Friday, January 16, 2009

Hiking Spring Mountain

A Thing of Beauty
Instead of hiding from the cold this winter, we went out to greet it. We rediscovered Spring Mountain. I had forgotten its beauty, especially in winter, when a crisp sky frames stark trees, and a light dusting of snow nestles among gray rocks and brown leaf beds. Everything is so neat, so organized, and so in its place. No foliage, no bugs, no people. (And I do love summer!) Just the gentle hum of the snow machine on top of the mountain. I had forgotten how much I valued the quiet after all the craziness, the lushness of summer. A winter hike is an excellent place to collect one's thoughts.

I’ve lived here more than 20 years and this just occurs to me now? It’s funny how the things that surround us become part of the backdrop to our daily activities and therefore seem part of a painting, untouchable. We don’t think to explore. Then, for some reason, we do. This year will be all about getting out of the rut. After all, one never knows how long one has in this life, and it would be a shame to leave stones unturned, so to speak. We will not be doing the same old things, in the same old way—not this year. I think I decided that then and there, on Spring Mountain.

Christmas Day
We bicycle up Spring Mountain on the Perkiomen Trail each summer. Once the days shorten and grow chilly, though, we so easily forget things outdoors. We begin to “go to the gym.” If that. On Christmas Day, though, with our grown children at home, a lovely brunch under our belts, gifts opened, and cat naps stolen, I sounded the call to pull on boots and parkas and ear muffs and gloves and get out on the mountain. I would like to think my family was grateful. At least, there were no arguments.

We hit the mountain and raced the sun. From the ground, it had already set. But as we made our way up the serpentine trail, the magnificent sun - in such great demand during the short days of winter - came into view once again. As if by magic, we were able to summon it back to life from the long, cold winter night - an orange ball hiding among enormous cotton candy balls of pink and turquoise. We had only a short time, but it was enough. Todd and Amie raced to the top, Todd’s long legs setting the pace. Gary hung back with me, as he has always done, and Sarah fell between the two groups. In an hour we were up to the top and back (after all, it’s a very small mountain), but we were infinitely better off for having left the couch.

A New Day, A New Year
A week later, on New Year’s Day. By this time, the kids were back to their respective homes, and we were alone. I sat at my computer, Gary at his. From my desk, where I rushed to catch up on deadlines ignored during the busy holiday week, I could see that the sun had already set. It had slipped down behind the rise that faced our house. This time, though, I knew where it had gone. It was up on Spring Mountain. Rather than feeling the usual sadness, I was challenged.

“Let’s go,” I said to Gary. I knew that if we could just reach the trail, and climb it quickly, we could see the sun once again — and borrow some time. And so we did. Again, getting out in the cold air, just being there with the trees, the snow, the path, the sun as it set, put a few more nicks in our rut. Gary said, “We’ll have to do this more often.” I said, “Yes we will. We’ll have to see what the mountain looks like with the sun on the other side of it.”

We awoke that Sunday morning about 7:30. The sun, just peeking over the horizon, was enticing now. I remember years gone by when that same sun would tease me out of bed. I would wash the sleep from my eyes, don running shoes, and jog around the block to greet it. No so in recent years. Now the old bones creak, and it’s easier to just turn over, pull pillow over head, and drift back to sleep. Or, to get up but huddle indoors, especially in the cold winter months. Not so today, though.

I said to Gary, “Look—the sun is up. Let’s see what it looks like on Spring Mountain.” Usually, I lament the short winter days. Now, I felt, I was doing something about it. We were out the door in no time. The hike was exhilarating. I have so much more energy in the morning — I remember that now. We pushed to the top in record time. The snow machines hummed, and the ski area’s maintenance crew readied the slopes for the day. From our perch, we clicked off photos of the sleepy village below.

On the way down, we came across an alternate path. It veered off in another direction. I wonder where it goes? I thought. I’ve never seen the other side of Spring Mountain. We followed the cairns a ways and found that we were not, in fact, on a short cut to the Perkiomen Trail below, as we had thought. I had a schedule to follow that day - and this exploring would surely interfere — so we made a pact to come back and push that trail some other time. Gary tracked our progress on his new GPS. We made it down the mountain in time. This time, everything looked different. It was as if we were seeing everything for the first time: The sun was coming up and not going down. And, we knew we'd be back.

Another View
The following week, we planned to make good on our promise to further explore the mountain, but things didn’t turn out the way we thought they would. Saturday morning was out, and so was Sunday morning. Gary ran off to his own obligations on Sunday afternoon, and I stayed behind, puttering around the house. He came back after dark. Too bad, I thought - There would be no hike now, and I was disappointed. Gary had another idea, though. “How about after dinner?” he said. “Tonight, we’ll have the biggest moon of the year.” Apparently, the moon was as close to the earth as it would be all year. “Um, okay. What if we can’t see?” “We’ll bring headlamps,” he said. And so we did.

Let’s talk about surreal. The moon, even from behind the clouds, provided such an aura that we didn’t even need our headlamps. I found myself quoting a well-known verse: “The moon on the breast of the new fallen snow gave a luster of midday to objects below,” and for the first time, I knew exactly what it meant. I set out thinking we’d stay on the main trail, but that quickly changed. My feet wanted to know what it was like to hike up Spring Mountain in the dark. If you could call that, dark. The air was cold, but not too cold; there was no breeze. I couldn’t have picked better conditions.

So, up the mountain we pushed. In the dim light, we could just barely distinguish between path and non-path: The moonlight fell in shadows on the path, where feet before ours rustled the snow and leaves. Non-path was pristine white and unbroken, in comparison. Not that it was bright enough to really tell. Somehow, though, we made it to the top and back without spraining an ankle. By now I knew the zig zags of the path. I knew what to wear—how many layers, when to unbutton my jacket and remove gloves on the uphill to avoid overheating. And, when to cover up again on our descent. I knew we’d be back. Again and again. Breaking out of our rut was becoming routine.

In fact, tomorrow begins another weekend. Which day will find us on Spring Mountain, clearing the cobwebs, jumping the rut, and enriching our lives? Who knows where this could lead?