Every time I hike, it is easy to remember what these mountains mean to me. With eyes closed, I could count the number of stops the bus would make before I would be home and off on my latest outdoor endeavor. When those doors swung open, out I shot, unbridled with glee, with a rapidity no bones, joints, ligaments, or muscles could ever be designed for, carrying atop the burden of a voluminous imagination. As branches whisked shut behind me, I was swallowed wholly. I was free to be whoever I wanted to be. I remember being Indiana Jones digging around Mt Jasper, a fire warden as my brother and I scaled the old fire tower atop Cherry Mountain (before they blew it up, or rather, down), a soldier of the Revolution on the lam at the Pond of Safety, or even a miner at the old Mascot Mine. Hours spent crawling underneath dinosaur-like ferns in the field near the old Highlands train station. Inquisitively, eagerly, and with great expectancy, slowly pushing aside dew-laden needles to see what was on the other side. I didn?t know it at the time, I was so blithely unaware, but somewhere, like a gleaner blessed with an extended harvest, my mind was working in a slow current, gathering all it needed to determine who I was and what was to become of me.
Funny, isn?t it? For many of us, we hike these mountains to find ourselves, to find out who we are, along the way we may even imagine who we could be. We come as a nondescript void, lustfully awaiting to be made complete. No one hikes halfheartedly. Either we try it, hate it, never to return, or we come, love it, never leave and long for its black soil to become our eventual forever place. We return to favorite places because we appreciate them and can identify with it, there is something that draws us there, we feel at home. Are we open-minded like a full summit vista, do we charge through life like a torrent, or like a drop of rain, cascading from leaf to leaf? On the way we gain endurance, strength, patience, humility, self-esteem, a peace of mind. Then we take these qualities into everyday life because it is what we have become and what we want to be. Where else but the mountains? It reminds me of the words of Francis Parkman:
?The wilderness, rough, harsh, and inexorable, has charms more potent in their seductive manner than all the lures of luxury and sloth. And often he on whom it has cast the magic finds no heart to dissolve the spell, and remains a wanderer and an Ishmaelite to the hour of his death.?
So here we have come to the template of the mountains and we can take upon us and live our lives with the identity of a trailblazer, bushwhacker, athlete, leader, follower, loner, explorer, adopter, trekker, viewseeker, or peakbagger. Sometimes we can be a combination of several, or we may undergo a sequential baptism as we pass through the stages of life. Whatever it is, this is our theatre, here is where we do it. When our hike is over, we take that identity into the other aspects of life that, however unfortunate, are not related to hiking. For even in everyday life, with the confines of tedium exerting themselves against us, our hiking identity pants within us with all the expectations of a rapacious beast. We come to the mountains to be whatever we want to be thus enabling us to be the person we truly are.
Which is why I?m here today. Today is an opportunity to revel in the most concrete regions of my imagination. All the Whites are important to me, but today East Osceola is the peak for me. The Osceola?s are important to my family. In 1725, my grandfather (x9) Henry, accompanied his half-brother Samuel on a scouting expedition thru this area of the Whites. Their goal being to find the tribe who fought Captain Lovewell, and hopefully, rendezvous with Captain Blanchard . Author Dan Doan said this about the hike to East Osceola:
? Despite spreading branches, East Peak intrigues the hiker with views glimpsed through windblown branches. They give a sense of overlooking unexplored terrain such as an 18th century trapper might have seen. The impression is sharpest looking north into the Pemigewasset Wilderness. The trapper would have been intrigued not by the views but by the beaver pond down on Cheney Brook.?
I like to imagine our footsteps cross today, they were after all, on the way to the meeting point along the ?Sawco?, so maybe our footsteps crossed, maybe they didn?t. Part of my identity is my love of hiking and my ancestors, today I can be both. I try to imagine what was going through his mind. A hoped for glorious bravado, fear, apprehension? One eye on the ground before him, one on the crops waiting to be harvested at home. Pushing aside preconceived ideas of his enemies as he adopts the very techniques they display. Thoughts of home and hearth, of family, a wife and children. How would he feel knowing in 15 years his own son would be killed as a member of the Snowshoe Companies? That his grandson would be his charge, and that his grandson and great grandson would soon be fighting to keep this land free? His gear a motley assortment , haphazardly put together, perhaps some from his father before him. Carrying it all with a sort of unfamiliarity, he is after all, of the farming breed. Yet he keeps in mind his heritage, a descendant of those who fought before him, from the time of King Phillips War to his present day. A reminder that life can be cut short. The smell of leather and wool, the comfort of a charge in his musket, periodically adjusting his tomahawk and knife about his waist. Could he ever imagine that his great (x9) grandson would make his voyage a part of his own identity? Perhaps there is a bit more of their own identity in me than I could ever imagine. Today I get to be like them, but still be me, it?s all a part of the identity we gain by hiking.
I guess, like the mountains, I haven?t changed much. Different times, different people, but all the same feelings. And the mountains are an equalizer, they invite us to come as we are. No matter who we are, think we are, or aspire to be, our identity is safe, secure, and as true to these hills and ourselves as the trees are tall. Although we each have our own identity, we endeavor to leave our individual mark in the Whites. We have too much in common with one another and those that have come before us to naively think we are any different from them. As hikers, I am reminded that in actuality, we are a great deal like one another.
PS-This hike dedicated to Mr Ross, a high school teacher who helped fuel a love of colonial times, and to Mrs. Lolita Forbes, a teacher who encouraged me to be me, and lost her battle with cancer Aug 20, 2010. Thank you.
Pics are here: