness.
I have crossed his spine on other days,
When winds were blowing and skies were gray;
I shivered while he remained unmoved.
But I’ve never stood upon the blanket
That drapes his body now,
Stretching out for mile upon mile;
If I could perch upon those snowy shoulders –
Perhaps, among the other wondrous sights,
I would find a car parked far away,
And two men staring with childlike awe,
Speechless and amazed.
Rest In PeaceWhen springtime comes I rejoice, for my forced confinement through months of cold and snowy winter at last is over. The sight of the mountains with their fresh bloomed flowers and rocky peaks is like a siren call, luring me out into the grand outdoors. My first expedition each year is on a known trail: a short but steep hike to the summit of Streaked Mountain. From the peak I see nearby Singepole Mountain, tiny ribbons of road below, and the far ranges of New Hampshire's White Mountains. But I also see a cluttered array of radio towers, satellite dishes, wires and maintenance sheds - all the grotesque works of man imposing themselves on the beauty of this place. Each year the peak seems more and more obscured by technology, and I find myself longing for untouched and unspoiled destinations.
As spring gives way to summer and the temperatures rise, so my ambitions rise, and I leave behind the comfort of trails I know for the mystery of mountains I've never climbed and views I've never seen. My preparations are simple but effective: some bottled water, a camera, a flashlight (in case I don't return before nightfall), bug spray, some snacks and a lunch; these are all loosely dumped into my backpack and tossed into my car. Thus my expedition begins.
It seems like just yesterday I was packing my supplies for my first real adventure of the year - a hike up Black Mountain in nearby Sumner and Peru. With a name as sinister and foreboding as Black Mountain, I expected to be inundated with stories of strange mysteries and Bermuda Triangle disappearances. But the only warning I received was a friendly caution: "As you hike, you'll come upon a place where loggers have been stripping out the forest near the base. It'll take you about twenty minutes to get through that. Then you can just follow the cairns to the peak."
Cairns? As I hiked, I kept watching for those carefully stacked piles of rock that would guide me through the prickly underbrush. I quickly realized, however, that any cairns on this mountain had been toppled long ago by the heavy-handed labors of the loggers who trampled the trail with their trucks and skidders. Despite the promise that I would get through the logging area after twenty minutes, I spent nearly an hour climbing over stumps, fallen trees, and half-rotted underbrush littering the trail like driftwood on the beach. I deduced then that my friend who cautioned me about logging had not been on this mountain for several years; the logging was far more extensive than I had imagined. In fact, the entire slope was one vast maze of criss-crossing skidder trails that obliterated the path entirely.
As I pressed forward, I kept watching for a footpath to snake its way upward and away from the main logging road. Remembering that famous old quote: "broad is the way that leads to destruction," I was eager to leave behind the well traveled roads of skidders and logging trucks. But each time I branched out from the broad path, I could not hike more than ten minutes before I reached an impassable barrier and an end to the trail.
At the end of my third detour I stumbled across a rocky stream bed with a trickle of water making its way down the mountain toward the logging road. From the amount of sunlight streaming through the trees above me I sensed that I was not far from the peak, but I could see no trail ahead of me. Stubbornly refusing to turn back, I decided to follow the shallow stream. I reasoned that it would be impossible to get lost if I kept the stream in sight. So I pressed onward with grim determination, ignoring the scratch and scrape of thorn bushes and rocks against my legs.
As the minutes passed and the incline grew steeper, it became clear that there had never been a trail here; no one in their right mind would pass this way. I sat on a dead tree that stretched horizontally across the stream, and turned to face back the way I had come. As I rested and considered whether I should press forward or turn back, I was startled - almost to the point of falling into the water - to hear a voice behind me, speaking in a low, amused tone.
"You look as though you might be lost, son."
I stared at the man who stood behind me, dressed in jeans, a flannel shirt, and rugged hiking boots. His hair was gray and tied back in a long ponytail, and his beard, grizzled and scraggly, hung to the middle of his abdomen. His smile was toothless, and his eyes twinkled. I knew he was laughing at my predicament. It seemed he had deliberately crept up behind me, yet I sensed that he held no ill will toward me, and intended no harm.
"Just trying to find the summit," I said, returning his smile.
"Well, the summit is where I came from," he said, "and I can take you there if you like."
"You know where the trail is?" I said.
"Trails? Trails are for pansies and wusses. Just follow me!"
It was extraordinary to watch this odd toothless man make his way up the mountain between trees and over rocks, without even a moment's hesitation to get his bearings. I followed as best as I could, but where he passed over and around obstacles as easily as if there was a well groomed trail, by the time I arrived there was no visible path, and every foot I advanced introduced another scratch on my bare legs.
"Come," he would exclaim, or, "Hurry, hurry, son!" as he kept barely within my line of sight.
Finally I broke out into an open space and saw I was at the peak. My guide was sitting on a ledge facing southeast; I sat beside him. It took several minutes to catch my breath, and during this time he simply stared out into the distance and said not a word.
"What's your name?" I finally asked.
"Warden," he said.
That struck me as an odd sort of name, and I told him so.
"Fire warden," he explained. "Been up here so long I hardly remember my real name." He laughed at himself and his forgetfulness, but I thought there was loneliness in his laugh as well.
"So, is there a fire tower up here?" I asked. I didn't remember hearing about a tower on Black Mountain.
"Sure is, son. Right behind you."
I turned and looked. To my surprise, I saw that I was sitting practically at the base of the tower; I must have walked right by it without noticing it. The metal frame was rusted, and the wooden cabin at the top was dilapidated from age and neglect. A set of stairs led from the ground to the high cabin. "You must be able to see everything from there," I said, hoping he would invite me to climb up.
"I'll show you," was all he said as he got up from the ledge and scrambled up the steep stairs like an energetic monkey. I followed more slowly.
The cabin had just one room; there was a rumpled cot in one corner, a sink in another, along with a small refrigerator (I wondered how it was powered), and a table in the center of the room. The table was cluttered with dirty dishes and weeks of grime, but one corner of the table had been cleared to make room for a half-finished card game.
"Solitaire?" I asked.
"Naw," Warden replied. "Crazy Eights. Started the game awhile back, last time someone stopped by to visit. I've been continuing the game by myself since, but I have to wait a day between turns. That helps me forget what I've got in my other hand." He laughed again, and now I was sure I could hear loneliness in that deprecating sound.
"Want me to play a few hands?" I asked, plopping down in a scarred and battered wooden chair.
Delighted, the old man flashed a toothless grin at me and dropped into a chair opposite. He picked up one fan of cards and - after a brief but considered hesitation - handed them to me and picked up the other set. I had forgotten the rules of Crazy Eights long ago, but Warden was happy to remind me. Occasionally he would peek over my shoulder to point out plays I could make. With much laughter we passed a good portion of the day, there in the fire tower at Black Mountain's peak.
I shared my lunch with Warden, and he shared with me a bottle of green soda from his refrigerator. Even as we ate and drank and played, a strange thought kept nagging at the back of my mind: I was sure that I had never heard of a fire tower at the summit. Every time I remembered to ask him about it, Warden would make a series of deft plays, and noticing his diminishing hand, I would be distracted from my inquiry.
As the morning sun gave way to afternoon, and light began streaming in through the western window, I began to feel drowsy. Warden, also, began yawning. Then, as though we had come to an unspoken agreement, I let my head drop into the cradle of my arms on the grimy table, Warden moved to his rumpled bed, and we both dozed off to sleep.
When I awoke, the sunlight was coming from lower in the sky, and I knew I needed to leave quickly or I would lose the last of the sun before I reached my car. I looked to see if Warden was still sleeping. The rumpled bed was not just empty, it was entirely missing, and Warden was nowhere to be seen. Amazed, I looked around the cabin and saw that everything - from the kitchen sink to the rustic table and chairs - was gone. I had, apparently, slept in a deserted cabin on a rough hewn wooden floor that was covered with layer upon layer of dust.
Had the entire encounter been a dream? Had I imagined my guide altogether?
