When you boil it down, hiking is not essential to life. Some would say not an equal to eating or drinking, or even sleep. However, being a purist and convinced that it is, I contradict my own statement. But, such a thought beckons the question "Why?". Why do we do it? Why do we hike? I have my own theories on this and I can think of no better background for such a contemplation as hiking Owl's Head. After all, think of all the time spent hiking that you have to think about it.But first...
Are you a peakbagger, or just an avid hiker? Do you love the outdoors, or hate being inside? Is it for the views, the forests,or its creatures within? Let's go a bit deeper..Do you hike to capture the ember-like fiery glow,like a sheet of copper hammered onto a sullen purple twilight, as the sun yields its daily conquest to the night? Or to catch the first rosy quartz pinkish morning hue? Do you hike to be alone, or to be with friends & family, old and new? Is it because you always have, or is it a recent revelation? Do you hike to remember, to honor, to cherish? Or do you hike to forget? Your losses, your pain? That which stalks you even into the night of your memory and mind? An attempt to vanquish, subdue, or if nothing else, to make it a bit more manageable? Its a question each must answer, and maybe, just maybe, some of us are still trying to figure it out. But, there is a reason, there is purpose. Why? In general, while there are exceptions to everything, hiking doesn't happen by accident.
I think it is due to the fact that in no other activity do we find such a reflection of life itself as we do in hiking. The two are synonomous. Consider. In order to climb we all start somewhere. A trailhead. We can't control the happenstance of birth no more than controlling where we start a hike if its somewhere we really want to go. Even bushwhackers have to start somewhere. Wherever we climb, we begin at a trailhead, maybe one not even to our liking.
As we hike we ascend gradually just like the first few delicate years of youth. We do encounter a few obstacles, a blowdown, slippery roots, anything that makes us stumble. But since its early on we have the vigor and vim of youth and we keep moving. We even literally and figuratively get our feet wet. All this time sheltered without realizing it. Above us the loving protection of steadfast trees, their parental branches to protect us, providing shadow and reflection. Keeping us safe from potential dangers. The valleys providing haven from blazing sun. Though concealed, we come to learn that there are forces that can harm us, but they haven't gotten to us, not yet.
Pass the trappens of adolescence we push on. Higher and higher. We are released like fledglings to be on our own. Which way are we going? Ah yes, the switchbacks of life. First we go one way, then we seemingly reverse course and go the other. On and on this interplay goes. All the time we are going higher. Time and distance pass without us even knowing it. Do we really know what we are doing? When the zigs and zags are done we may look back. We may wonder how crazy we looked changing directions like that, perhaps forlorn, thinking it could have been done another way, but alas, that part is over. We, for better or worse, move on.
Before we peak, one more obstacle. It is as applicable to a literal hike as it is to a symbolic one. The time we question ourselves in the big picture of life. The things we've done, the time and effort we've spent. That's right, the mid-life crisis. I used to think switchbacks epitomized it best, but they come earlier in life. Instead the mid-life crisis is like reaching treeline. We look around, sum up the situation, and decide, with everything at stake, if we really should continue this way. Are we tired? What am I doing here? Can I make it? Is this where I want to be? Has this been for naught? Course the problem with Owl's Head is that there is no treeline, but I think a slide that you have to ascend fits the bill rather nicely.
Eventually, as in life, the summit is achieved. Despite the trials we've encountered we're here. Indeed, some do get there faster than others, some don't have to experience as much pain or hardship as others do. But success, by whatever gauge, is achieved. It is enjoyed, allowed to permeate the whole of our senses. What a feeling.
Its all too easy to compare going downhill to the eventual decline that we as mortals must undergo. On the way down things hurt that didn't before. We may need assistance, like trekking poles, a means of support. Some things look familiar, albeit from a different angle, and some things we can't remember if our lives depended on it. But really, do we want to dwell on that? I think that's enough. Because in the end we gain accomplishment, a broad opening of our being, an appreciation. An everlasting feeling of comfort.
Think of all that Owl's Head has to offer. Indeed, it enhances many of the spices of life. When mixed together you have a wonderful recipe. To be enjoyed time and time again. A pinch of Adventure: Even if you stick to the traditional route advance through brook crossings and ascend and descend the slide. A dash of Bravado: Forget the traditional route. Try a selection of bushwhacks. A touch of the Unknown: Where on earth is that summit anyway? Unsure? Just walk the top enough to content yourself you made it. A heaping portion of Variety: Try it different ways. A grueling day hike or a more subtle, relaxed overnighter. A sprig of Risk: Well, OK, when is the last time you heard of someone dying on Owl's Head? Exactly. Let's be realistic. Its in a horseshoe bowl. Ever get lost in a cul-de-sac? Likely not. Plus the Pemi is to the south. But, if you do get lost, play it cool, keep your head, get your bearings. You'll find a way out. Hey-that's a lot like life isn't it? Just don't complain about there being no view. Don't worry about the things you can't see or get, instead, maybe we should all spend more time looking at what we do have right in front of us.
That's what makes Owl's Head unique. It charmingly claws its way to the heights above. Reaching the level to be counted worthy among its brethren. Like the youngest of siblings, achieving its peak in anonymity and scrappiness.
Like many, I'm truly thankful to have been exposed to hiking at a young age. Its a drive. A gear that cannot be registered. Its my release. When we think of what some will do, what they strive for, all that will supposedly bring meaning to their life, the frivolous attempts to answer the "why", all the lengths they will go. The vanity. The folly. Because the problem with life is, for some anyway, by the time they figure out what brings true happiness they are either too old or too tired to enjoy it. It passes them by. The years are then,all too few. Not so with hiking. It is never a wasted effort. It brings both meaning and satisfaction. The ability to reflect with complete confidence.Especially is this so with a hike to Owl's Head. Like all hikes, its one I don't regret.
Oh...come on...you already know the answer to that.
Here's a few pics. Sunday was dry, and well.. Monday was not.