Sunday, December 16, 2012


Birch in Winter

"Sometimes I need only to stand wherever I am to be blessed."
From Mary Oliver's poem, It was Early

Clearing the Way

This past Friday, Tristan, Odin and I set out into the woods with hammer and saw, headed to prep the route for the upcoming Camel's Hump Challenge, a fundraiser backcountry ski tour (just a tour with friends, not a race) to benefit the Vermont Alzheimer's Association.

Tristan and I share the Camel as our favorite Vermont peak - we find ourselves often dreaming of its pointy undeveloped summit, and scheming for our next chance to get there. There is a mystic for us in the Huntington approach, particularly the longer Forest City route, which brings the hiker up from beneath the sheer face of the couching lion (or Camel, as it were). This is a long route, prefaced with a long drive, but it is always worth the trip. Even the shorter Burrow's Trail approach from the western Huntington side is worth the drive. But on this day we approached from the eastern side via the Monroe Trail. And it was not the summit we were after this time: We were planning to take a left off the Monroe Trail somewhere past the junction with the Dean Trail, and head into the woods for terrain seen only by the skier of the Camel's Hump Challenge, or the volunteers who prep the trail for this fabulous once-a-year ski day. (Please note, we are very familiar with this area and the route we were taking, we planned our route ahead, and also carried a map and compass, which we know how to use. Additionally, we carried headlamps, matches, bright clothing, and emergency supplies. If you are inexperienced with hiking or are unfamiliar with the terrain, please leave this type of off-trail adventure for experienced hikers - there is plenty to see and do on the many beautiful marked routes up and around the mountains of the Northeast.)

The plan for the day was to clear the trail and mark it periodically with Forest Service-approved trail markers for the Camel's Hump Challenge. The plan was also to see some beautiful terrain reserved only for those roughing it on this 13-mile backcountry ski loop, which is open for skiing only on the day of the Camel's Hump Challenge (February 10, 2013). There are unusual vantage points of the summit, beaver ponds-aplenty, and fabulous birch glades that go on for as far as the eye can see.

There were several big blowdowns to clear along the way, and many, many downed branches and debris from recent storms.The scenery along our trip was outstanding. In particular, the backcountry ice was like art work.

The trail winds through mature hardwood stands, dark evergreen forests, birch glades, and meadows. Every now and then, we would pop out of the woods on to the edge of a high-country beaver pond. These were tricky to navigate in early-winter conditions, but the views these openings afforded were stunning and made the rough-going worth it.

Happily, our faithful and trusty trail companion accompanied us the whole way.

Our turn-around point was Wind Gap, from where we planned to loop back to the Monroe Trail via the Dean Trail. We popped out of the woods on the Dean Trail and took a break and drank warm tea as we listened to the wind howl through the Gap just above us. Wind Gap is one of our favorites, and is one of only a few named "Gaps" in the Greens - it always reminds me of the many southern "Gaps" on the Appalachian Trail: Woody Gap, Neals Gap, Stecoah Gap, Newfound Gap. They marked our progress for us on that 1,200-mile hike.

We crested the sag to Wind Gap, where we stood and took it in. The view to the west showed an almost-setting sun, painting  the sky with pastel colors through the naked tree stems. A raven soared on a wind current overhead. There was total silence, save for the rushing wind and the trademark caw-ing of an on-wind Corvid.

The Trail North beckoned, as it always does - but not this day. Today, we were headed back down the mountain for a friend's art show, and some warm supper. In the end, we cleared and marked the section of the Camel's Hump Challenge route from the Monroe Trail west towards Wind Gap. Tristan tells me I saw only about one-sixth of the trail, and I am looking forward to seeing the rest of it on skis later this winter.

It is a good feeling to see the Vermont wilds, climb mountains, and give to a good cause.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Technology Has its Place

On the day before Thanksgiving, my iPhone died its final death. It died on the one-month anniversary of our forced disconnect from the world wide web. The onset of a mysterious computer/internet problem, in which the two wouldn't speak to each other, but would happily hook up with others, left us confused and frustrated, and ultimately swearing off the whole thing. We could get by! We have our iPhones. Er, had. As I watched it crash its last crash, the little white wheel of death spinning, spinning, spinning, then nothing, I felt calm and freaked out at once. Well, I'll fix it. They'll warrantee it. (It had been dying short-lived deaths for some time already...) Everything felt fine, that is, until as the day carried on, I couldn't check in on anything. My phone's calming effect on my anxiously needing to know what was going on in the world was not to be had. The computer couldn't bring me my fix, either. What if I had an email? Facebook update? News? What if someone needed me?! OH MY GOD, SOMEONE COULD NEED ME!

Well, the first thing I learned from this ordeal is that I'm not that important. No one died because they couldn't reach me. The second thing I learned: life is really nice up here, away from your screen. There are people to hug and talk to, walks to be enjoyed, puppies to be wrestled with, hats to be knitted, guitars that have been waiting patiently to be picked back up again. There is life up here away from the screen, ready to be touched, breathed, felt, seen, and shared, once you're ready to look away from the pixelated version.

Don't get me wrong. I restored my phone. There are too many benefits to having it to go without it: easy communication from anywhere, and a plethora of apps that I use for yoga, meditation, or managing my money. Never again will I be unable to find something - anything - because I can now google, call, and map it all from one place. Phones are super useful: You can call in breakfast from the top of your morning ski run so that its ready and waiting when you get to the bottom of the mountain. You can find your way out of the woods when you're sure you've passed that rock at least twice already, probably from a different direction each time. And you can text your honey just to say, Hey. What it can't do, though, is replace real live living. Human interaction, subtlety, nature, green space, fresh air, love.  You have to look up from the screen/put it down/ turn it off for that good stuff.

I have all of my technology back again. My computer has decided it will sometimes talk with the old internet, although it will always talk with the new internet. And my phone is behaving, for the most part. What's different is my relationship with the stuff. I've been reminded of one important thing: Technology is supposed to make my life better, but its not supposed to get in the way of living. Now I'm shutting this thing down and going for a sunset walk with the dog.