Perplexed, and somewhat fearful for my sanity, I stood up, feeling the creak of every stiff muscle and joint. Slowly and carefully I climbed down from the tower. What I saw then brought my fears into even sharper focus: all around me the summit of the mountain was covered with paved streets, steel skyscrapers, and unending rows of identical brick houses.
A solitary man, walking from one house to another, glanced in my direction, then did a double-take. "Hey, there," he called, "I'd get out from under that old tower if I were you. It's likely to crumble to pieces right over your head any moment. City council's been saying they'll get it torn down, but I think they're figuring to save money by letting it fall on its own." Completely dumbstruck, I neither moved nor acknowledged the man's statement. He squinted at me and said, "Hey, you all right there, old timer?"
Old Timer? Bewildered, I reached up to rub an itch on my chin and was horrified to discover not a five-o'clock shadow, but a full length beard. I grabbed a fistful of hair and pulled at it, staring in shock at the long, gray tangled mass of growth coming from my chin. A strange suspicion began gnawing at my mind.
"Whu..." was all I managed to say.
Sensing my distress, the man approached me cautiously, took my by the arm and led me toward one of the houses, murmuring soft words all the while, as though he was speaking to a colicky infant. In my state of confusion I couldn't have resisted even if I'd wanted, and right now I didn't want anything but a place to sit, and time to think, so I could understand what I was seeing.
As Horace (this was the man's name, I later discovered) led me into his home, I saw a calendar hanging in the entryway, and the fear that had been pestering me became reality: I had slept for exactly one hundred years, alone in a deserted fire tower at the summit of Black Mountain. Over the course of the next month, Horace and his wife Helen nursed me back to both physical and mental health. They were gracious to me, but every time I spoke of my strange adventures and my century-long nap, their pleasant, friendly smiles turned quite nervous. After a while I understood that they feared for my sanity, so I stopped speaking of years long past.
Eventually, as I felt energy returning to my ancient body, I suggested that it might be good for me to "get out and go for a stroll." I expected my hosts to resist, saying that I wasn't ready yet. Instead, I received a strange and perplexed one-word answer.
"Why?" Horace asked.
"The outdoors," I said. "The mountain air and the views from the ledges will do me good." Horace seemed confused by this, but agreed to my notion of an aimless stroll in the great outdoors. Helen said, "Have fun," but the tone of her voice and the shrug of her shoulders plainly said that she couldn't imagine how such a thing would be "fun."
As Horace and I walked toward the ledges I was disappointed to discover that the pavement of Black City led right to the edge. There were no flowers, no shrubs, nothing. The ledge itself - where a century earlier Warden and I had enjoyed the mountain views - was blocked by an enormous brick wall.
"What's this?" I demanded.
"There's a ledge on the other side of that wall," Horace explained. "Long time ago a little girl slipped off the edge. So we put the wall up."
"How do you see the other mountains?" I demanded.
His reply was a repetition of his previous one-word question: "Why?" Eventually he persuaded me that there was neither a method nor a reason for looking over the wall; all the other mountain peaks looked just like this one.
Yesterday I walked down the street to the Black City Florist and purchased a bouquet of plastic, scented flowers. Alone at the base of the broken-down old tower I laid the flowers on the only remaining patch of grass, and spoke a few words of sad memorial for the dead mountain. "Ironic," I said to Horace, who stood nervously nearby, watching and listening, yet understanding nothing, "in my day we feared ice ages and global warming, hurricanes, tornadoes, and dire global catastrophes that would make it impossible for us to safely step outside our front door. We couldn't live with those fears, so instead we have simply ensured that there is no longer any reason to step outside."
Horace nodded politely and then, taking me gently by the arm, he led me back to his comfortable brick house.
Avery PeakFew mountain trails are straight, and I don't mind that at all. Wherever the slope of a mountain (change in y over change in x) exceeds a certain value, the trail begins switching back and forth. The trail is longer, but not nearly as steep. It makes the climb much easier.
However, if you ever climb Avery Peak in Stratton, Maine, you will find that the Fire Warden's trail isn't like that. Those fire wardens were hardy folk who were accustomed to making the trip up and down the mountain on a regular basis as they served their shifts in the tower at the peak. These men didn't care a whit for change in y over change in x. They also didn't much care for the comfort of those who would - for entertainment - follow in their footsteps decades later.
If you look at a map of the area you might suspect that someone put one end of a chalk line at the base of the mountain, the other end at the peak, and then snapped a straight blue line over some very rugged terrain. When you hike that chalk-line trail you'll feel as though your lungs are on fire and your knees are made of Jello, as you take the most direct route to the peak.
If you are as stubborn as me, and persevere all the way to that 4,088 foot peak, you will discover alpine views in 360 degrees, views that rival even Katahdin's Baxter Peak, which is taller than Avery by about 1,200 feet. As you stand in astonishment at the peak, staring out at ranges of mountains that stretch out for hundreds of miles in all directions, and fade away into the stunning blues of a cloudless sky, you'll likely find yourself thinking, Now I understand why those fire wardens were in such a hurry to get to the peak!
HawkHow does it feel to soar so gracefully,
With pinions strong that catch at every breeze,
Unfettered by the pull of gravity,
Ascending, tranquil, over lands and seas?
How does it feel to see us, mortal men,
Confined to valleys, meadows, pasture lands,
Imprisoned far below in dale and glen,
Like mournful sailors caught on earthly strands?
And do you ponder now, with mocking smile,
As we, with hunger for such graceful flight,
Take slow and plodding steps o'er upward miles
To taste your freedom here on mountain heights?
Oh! How I long to leave this rocky shelf,
And savor soaring freedom for myself!
The Brave Knight Battles on Mount GloomThe brave young knight stepped forth from his manor and breathed deeply of the fresh, summer air. "Forsooth," he said, "Today shalt be a day most wondrous for defeating the evil monster that abideth on Mount Gloom."
With a fond farewell and a kiss for the lady of the manor, the brave young knight set out, dressed in all the accoutrement of his high status and carrying his broadsword at his waist. All morning he traveled the countryside, thinking of the great battle that awaited him, trembling just a little at the thought of the monstrous beast he would soon confront.
The truth is, though the young knight was brave, he was not fearless. The old tales often speak of fearless knights, but a fearless knight is a stupid knight. True bravery is to recognize your fear, and act courageously in spite of that fear. So the brave young knight, though he trembled, did not turn back from his task.
All along his route, peasants paused in their field labors to stand by the side of the road and call out words of blessing and encouragement. They knew where the brave young knight was going, and their prayers went with him. One pretty young girl even threw a flower in his direction. The knight caught the bright rose and, with a kind smile, pressed it against his bosom. With a nod of his head and a brief wave, he continued on his way.
The creature had terrorized the countryside for far too long. It was a terrible, hideous reptilian creature that spewed sulfur from its nostrils and flames from its mouth. The people who lived in the shadow of Mount Gloom also lived in the shadow of fear; at any moment the vicious creature might swoop down and scorch their crops or, even worse, demolish their homes with its fiery breath.
The knight pressed forward and began the steep ascent of Mount Gloom. It was easy to understand how the gloomy slope had earned its name; the foliage overhead was so thick it formed a canopy that blocked out the sunlight, filling the path with shadows that seemed appropriate for dusk rather than midmorning. As the knight climbed, his fear increased, but with it his determination increased as well. Soon he could hear the rumbling snort of the creature's sleeping exhalations.
With a carelessly placed footstep he broke loose a heavy rock that tumbled end over end down the trail with a loud clatter. The rumbling snort turned then to a sharp intake of breath, and the knight knew that the battle was inescapable.
With a roar the beast came forth from his lair, eyes flashing with anger, and sulfur billowing from his nostrils. The brave knight drew his sword.
Through the morning the brave young knight fought the fierce creature. It was a tremendous battle, and the shrieks and screams of that great fight were heard all across the countryside, even as far away as the knight's ancestral manor. There were forward thrusts and clever dodges, hasty retreats and advantages pressed. Shrubs were flattened by the heavy footfalls of the monster, or cut short by the mighty swings of the brave knight's sword. Treetops were broken and scorched, the earth was torn apart as the battle raged up and down the dismal face of Mount Gloom.
Finally, when the knight's strength had nearly failed, the monster leaned in for the killing blow, but in that critical moment the brave knight raised his sword high above his head and gave one last flailing swipe. The creature reared back to avoid the blow, and lost its balance, slipping sideways on a moss-covered rock. Head over tail the monster tumbled down the steep mountain slope, bouncing off boulders and broken tree trunks, and landed with a loud crash, unconscious, at the base of the mountain.
The brave knight followed the beast down the trail of scorched and flattened trees. He raised his sword for one last blow, planning to sever the beast's head. Then, in that moment, he had another thought: Mayhaps I couldst bring this fearsome beast home alive, and what great celebration and joy would accompany my triumphant arrival at the manor!
Then he thought of the lady of the manor, and the delight with which she would exclaim, "Oh, my brave and valiant knight, thou hast brought hope and peace to all the countryside with thy courageous battle! Verily shalt all the bards and poets sing for generations to come of thy brave deeds! See the magnificent trophy of thy courage - the living beast that would truly have killed a less noble knight!"
Alas, true life rarely imitates the fairy tales of ages past, for what the lady of the manor really said was, "Bobby! Get that hideous, dirty toad off my sofa!"
BlueberriesMy friend Bobby and I climbed a mountain today,
From the base to the summit we hiked all the way.
As I stood there and stared, from that high flat plateau,
I could see all the mountains that I've come to know.
There was Streaked, Chocorua, and...Singepole, perhaps,
And the Presidents' mountains that peeked through the gaps.
"Will you look at the view," I exclaimed with delight,
But my friend, he was gone; he was nowhere in sight.
So I turned and I looked and I searched high and low
'Til I found him bowed down, with his face all aglow.
With a grin he declared, "You won't guess what I've found -
Take a look at the blueberry field all around!"
Well, I've never observed such a fine berry field
As the one that this mountain's plateau had concealed!
There was less green than blue; every bush was replete,
And the berries were plump, quite ripe and so sweet.
So we stood at the peak and we picked for awhile,
Then we sat on the rocks and we ate a huge pile.
Oh, we laughed as we ate, and our lips turned quite blue
As we stuffed ourselves silly and gazed at the view.
Now, a mountain with berries has quite an appeal,
And I know that you're hoping to join in the meal,
So you want me to tell you the mountain we climbed,
But your hope for some berries, it's very ill-timed;
You see, Bobby and I, once our feast had begun,
Well, we just couldn't stop, and we ate every one!
Symphony of SenseI once believed that there was naught more grand
Than sitting on a rocky ledge above,
And sharing views of distant peaks and lands,
With friends and family, both dear and loved.
While skittish clouds would dance with wild caprice,
In silence there we'd sit and contemplate
Exquisite wonders of this masterpiece
Of rock and soil and sky God did create.
Rejoice in sound and smell, in touch and sight,
Yet in the midst of pleasures so intense,
I missed the coda of a great delight -
A wild, Unfinished Symphony of Sense.
But here I've found wild mountain berries sweet,
And thus at last the symphony's complete.
The Blueberry TestThere are two kinds of people in the world.
The first is the kind that, upon reaching the summit of a mountain and discovering an acre of untouched blueberry bushes with plump, ripe blueberries that are sweeter than pure sugar, immediately drops to his knees and begins ripping blueberries from the bushes and stuffing them by the handful into his mouth.
The second is the kind that, in the same set of circumstances, pulls out a Tupperware container and begins stowing blueberries for use later at home - in pies, in pancakes, or in a bowl of Cheerios.
It is easy to tell the difference between these two types of people. The second is the kind that, on the way down the mountain, has a heavier load in his pack than when he climbed up the mountain. The first type is easily recognizable by the splashes of blue around his lips and the streak of blue spittle dripping down his chin.
Psychologists will tell you that the Blueberry Test is a perfect way of recognizing important character qualities such as self-control and delayed gratification. They will tell you that, in the long run, the second type will do better in society; he will perform well in school, make friends more easily, score well on tests, get better jobs, raise healthy families, maintain good mental health...
Yeah, but, you just don't understand...those blueberries were really good...
