2011 Great Stories Contest - Grand Prize Story Winner
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by Terra Osterling, Irondequoit, NY
It is an October morning, surprisingly cold, but drenched in the bright sunshine of early autumn that is familiar to late summer. I am about to hike my first mountain trail - Baker Mountain outside Saranac Lake, deep in the Adirondacks. My husband, having some youthful experience with the High Peaks region, is wise to allow me to set the pace and I move slowly and deliberately along this upward, rocky path. Ahead there are places where the very bones of the Earth poke through; straight white birches, enormous rock outcroppings, exposed roots the sinews of the trail. Boulders covered with patchy moss are giant, green-furred animals. Laying my hand on one is like petting a sleeping mammoth, I imagine; a reverent and awesome moment. I keep moving up the trail, drawing energy from the mountain itself with every brush of pine and thud of rock underfoot.
At my first ledge, gazing out over jeweled lakes surrounded by bursting autumn, I feel something inside me complete. A puzzle piece thought long lost is found and fitted into the waiting void. The sunshine here is different, the air is different, and I am different. Everything is 'more,' including me.
Over the next 3 years, I hike Rooster Comb, Owl's Head Peak (outside Keene), Baxter Mountain, Poke O' Moonshine, as well as High Peaks Cascade, Hurricane and Phelps. There is no other circumstance where I would walk for 6 hours, in silence, uphill then back down, often in intermittent rain, and be elated to do it again the next day. When I am on a trail, time ceases, and on a summit I stretch out on bare rock with nothing between me and the blue dome of sky above.
Often a summit is the picture of hospitality - flawless sky and the Great Range laid out in a patchwork of autumn, majestic pine, and blue-green lakes. Other times the summit is in full view of a thunderstorm moving across a valley. Wrapped in wild gusts, I watch mist gather upward from forest far below, rising into clouds, then watch the hazy herd lumber across the peaks and over the valleys. Then there is the time I summit directly into a cloud, the wind made of icy pin pricks as a silver curtain draws over the vista, leaving me alone with altitude-stunted pines. Both the pines and I cling to the mostly-bald peak for dear life.
The person that I am on the mountain trail is alive in a way that does not exist in the "me" of flat land life. It is as if, in a dream, I find a lovely room in my house that I never knew existed. With each hike I am drawn deeper into the embrace of the Adirondacks. Every footfall marches me closer to a place where the creation of the earth and the creation of humanity come together. I miss the mountains as soon as I cannot see them.