Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Upon returning to the Adirondacks

I was a little afraid to return to the Adirondacks; afraid to tarnish memories, or prove them untrue.

Our minds are wired to hang on to and even embellish happy recollections while downplaying disappointments and discomforts.  All that rain last summer? Just one grey blur, compared with the few vivid days of sun. A zillion black flies, deer flies, horse flies, etc? Forgotten, in favor of (alpine!) flowers.  Tired feet, achy knees, repetitive conversation? Nothing, nothing, none of that mattered when I thought back to time spent alone on the summits, sitting meditation on the rock and clouds, zazen.

Wright Peak: A fin of rock, swallowed by cloud

(Li Po: “We sit together, the mountain and me, / Until only the mountain remains”)
Mt. Marcy, Wright, Algonquin; Skylight, oh what would happen if I returned to Skylight only to find it smaller, duller, less magical than I remembered or dreamed?

First weekend back, I started up the trail to Marcy and found that my feet remembered the way. “Oh, this stretch,” I remembered rough patches; “oh, that stream!” I recognized crossings.  “Hello, trillium!,” I exclaimed; “Hello birch, hello spruce, hello whatever little tweety thing is warbling from the woods.” Almost done with the long but not grueling climb up, I came to the last plateau/clearing and saw the mountain in all her glory (i.e. catching a raincloud). “Hello, Marcy!” It was like greeting an old friend. 

Almost to the summit of Wright Peak
A half-mile later, I turned right at the last junction, popped above treeline, and had my first glimpse of the MacIntyre Range: “Hello, Algonquin!”

Last stretch up to the summit, a new view with each ledge (“Hello Haystack; Great Range; Giant…”, no struggle to remember names and profiles; they’re etched too deeply in my brain).  Finally at the top—the top of Mt. Marcy, the top of New York; how well I know every rock, pool, and plant on that summit—I could see south, to Skylight and beyond. So much for my fears and so much for my memories, even: I felt more strongly than I ever did last summer (maybe it took some time and distance to truly appreciate the place?) like I was back in a place where I belonged.

Of course, that’s when it began to hail.

Mt. Marcy, steaming post-storm

Five weeks later, I’ve found myself laughing in the rain, singing in the mist, and basking (and/or baking) in the sun.  I’ve revisited Avalanche Pass, Iroquois Peak, Mts. Jo and Van Hoevenberg (old favorites).  Skylight, Skylight (my totem mountain here—I guess I have one everywhere I go?)—I visited Skylight on the day the Alpine azaleas were blooming. The diapensia and Lapland rosebay are done blooming, but the Labrador tea, bog laurel, bilberry, and sandwort have just begun.  (Gentians and rattlesnake root later.)  I haven’t yet begun to grapple with my thoughts (okay, prejudices) regarding wildness and wilderness, but I have managed to speak with several hundred hikers, help repair damaged stretches of trail, eat several pounds of chocolate, and see one loon. (Have yet to hear it call.)

Avalanche Pass, receding into mist

Oh how absurdly delighted I am to be back. The Adirondacks.

Maybe, just maybe—it’ll take time; at least the whole summer—I may begin to understand just what it is about these mountains that so many people love.

View from my favorite bench: Marcy, Colden, Wright and Algonquin reflected in Heart Lake

No comments: