It is the beginning of November and the first snows of the winter have already blanketed the higher peaks in a drape of soft fluffy white. There has been a couple of feet of snow on the top of Mount Washington, and I read the other day of two hikers who needed rescuing as they tried to ski down the Ammonoosuc Ravine trail, in the dark, and ran out of headlight power. I am always struck by the number of people who attempt things they never should even contemplate starting, and do such with only the minimum amount of equipment, experience or intelligence. From my understanding, these two foolish characters were attempting to ski in a fragile alpine area, with not enough snow, after dark, with one headlamp between the two of them loaded with weak batteries that soon died. Maybe the headlamp was not the only thing they shared between the two of them; perhaps these two half-wits shared the intelligence of a single individual as well. But I have digressed into a rant about the latest story of dolts who should not be allowed to venture further than their backyards and I apologize; that was not why I am sitting here writing.
Fall is transitioning into winter yet again. I have had a wonderful first season of guiding as a business instead of just for the pleasure of taking people into the woods and sharing what I know, and the number of people that I have been able to introduce to the restorative powers of the wilderness, the soul re-centering capacity of the woods, has been more than I ever could have hoped to have reached.
It used to be, for me, that the changing of seasons was filled with melancholy. I would become sentimental and nostalgic as the seasons changed and I would think back about both the good, and the bad, seasons that had preceded it. I would think of days hiking or camping with my friends in high school or in boy scouts. Or perhaps I might let my mind wander back to some of the wilder adventures I had during the years that followed college (although never as risky or stupid as trying to ski down the side of Mount Washington in October with just one shared, dying headlamp), or maybe to some of the week-long backpacking excursions I took with my daughters as they were growing up; those are all great memories.
I would reflect on all those that I have been fortunate enough to hike with. Like life itself, I have had some wonderful long term hiking partners, and I have had some not so great long term hiking partners, but through them all, I have grown as a hiker, and as a person, and my life is richer for having known them and for having hiked with them.
But this introspection, and sometimes resulting sense of loss, is something that changes as we get older. Perhaps it is the number of seasons that have passed that make these seem less dramatic, less monumental, but I think, as we age, the changing of seasons transitions from mile marker reflection points, to reminders of the rhythm of life; the constant and un-interruptible currents and cycles that are part and parcel of life itself. Seasons begin, bloom, age, and then start to whither just as the next season begins, but rather than mark the end of a period of time, this change marks just another step in a long continuum.
This is true when we look at things myopically and consider one year to the next, and this is true when we look at decades or centuries. I think of the farms of northern New England which, 100 years ago, covered a good deal of the North Country. But farming in the North Country is hard work, and has few rewards for all but the stalwart, and so many of the farm houses that were once so abundant have been abandoned as farm children grew up to seek an easier life beyond rural Vermont or New Hampshire, and the farms and the fields that were left behind were left to be reclaimed by the forests around them. The seasons, the years, roll one to another and the rhythm of life continues. It can be calming and reassuring, this cyclic pattern of the seasons and of life; knowing that regardless of whatever calamity or disruption to your peaceful world that might occur today, tomorrow will start fresh again, and one week will follow another, and one season will blend to the next.
I am already thinking about the trips I want to do next year. I have talked to many about doing the Haute Route in Switzerland again next summer, a 14 day traverse from Mont Blanc in France to the majestic Matterhorn in Switzerland across some of the prettiest mountains I have ever experienced, and I will do a Presidential Traverse again and introduce countless others to the joys of hiking and backpacking. To those who read this blog and are not on my mailing list, be sure to go to the contact page on this site and add your name to the email list so that you can be sure to know of all the upcoming trips and explorations. For all those that have joined me on an adventure this last year, from the kids on the charity hike to those who never thought they could hike the Presidential Traverse and celebrated completion on top of Mount Pierce, thank you all for being part of this year’s turn of the cycle.