Saturday, August 30, 2008

Finding Your Balance

Once upon a time there was a year--a year of just Archie and me--a year for us to do whatever we wanted to, a year to climb mountains, rock walls and ice. A year to eat pancakes for supper. A year to meet interesting people and to throw our doors open for whatever or whoever came along.

I worked and he went to school but other than that--we just did whatever seemed appealing. I think of it as The Year that I Learned How to Throw Back my Head and Laugh or The Year that I Stopped Grinding my Teeth or The Year of No Defensive Wounds. If I ever decide to write a novel, it will be based on that year--but it will not be until many more years have passed and I fully understand all that I learned from The Year.

Archie has always been an enthusiastic and charismatic person and during that year, many of his friends became interested in rock climbing and ice climbing and when they weren't out on the rocks or the ice, they were watching videos of climbers or practicing on the rock walls in our house.

In the early Spring, Archie got interested in slacklining, a sport that he had seen on climbing videos. He strung up a slackline in our barn with climbing rope tied tightly between the walls of the barn. A climbing rope makes a balance beam look like walking down a hall. The kids played loud music on the CD player and took turns walking the line and spotting each other. It was the hit of the mud season in Dixfield that year.

Eventually, school ended and Archie and I and some of the slackliners took our show on the road to Moab, looking for adventure.

I hadn't thought much about slacklining since then, but today, on Doors are Everywhere, Open Them, Beth posted a link to a totally inspiring slacklining video. I watched it three times before sending it to my two daughters and daughter-in-law.


Friday, August 29, 2008


When Charlie and I hiked up Mt. Garfield last June for his final 4000 footer, we passed beautiful blooming Viburnum alnifolium also called Hobble- Bush. It is called hobble-bush because the plants grow tall in cool moist woods, tangling amongst themselves and reaching over trails and potentially causing hikers to stumble and then perhaps....hobble.

The flowers were striking in that there are larger sterile flowers surrounding tiny fertile ones. The leaves are big and luscious with a pleasing not-quite oval shape and saw-tooth edges.

A few nights ago, as Sara and I raced up Mt. Garfield to deliver Ben & Jerry's trail magic to a group of students that did not include Molly (we missed her by a day), we passed the hobble bushes again--the pretty white flowers were replaced by bright red berries that were turning to blue as they aged and the leaves were losing their appealing green and looked ravaged by the insect activity involved in pollination.

I was interested to read that the tangled branches of the hobble-bush provide a safe nesting place to the tiny black-throated blue warbler when it returns to the northwoods in early Spring.

Nature is so efficient.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Making Magic

Trail magic is an unexpected treat along the trail. Over the weekend while I was on Franconia Ridge, I witnessed a couple of examples of it. One duo of Appalachian Trail through-hikers were surprised on the ridge by a friend who, after stowing their heavy packs at the hut, took the pair down the trail and to a night of hotel luxury and restaurant meal bounty in Lincoln. When I saw them again Sunday, they had a spring in their step and were looking forward to getting back on the trail sustained by a night of comfort.

Books written by AT hikers often speak about finding a six pack of coca cola or a tupperware container of cookies in a shelter or at a road crossing--these little sprinkles of magic help them make it through the difficult miles of deprivation and freeze-dried meals.

Daughter Molly is helping to lead a freshman orientation group from George Washington University on a four day, five night backpacking trip in the White Mountains. Apparently college orientations have come a long way since I was in a room with 400 incoming freshman and an overhead projector presentation on study skills.

Their planned tent site tonight is a mere 5 mile hike from a trailhead, so Sara and I made chocolate chip cookies and are planning to buy ice cream and wrap it up tight with ice and rock salt and head up the trail this afternoon to meet them--I hope I have the right day--Molly left me a voice mail telling me which tentsite they would be at on Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, etc. never actually saying what day of the week Day 1 was--but I'm thinking Day 1 was Sunday putting her at Garfield Tentsite tonight on Day 3--if not, someone else will get a little trail magic.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

A tapestry of lives

On Friday afternoon I drove to Franconia State Park and hiked up the Old Bridle Path to Greenleaf Hut. The hike is just under 3 miles and has an elevation gain of 2450 feet. Once I got to the Hut, I only had a few minutes to claim a bunk and put on my official Appalachian Mountain Club volunteer t-shirt before starting to mingle with the guests prior to supper. Meals at the AMC high country huts are delicious affairs. While, it is true that hungry hikers will be happy with any food offering, the hut "croo" always does a gourmet job.

Greenleaf Hut is located at 4200 feet elevation, just above a small pond called Eagle Lake and about a mile (and 1000 feet in elevation) below the summit of Mt. Lafayette. The hut is totally "off the grid" with a wind turbine on the roof to run some appliances and propane flown in by helicopter twice a year for the stove and the refrigerator. The croo (usually 4-5 young people) pack the food in on their backs twice a week. The meals are served family style for the 48 guests and the sleeping quarters are in bunkrooms. There is a clivus composting toilet and running water from a drilled well.

My job as an Information Volunteer is to mingle and meet the guests and talk to them about their hiking plans, offer advice or information if needed and to answer questions about the trails, the mountains, the weather, the hut or whatever comes up. At Greenleaf, my duties also included selling t-shirts, maps, advil, blister patches and hershey bars. Believe me, I was a popular lady. In exchange for doing something that is pure pleasure for me, I got to spend two nights at the hut at no charge.

Friday night was busy with people choosing t-shirts and talking to me about their plans for the next day. In the hut there is a log book where people sign their names or write something about their trip--books dating back half a century are kept on the shelf and people were enjoying looking for times that they had signed the book before. One couple kept trying to remember which Labor Day in the 1960's they woke up in the hut to a blizzard. Three young people from California were excited to find pictures of their Dad who had been a member of the croo in 1971.

One young boy came to me and asked if he could take the log book to write in it, I said "of course" and I think (I hope) that I smiled at him.

Today I hiked up the Bridle path with my dad and three brothers. I was the slowest and my brothers teased me but my dad stayed with me. When we got to the hut we were so tired that we laid on our bunks and my dad fell asleep.

On Saturday morning, after breakfast the guests headed off to their hikes and new destinations and the croo told me that I could take a few hours and go hiking before the afternoon rush started. I headed up Mt. Lafayette and across the Franconia Ridge to Mt. Lincoln. The morning was clear and I could see the high peaks in three states. Some of the people who had spent the night at the hut were up there, too, and we shared stories and reminisces about the various peaks that rolled in layer after layer to the horizon.

The hut is nice and dinner was good except for this annoying kid next to me that kept trying to talk. We had macaroni and cheese and pea soup and chocolate cake with mint frosting.

One of the men who stayed at the hut was an Alpine Steward and his job was to spend the day walking along the ridge and talking to people about the alpine zone. Some of the plants up on the ridge take many years to grow and a misplaced hiking book can wipe out a decade of growth. The trail is very well delineated and with caution and education some of the fragile growth can be protected.

Tomorrow we are going to hike to Mt. Lafayette and Mt. Lincoln.

After finishing my time on the ridge, I headed down through the erratic boulders and scree back to the hut. Along the area above treeline, the trail is marked by large cairns. In between two cairns, I met a young couple. I noticed the young woman right away, because she was so happy looking, her face glowed and words spilled from her "We just got engaged!" Right at that cairn just below! He had a ring and everything--I'm not sure what the significance of a cairn just below the summit of Mt. Lafayette was to them, but getting engaged on a mountain seems portentous to me. I congratulated them and headed back to the hut and to the constant stream of day trippers and new guests who came in for directions and water and information.

Later after dinner when the tired hikers were heading to bed I picked up the log book and read some entries while I listened to the wind turbine whirl on the roof and one of the croo lightly play his guitar.

Tonight I am thinking about my mom, in the beginning of August she had pain in her chest so she went to the doctor. He said she had an infection of cancer. He gave her some medicine that would make the cancer go away. It made her sick. She said she would rather have 50 babies than take that medicine. Her sisters are taking care of her while my dad is hiking with my brothers and me.
My name is Jimmy and I'm 13 years old.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Franconia Ridge

The blog will be quiet for a few days, as I do a volunteer stint this weekend at the Applachain Mountain Club's Greenleaf Hut

The hut is located just below the summit of Mt. Lafayette which is the northernmost mountain on Franconia Ridge.

The last time that I climbed up Mt. Lafayette was three years ago with Ethan and Molly. That day was perfectly clear and our view from the summit stretched from Vermont's Mt. Mansfield in the West to Maine's Bigelow Range in the East. predicts a clear weekend and cool nights this time as well.

Without a doubt, I will return next week with lots of stories to tell and pictures to share.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Second chances

Two years ago today with just our families present, Charlie and I got married.

After the vows, we shared raspberry pie, fried chicken and potato salad with our families and then hurtled headlong into sharing our lives.

It has been better than I could have imagined.

Happy Anniversary, Charlie.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Home Again, Home Again, Jiggety Jig

1300 miles and two moves in three days. Phew, I'm tired.

On Friday afternoon, Molly and I headed to DC with the Escape packed to the gills for the move into her sophomore dorm at George Washington University.

Charlie had figured out a route for us that avoided the scary roads around New York City and so with the directions clutched in her hand, Molly navigated me through New England and across the Tappan Zee Bridge.

We cruised through central New Jersey stopping to spend the night unexpectedly in the home of friends and made it into DC by noon on Saturday. Once in DC, we met up with Sara who had spent the summer after graduation living in a townhouse with some of her friends and working as a waitress at Papa Razzi in Georgetown. We got a hotel room and the girls both went off for a Saturday night in the City while I curled up and watched Michael Phelps win his 8th gold medal.

On Sunday morning, I woke up bright and early while the girls slept and went out to read the paper and drink coffee at the hotel restaurant. In the Washington Post, there was a most interesting story about the founding of the Santa Fe Writers Project. I was captivated by the story and inspired by Andrew Gifford who overcame immense personal obstacles in order to publish books that he thought deserved an audience. When I returned to my hotel room, the girls were still sleeping so I googled and discovered that the Santa Fe Writers Project had a blog. Long story, short--Andrew Gifford is going to send me a copy of Moody to review in this space.

That seemed like a lot to accomplish in one day, but I still had to wake up the girls, move Molly into her dorm, move Sara out of her townhouse and start driving home.

That all went according to plan, thanks to the help of their friends. As an added bonus, Sara and I were able to take her friend Joe to Dulles Airport to meet his flight to a new life in Norway. He'll be designing the interior of cruise ships and taking a chance on a relationship. It felt good to be the ones to give him his Good-bye from America hug.

After a last dinner with Molly, we rolled back up the highway and eventually on to Maine. It's nice to have Sara home but the yawning absence of Molly in our home is huge--how I love to have them in the same space.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Good use of Advertising Dollars

The Olympics are so much fun to watch that as I drive to DC and back over the next few days taking one daughter back to school for her sophomore year and bringing the other home for a month before she leaves for Macedonia, I have decided that we won't drive after 8 p.m. so that we can be in a hotel with a TV watching Michael and Ian, Misty and Kerri, Nastia and Shawn and all those great commercials.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

How far is it from the Mountain Valley Conference to the Olympics?

Just before Ethan started high school in 1999, he worried about what sport he would play during the Spring season in High School. He had been playing baseball since 2nd grade and loved playing catcher but he was also a strong distance runner and worried about choosing between baseball and track.

We were pleased to discover that our high school had a small cross country team that ran in the Fall--problem solved--he could run cross country in the Fall and play baseball in the Spring. He loved cross country from the first day of pre-season in August, 1999. In our part of the country running cross country meant running through the woods, over hills, through rivers and around rocks in all kinds of inclement weather.

Our school was small and the number of kids interested in running many miles every day after school was even smaller but they were a good bunch and Ethan completely enjoyed his four years of cross country. With our team being so small and seeing the same group of kids from other schools in our conference at every meet we soon got to know the other runners and the kids and parents cheered for everyone. One of the beauties about cross country is that it is an individual sport--there is a team score--but each runner really just tries to do better than they did in the previous race. Our races through the western hills were informal affairs--the kids were usually farm kids who had honed their muscles throwing hay and whose parents faces glowed with pride at their accomplishments. There were no soccer moms--cross country moms are an entirely different demographic.

Because the numbers were small in our conference, often the boys ran at the same time as the girls. Ethan was usually among the top male runners but there was consistently one female runner from the next school to the west of us that ran up with the boys. In fact, she was so fast that some of our male runners would set "beating Anna" as a goal for the season.

When the boys and girls ran separately, the boys on our team could always be heard along the course cheering for Anna. I don't think any of them ever had the nerve to actually talk to her privately--she was so beautiful and so talented that I think our boys felt that cheering for her was the most they could hope for.

Well, they all grew up. Ethan went to college and ran cross country for a while before switching to rugby--he's married now and is an engineer inspecting bridges to make them safe. Anna Willard went off the college too and discovered the joy of running Steeplechase. She excelled at it and tomorrow the cross country star from Telstar High School and the Mountain Valley Conference will run for the United States in the Olympics. Good luck, Anna--Western Maine is still cheering for you.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Abundant Fungi

Our local newscast sometimes runs pieces from the network to fill out the broadcast and it is often amusing when the camera cuts back to the anchors and they are speechless at some segment with absolutely no relevance to life in Northern New England.

This morning during the 5:30 a.m. half hour, they ran a segment from some other part of the country on the risks of overwatering your lawn--this is not something that we have to worry about--especially not this summer. The last I heard we have had 10 inches of rain in August on this the 12th day of the month. Apparently, one of the signs that you have over-watered your lawn is a crop of mushrooms--Check!

These are so pretty with their frilly edging. I can't find them in my Audubon pocket guide--does anyone know what they are called?

Mushrooms fascinate me--I am drawn to the way they draw their life from the death of other organisms--their existence is such a useful cog in the wheel of life.

Monday, August 11, 2008

An apron for Molly

Some of my favorite words are "Mom, can you make .......?" How many times as the kids grew up did I hear, "Mom, can you make me a look like a ninja turtle?" "Mom, can you make me look like Jix?" Jix was Sara's imaginary friend and how was I supposed to know what Sara's imaginary friend looked like? "Mom, can you make me into Prince Charming?" "Mom, can you make me elf clothes?" "Mom, can you make us into Tarzan and Jane--in an hour?" "Mom, can you patch this shirt?" "Mom, can you make these pants into climbing knickers?

I LOVED it! One of the most wonderful gifts that I received from motherhood was the confidence that I could make just about anything. It may not have looked really great, but there was no limit to what we could whip up and sometimes it did look really great (I'm thinking of the Prince Charming costume here).

It makes me especially happy to think of the kids having things that I made for them to take along when they grow up and go away.

A few weeks ago, Molly asked me to make her an apron before she went back to college and her job at an ice cream parlor. She picked out a pattern and some material and tonight I managed to put it together. It is so cute, just like Molly.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Another Sunday walk

Today, I retraced June's Spring wildflower walk in my parents' woodland to see what had become of yesterday's delicate beauties.

The yellow clintonia blossoms have been replaced by round blue berries. Clintonia is also known as blue bead. The ones in these woods must be tasty--legend has it that hunters in northern Quebec rubbed the juice of the bunch berry on their bear traps because the bears were attracted to the scent.