Tumbledown Mountain SummitVast and open space,
Birds swept by on winds below,
Nature's loud silence.
Lingering EdenAmidst the steep and rocky heights there runs
A ribboned line of gray and mottled tar;
Unkept, and rough as any granite path,
A serpent winding through God's garden tract.
And all along this ragged, snakelike trail,
Neglected, cheerless, rise our mortal homes,
With warped and useless shutters hanging low,
Sporadic refuse piled on unkempt lawns,
A sagging roof and porch with peeling paint -
Like crumbling, mildewed fungus under foot.
Yet from these mushroomed heaps, such lovely views -
Bright azure lakes in stunning counterpoint
To rolling greens and blues and granite crags
That point with rocky fingers toward the skies.
Now driving this disheveled, snakelike path,
With verdant Eden's beauty ling'ring here,
I know that works of man could not compare,
Yet still, I wonder, could we not have tried?
Monadnock MountainFrom where I sit I can see a middle aged Korean couple, happily eating sandwiches and chattering away in a language that is completely incomprehensible to me. I can also see a young man and woman, half-hidden by a large boulder, giggling, and smooching shamelessly.
On the next boulder to my right there is a little girl with a bottle of bubble-making solution, and she is waving her bubble-wand with delighted abandon, sending a flurry of glistening globes across the summit.
A boy, slightly older than the girl with the bubbles, has his back turned to her, so he is taken completely by surprise when the soapy orbs float by his head. "No need for alarm," I call out, laughing, "they are are a completely natural phenomenon."
The boy's father laughs and adds, "That's right. They bubble up out of the rocks whenever the temperature gets just right."
From where I sit I count a total of 68 people visible on the summit, and I suppose that there might be another three score or more, hidden from my view by the boulders.
Between the horrendous crowds of people, and the horizon line which is surprisingly flat and uninteresting considering I'm on a New Hampshire summit, it is hard for me to believe that I'm on a mountain peak at all.
But at least I didn't wait another year to hike this one; they say that by spring of 2010, the theme park and mini-golf course will be complete.
Canine CompanionsA few weeks ago, Nate and I hiked Mount Cutler, down in Hiram, Maine. As we started our hike, we were pleasantly surprised to find that a local dog wanted to tag along. He didn't ask our permission, he simply trotted along beside us as we made our way up the mountain.
Sometimes he would run on ahead, then he would sit and wait for us. Sometimes he would explore off to the side, but he would always come trotting back to us.
When we arrived at the steep sections, I struggled to climb up over one very large boulder, and said, "Well, I'm guessing Bowser won't follow us up over this!"
I was mistaken. The little pooch didn't even hesitate; he simply scrambled up over the boulder, with his claws catching at whatever footholds he could find along the way.
I was impressed.
Yesterday, I saw something even more impressive. I was at 4000 feet of elevation on Saddleback Mountain, along the Appalachian trail in Maine, and I saw a couple with two little dogs. Each of the dogs had a pack filled with supplies, and they were trotting along beside their masters, with far more enthusiasm than I was feeling, after hiking for about nine miles.
"How long have you been hiking?" I asked the man.
Proudly, he smiled and said, "We started out in Georgia."
That was when I realized how utterly silly the English language can get. After seeing these fine, energetic canine companions, I find myself wondering: Why in the world do we refer to the way I'm feeling right now as "dog-tired?"
Wilderness Survival Class"Doug, thanks for taking me hiking with you," Bobby said as we were making our way down from the summit of Old Speck.
"Oh, well, I was glad to have you along. Besides, it's all in keeping with the wilderness survival class I took this year."
Bobby was puzzled, I could tell. "You took a wilderness survival class?"
"Of course. And one of the first rules we learned for survival in the wilderness is this: Always bring along a friend who is smaller than you."
"Nuh uh. There's no such rule." He paused. "Is there?"
"Sure," I explained. "They're easier to subdue and tie to a tree, to keep the bear occupied while you run away."
World on FireThe world's ablaze with crimson flames
That wildly lick at charcoal grays,
Consuming greens to fiery hues
Beneath a roiling, smoldering haze.
