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.


Jayne said...

What a moving entry Beth. Our lives are a tapestry indeed. Glad it was a rewarding weekend for you in many different ways.

Ruth said...

What a well written post! The young boy's story is so sad, but it good he could express his thoughts.

KGMom said...

Ahhh-Beth--what a mix of companionship, helpfulness, and personal sorrow. People carry many griefs with them, don't they

beckie said...

Beth, well written indeed! Your mountain adventures re thrilling to me as I am sure this is the only way I will know what they are like. I hope the young boy will take from his accomplishments the strenght to deal with what he has in front of him. He has shown himself to be strong and able to over come the obstacles of the mountain-I know he can do that with life's challenges.

Anonymous said...

Very nice post Beth, hope everyone is well. Tell Auntie Maine I'll be stopping by to read her posts.