The bunchberries which carpet the forest floor in some areas had let their pretty little faces turn to red berries that are tasteless to us, but are welcome food for spruce grouse.

The trillium (I remember its name by thinking--thrillium because it's such a thrill to see) now sports a bright red seed pod.

The seasons march on so quickly--well winter doesn't march that quickly here, but the season of growth does. In Northern New England, we are all busy harnessing summer's energy before the long cold season.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Where everybody knows your name

Yesterday after an expected two-day trial settled, we made a quick, unplanned trip to Boston to a little neighborhood pub where Charlie's son and some friends were playing music.

It was great fun and seemed a long way from our life in the woods. I've never spent much time in bars--OK the truth is, I've never spent any time in any bar but I did like watching Cheers back in the day.

This seemed just like a Cheers type of place. We got there before 7 and it was pretty quiet but as the night wore on, it got more and more crowded and everyone seemed to know each other and to be having a good time.

It was so much fun to see the talented young folks play music and they even brought the vintage rocker out for a few songs.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Paris for President

Finally, an energy policy that makes sense

See more Paris Hilton videos at Funny or Die

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

oh, Happy Day!

When I was three years old, I got eyeglasses--it's probably my earliest memory. They were blue and tiny and I had to be careful with them. I wasn't.

I hated being tethered to the glasses but it was far worse to be without them and unable to see anything. Despite loving to swim, when I took off the glasses and dove in, I was alone and confused by the crowd in the pool. When I went to sleepover parties or camping, the glasses were forever getting stepped on while I slept. When I turned into a teenager and worried about clothes and boys and hairstyles, I longed to have a boy look into my eyes and tell me how beautiful they were. It never happened, my glasses were too thick and without them I had a very unappealing squint.

One of my many eye deficiencies is a serious astigmatism. During my teenage years when I longed for contact lenses to solve my social insecurities, the science was not developed enough to make contact lenses for people with my degree of astigmatism. Finally, when I was 22 years old, I was able to get my first pair of hard contacts. I loved them--suddenly I wasn't the girl in glasses any more.

I wore my contacts faithfully for 26 years, then this past June I lost one. They were expensive gas permeable lenses and I thought--hey I'm 48, I don't care about being cute any more and maybe it's time to go back to glasses. So, I did. What I had forgotten about glasses is how they fog up when you are hiking up a mountain in the rain. I had forgotten that they get in the way of kissing. I had forgotten how they get smudged and how I had a constant dull headache when wearing them.

So yesterday, I went back to my eye doctor. It was the first exam in three years and while my astigmatism has continued to get worse--technology had caught up to me and he was able to fit me into the most comfortable contact lenses ever and here's the kicker--I can sleep in them! For the first time in my life, I woke up this morning and could see.

Oh, Happy Day!!!

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Another rainy weekend

I don't know how much rain we have had over the last month but my luscious vegetable garden has not needed supplemental water at all this summer and our grass is growing so fast you can almost hear it.

We had hoped to get a 4000 footer hike in today before the rain, but instead decided on a short hike up Sabattus Mountain in Lovell, Maine.

The hike was less than a mile to a nice summit with views of the storm approaching quickly from the west. As we were retreating from the top, something caught my eye and I crouched to the ground with shouts of "Charlie! Quick, the camera!" I'm not sure what kind of snake it was and I've looked at enough images on the internet in the last 15 minutes to give me nightmares for a week. So, if anyone knows the brand, please comment.

After our hike, we headed into New Hampshire and down to Lake Ossipee and Camp Calumet where Charlie was to perform a concert under the big top tent.

As the folks were arriving and the concert was about to begin, thunder started to roll and so we all moved into the conference center. He did a great job as always with his familiar songs, stories and sing alongs.

Altogether another nice Saturday that I didn't have to spend watering the garden.