In the BowlWhen people talk about the hum of civilization, they're usually referring to the hectic bustle and clamor of human life in towns and cities. But there is a more literal hum of human civilization. It is so subtle, so quiet, that we don't consciously take note of it.
It is the vibration of tires on pavement, the murmur of human voices, the quiet sounds of a thousand different televisions and radios simultaneously playing a hundred different channels, the ringing of doorbells, the closing of car doors, and the sixty-cycle hum of electrical systems. These noises, most of which are distinctive enough to be recognized when heard up-close and personal, are indistinguishable at a distance, and combine in a wash of sound which is barely registered by the human brain.
But here, at the base of Redington Mountain, you are in a natural bowl - surrounded by Redington to the west, Crocker Mountain to the north, Sugarloaf and Spaulding Mountains to the east, and Mount Abraham to the south. Within this giant bowl there is not a bit of civilization. No cars, no trucks, no televisions, no radios, and no electrical hum.
There is only you.
So stop for a moment. Don't speak. Don't move. And, for a moment, don't even breathe.
In that moment, you will feel as though there is something wrong with your ears. It's not that you can't hear. You will still hear the sound of the wind rustling through the autumn leaves. You will still hear the occasional call of a bird. The quiet gurgle of the stream will be there. But underneath all of that, you will feel as though something is missing.
It is the hum of civilization.
And there, in that moment, perhaps for the first time in your life, you will have the very powerful sensation that you are the outsider, you are the trespasser, you are the one who does not - and never will - belong.
That feeling will be immediately followed by the very startling realization that you would be more surprised to see another human on this trail than to see a black bear come lumbering out of the woods.
Then you'll decide it's time to start moving again.
On the horizon.
Oh, where have all the mountains gone?
Sunset over Kearsarge NorthAs Kearsarge kissed the evening sun,
She softly stroked his rugged brow,
Then blushed a vibrant crimson hue
Before she fled into the west.
Coastal PrecipiceA frigid wind sweeps o'er the coastal hills -
With fury howls and pulls upon my sleeve.
But I, with equal measure of resolve,
Defy the springtide gale and stand unmoved
Mere inches from the granite precipice
And dare the lashing oceanic squall
To launch me headlong from those lofty heights...
Okay, in truth 'twas only just a breeze,
And each "mere inch" was closer to a foot.
Lonely WandererI set my feet, the other day, to flight
Along a scarce trod, hidden, woooded trail
Where rocks are iced with damp and mossy fur,
And leaves in layers lie to slowly rot.
And as my feet led ever on, the sounds
Of civil man grew silent on the air,
Replaced by nature's wild cacophany
That waxed and waned upon the whisp'ring wind.
The turkeys, there, grew monstrous large and bold,
And rooted calmly in the drying leaves,
And only peered with quiet dignity
As I, with graceless gait, trod o'er their ground.
The foliage that rustled in the breeze
Held secrets far beyond mere rotting leaves -
A hidden snake, a chipmunk, squirrel or bird
In secret solitude surrounded me.
Perhaps this might have been the road less trod
'Twas spoken of in poem long ago;
And Frost, like me, discovered Nature saves
Her secrets for the solitary soul.
Powdery SnowThe icy branches creak
As winter's north winds coldly blow,
And snowshoes sink a foot or more
In soft and powd'ry snow.
On days like this I love to trudge
In cushioned silence here
And startle into flight
The unsuspecting birds and deer.
Sacred SilenceAs Moses came before a burning bush
With trembling wonder and with feet unshod,
Amidst the solitude of nature's hush,
Approached the wild and holy throne of God,
So we, in equal wonder and delight
Upon remote and distant mountain shelf
Did stand before unbroken fields of white
Where none had trod but we, and God Himself.
O'erwhelmed before the holy silence there,
As I had never been in steepled halls,
I set aside each burden and each care,
In this, God's holy temple without walls.
And now at last I've come to understand
That God dwells not in buildings made by hand.
When You Were Just Five Days OldWhen you were just five days old, I took a friend on a journey into the White Mountains of New Hampshire. "It'll be amazing," I told him. "We'll snowshoe up Sugarloaf Mountain, a mountain ten miles west of one of the most majestic mountain ranges in the eastern United States. It will blow your mind."
And I wasn't wrong. Oh, it was magnificent. Fresh, unbroken snow, save for the tracks of moose, deer, and fox. Tree branches bent low with walls of pure, heavy snow. A blue sky, and the most stunning view of the Presidential Mountain range capped in white.
We were, to put it simply, speechless.
That was when you were five days old. Just two weeks later, when you were twenty days old, I took another friend to the same mountain. "You won't believe it," I assured her. "It'll knock your socks off."
And I don't think I was wrong, but what havoc two weeks had wreaked! The snow was pock-marked from rain showers, making the ground look like an acnified teenager. Wind and rain had knocked twigs and pine cones from the trees, soiling the pure white snow with black and brown debris. The sun had entirely melted the fields of snow on the summit, leaving wet and bare rock. And worst of all, the magnificent mountain peaks were hidden in the clouds.
Now you are almost gone, and I feel as though the entire world has been rolling about in the muck and the mire and the mud for the last month.
Oh, March, you are a pig.
Human PoetryIn feeble, stuttering lines of metaphor,
In childish epigrams of human wit,
In simple rhyme and rhythmic cadences,
The wisest thoughts of man are poorly writ.
In towering snow-capped peaks and ice-cold streams,
In evergreens sprung from the fertile sod,
In majesty of woods and fields, are rhymes
And rhythms of the poetry of God.
The Grass Is Greener?People say the grass is always greener
On the other side of that old fence;
But the pastures aren't what set me longing
To remove myself from here to thence.
It's the grand and jagged rocky peaks where
Altitude is high and air blows thinly;
Heights are always higher, other places,
Which is why I want to see McKinley.
SwampIf the right-hand and left lead you straight into swamp,
Of these two roads diverging in woods where you're lost,
Then the path you should choose is the one that's best trod,
Yet with all due respect to our friend Mister Frost.
MomentsTo sit in quiet contemplation on
A mottled slope of granite slab and grass
That lies above a busy coastal port,
To speak, to listen, and at times to laugh,
To watch the falcons and the greedy gulls
That dip and whirl and spin with every breeze,
And bobbing sails and prows of distant boats
That slice the surface of the endless seas,
To smell the sweet salt tang of ocean air,
To sit in silence, or to softly talk,
While all around the crash of foaming waves
Beats loudly on the madly contoured rock,
To set aside the cares that haunt our days,
To let the moments turn to minutes, and
The minutes disappear in squandered hours
While timeless nature beats against the strand;
And, Oh! If moments such as these could come -
These precious gifts that God in grace does send -
If only these could come to us each day,
Or failing that, perhaps, to never end.
Bald MountainMajestic, craggy, rugged peak
That juts above the common crowd,
With boulders, cliffs, and ledges bare,
A peak with every grace endowed;
And oh, might grace like this be mine,
When my small peak's as bald as thine.
Hawk IIIThey say that nothing in this life is sure,
That all things good and bad must surely end,
That nothing clung to in this world's secure,
And mystery lies in wait around the bend.
But let me tell you, friend, what I have seen:
This life's a blend of beauty and of fear;
You've seen it all whene'er you've stood between
The weathered rocky ledge and open air,
And watched the silhouetted hawks against
The back-lit sky, swim doggedly along
The tossing wind, unfettered and unfenced;
With laughing shrieks declaring freedom's song.
And those who choose, with them, to leap and sing
Will find themselves borne up on faith's strong wing.
Sunset CloudsThe sunset clouds, like fiery lava flows,
Pour silently across the the rosy sky,
Ignite the granite peaks as darkness grows,
And sear their scorching beauty on my eye.
God's Sunset ShowGod put on a spectacular show tonight, and the price of admission was only a 24 minute hike; for my pleasure and enjoyment He set on fire all the mountains from Baldpate to Chocorua and let them burn awhile under a sky of crimson clouds.
First Snowshoe of the SeasonIt's so lovely when wind whistles over the trees
That are covered with snow on their branches and leaves,
But beware how it sets you to gnashing your teeth,
If you happen to wander directly beneath!
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