Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Mountains, friends.

I have a deepening relationship with the mountains of New Hampshire. Casual acquaintance with a few well-known peaks-- Lafayette, Cardigan, Monadnock-- began during childhood, when my folks arranged low-budget (and often very damp) family camping trips to scenic spots up north. But my real affection for the mountains started in 1997, when I was a harried intern. That year, I set out to climb all of the summits in New Hampshire over 4000 feet, of which there are 48. Before too long I had visited all of them once, some more than once. I became able to stand on any summit and name most of the others in view. I saw little-known sides of popular mountains, much the way a friend may glimpse sides of you that the public doesn’t see.

Mostly, however, these mountain-friendships were of the fair-weather variety. The mountains played gracious host to sunny-day tea parties and picnic excursions drawing, besides me, crowds of the well-heeled from Boston and elsewhere. The mountains' parties were usually quite well-attended, and I rarely had private time with the hosts. Sometimes I would show up early, or linger late, in hopes of developing a more intimate relationship.

After a while, just out of persistence, I tried visiting in the winter. At first, this felt like showing up unannounced and unexpected. Would the mountains welcome company at that season? Would they even answer the door? Would I be interrupting something? Would they yell and chase me off? Sometimes, yes, these things happened. “You forgot your snowshoes!!?”, one might scream, “Get off my porch! Go home!” But gradually, the welcome improved. Not to say the mountains would drop what they were doing when I showed up, but I learned better how to join in and play along. A friend might answer the door saying, “I’m on the phone with my mom, have a cupcake”, or, “Great, I need to move my bed upstairs, you can help”, or, “I’ve had the crappiest day, you’re not going to believe this…”, or run past you soaking wet wrapped in a towel saying, “Sorry, no hot water, you can come in but I can’t deal with you right now.” The mountains seem to do similarly, and by going back again and again you begin to learn their deeper personalities.

Yesterday, I dropped in on Zealand Mountain, a peak without a lot of outward charm and rarely visited except out of politeness. This visit, however, I found Zealand full of personality, engaged in a fierce argument with a blizzard. The wind screamed, snow whipped horizontally, she seemed angry and too busy to stop for my visit. There was nothing I could do to help her, and we shouted just a few words to each other before I ran off. But I got to see how the mountain behaved in that situation, and what it looked like covered in snowdrifts as high as my waist. And if the mountain has a soul-- and it might-- it knows that I bothered to visit on a very dark day.


Blogger Katinka said...

I have a similar relationship with the ocean in Australia...he's the classic casanova: a little dangerous, often cheeky, and always intrguing.

ps(I especialy enjoyed your post "Things I do with my cat")

8/23/05, 5:53 PM  

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