Editor’s Notebook: Trails and shadows
The pansy near the stump. (Dana Wormald | New Hampshire Bulletin)
It’s easy to slip.
The shadows are thick in the middle of the petite mountain, and frozen snowmelt glazes some, but not all, of the rocks. And that some-ness makes matters worse. Traction is a lullaby on the trail, and the inhale-step-step-exhale rhythm sends attention flying, dreamlike, from the terrain toward more distant concerns. Inhale, step step. Exhale, step st … footfall is broken and vision shoots skyward to the crowning blue. The mountain’s message is clear enough: “If you’re here, be here.”
“Now get up.”
It is early morning, and there’s nobody around to witness the fall. That’s good – but it could have been bad. The damage is limited to a three-inch forearm scratch and a wrist that will remember everything come morning. Careless. Where is Aldous Huxley’s myna bird to cry “Attention!” when you need it?
The lesson is learned, until it isn’t. When body and earth reapply the rhythm, the attentive mind – unneeded – peels away again.
Above all else
The sun burns cold.
That’s how it feels at the top of the mountain, where a north wind scatters late-April rays before they can warm the skin. A shoulder-width patch of dry grass sheltered by twin crags is purchased for 20 feet of elevation down the eastern slope – a good seat in mid-morning’s front row.
It’s a bargain, even when the stronger gusts muscle their way past the rock wall and slip inside an upturned collar.
The daypack is shed, the body nestles, and a good book poorly served by an inconsistent reader is slipped from the front pocket. The sun feels warm now, and all is perfect. The earbuds come out next – maybe music will make it more perfect. And it does, for a page or two but not for a full song.
A colder wind bends rudely around the northside crag, and the book is lowered. There’s probably a better-than-perfect spot elsewhere under the sun, the sojourner thinks, and stands to look for another patch of grass where the wind doesn’t blow. Nothing. The book is returned to the pack, wronged once more, and soft music is plucked from the ears.
Ever unsettled, the sojourner moves toward the trail.
The way down
“Attention!” the imagined myna bird screeches.
Gravity pulls at calves and thighs that drive body and mind back into the shadows. Each step is deliberate on this different trail with the same ice, and the mechanical descent strikes the poetry of the climb. Inhale-exhale, step step step. Inhale-exhale, step step step. The rhythm is unbroken until the light of the world below floods the trailhead.
Legs wobble in the parking lot as the daypack is stowed in the backseat. Water is gulped, a shaking hand finds the right key, the engine is turned over.
The descent continues on the road.
Back home, there’s a fragment of awe at the edge of the driveway: A rogue pansy has blossomed next to the uncelebrated stump. In another yard maybe this would go without notice, but flowers don’t like it here. There’s no balance of sun and shade – just all or nothing.
Except, it seems, there.
As a new week begins, ascents, summits, and pansies move behind news of the world. A different daypack – this one with a laptop, cords, and notebooks – is stowed in the backseat. Coffee is gulped, a steady hand finds the key, the engine …
The sojourner leaves the keys dangling and exits into the light rain. He bends low near the stump – so low you can see the droplets – and snaps the photo. The mechanical advance into another troubled Tuesday morning in America is broken, momentarily, by poetry.
“If you’re here, be here” – the lesson echoes now as then, on a timeline trail in thick shadows.
“Now get up.”
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