I’ll tell you a hiking story, but not one like the others.
As with any, it starts early in the morning. Few things in life are so dampening to the spirit as a late fall rainstorm in New England. Not cold enough to be snow, not warm enough to be a peaceful rain, it’s lack of commitment is the most depressing part.
A hazy blue steel sky. Rain also means no camera, which is my favorite thing to carry, today just some water and a chocolate bar. It’ll just be me and the mountains and my thoughts.
Tell you the truth, I’m carrying a lot more. My writing is less about the trail and more about myself these days, if you’ve caught that. I don’t publish a lot though, so you might not have. The trail stays the same, the mountain has never and will never flinch. That’s why it becomes such a fine place to think. You can walk all day long and it will just be rocks and dust and the air and the mountain and you. The thing that changes is ourselves, we’re never the same person in the same place, ever.
My pack is old and blue and wearing out, like me on some days. It used to have a nice rigid backplate that felt like a second spine, but after years outside and inside carrying laptops and headlamps and anything else I could throw in it, it’s starting to wear out. I love it all the same. It’s got at least one more day left in it, I’ll know when it’s done for. I always know when a good thing has passed.
I am 24, and full of confusion. I’ve only gotten more confused as the years go, which I believe is fine and natural. It’s always been a challenge to not notice things, both within and without of myself. This part of my life is no different. I saw a man experiencing homelessness fixing his hair in the reflection of a gas station window the other day, and I’m not sure I’ll ever forget it. The small things cut me like big things should, and there’s way more small things (if you’re looking for them) in this all-too-vast world. The small heartbreaks of everyday life. They confuse me and I’m obsessed with them, both inside myself and in the world.
Less water than I should probably bring, but I’m as overconfident as ever. Besides, it’s a small little 1,000-foot peak that I know well (famous last words). I don’t have any real food, just a chocolate bar. I like to be a little hungry, a little manic. They say the trail can strip away your humanity, I like to test that theory. One time I was on a mountain in Mexico for four days and didn’t eat anything and it was simply the best time I’ve ever had with my clothes on. Stripped down to my sheer mind. Maybe everyone should spend a day or three like that. I lock the car doors, stash the keys in the gas cap on the old car I love so much. We’ve been through a lot together, it doesn’t have much left in it, but luckily I do. Another good thing that shall pass, no reason to dwell on it, just time to appreciate every moment left.
Blue eyes. That’s what I’ll remember. Like morning ice on a frozen lake, small flecks of white shining through. Or the pale blue sky of early spring. Cold. Her eyes made me feel cold. Not in a bad way, mind you, a shivering and dying way, but in the way the cold can make you feel alive. Yes, it hurts, stings, but boy to feel your eyes dry out and your lips crack in a smile and your joints shudder as the cold slices to your core, as long as you’re in control, it’s a hell of a feeling. It snaps you awake and grabs you by the collar and shakes you. Her eyes were like that. The key, though, is control.
Close to the coast of Maine, the rocks are all orange and pink. The closer you get, the more magnificent and saturated they become. They’re mildly magnificent here, extraordinarily magnificent on the coast, magnificent all the same. I love running my hands over their uneven surface, they’ve been here a long time just waiting for someone to come by. They’ll be here for a long time after. They don’t do anything but sit here and exist and see us all go by with all our worries and fretting and fooling around and they just chuckle silently to themselves and exist in perfect Zen silence.
I knew early on how it might go. She was haunted and harrassed and chained by the past. I’ve met a lot of people like that, it’s not a negative. The past is an anchor, and an anchor is security. I had to cut the rope off my anchor to get here, to write this, to be this person, to think these things, but I haven’t forgotten what it’s like to be the other way. It’s not always fun to do it my way, and it’s certainly never easy to cut loose, but I’m interested in little else in this life outside of how much I can grow and change while I’m here. And I simply couldn’t do that if I stayed tethered for even an instant. So, I cut my anchorline a long time ago, get better at it each time, and drop the past right away and float along in the Void to grow and change every single day. I’m comfortable out here, but it did scare me at first. It still scares me in ways, to be honest. I look in the mirror some days and jump, not recognizing the other guy. I can see why people stay tethered. I don’t blame them or her. Just being safe. Some days, I’m just looking for something to tether myself to. Anything.
Up and up, up the superhighway of scree. Scree consists of small little loose rock slides, they’re not the most fun to walk up. The footing is inconsistent, and I’ve turned my ankles seven ways to Sunday on spots like this. But I know these rocks well, I’ve known them for years now since I’ve been back in old-world New England. Can’t get distracted yet, I know a junction and a hard-right turn is upcoming, I should really try not to miss it.
When on a mountain, I think of just about anything but the mountain. The meditative moment greases my mental wheels a little better than anything else. I remember everything as I walk. I need to think about this woman, this far-too-brief love affair, because I think I’ll reach some answers about myself if I look hard enough. And once I’m done, I can put it down, and not think about it again. As always, I’m after a little bit of knowledge in this world that tries to drown us in information.
Can’t miss the signpost. I rarely do, and this time is no exception. Once you miss a signpost one time and have to retrace your steps a mile or two, well, not a lesson you soon forget. I pass someone at the intersection. A blue raincoat, electric blue shoes fresh out of the box going a different way. We appraise each other quickly before dipping into what can only be called “trail-talk”
Nice day for it (sarcasm)
Couldn’t ask for a better one (more sarcasm)
Heading for the top?
We’re camping down by the lake.
It is, wish the rain would stop.
I continue upwards as he takes the trail down to the lakeshore. Past this point, I don’t expect to see anyone else. Only the insane and the bored are out and about on a day like today, and neither head towards the bare summit for fear of lighting when the skies are so overcast. I never get scared of these things, and I’m reassured by the complete lack of thunder and a complete belief that surely today isn’t my day. The wind picks up with the elevation, the rain patters onto my head, I don’t bother with a hood. If I am to die today, I might as well experience everything.
I’m aware that the problem is me. I’ve loved a half-dozen great women in the last few years, and the problem is, I love them completely. Just as I do with everything, I believe in the best version of them, and I give them the best version of me. I give them and all the things in my life everything I can. The trouble with people, though, is when you give someone everything they want, they don’t have an easy reason to keep you around. You’ve already given them everything. There’s nothing to gain, or want, it just is. And it will always be as is. People love to want, to desire, they struggle to just be. I can’t change the way I am, I can’t hold back and make them wait or play tough, so it’ll keep happening. That’s ok, I’d hate to be able to do those things. I’m either completely interested or not at all. That can be overwhelming, that can be too much. And one of the few ways I care to measure myself is by how much selfless love and light I can give. Endless amounts, is tragically and triumphantly the answer.
Right before breaking above the treeline, here the switchbacks start. Left turn, right turn, left turn, ancient attempts to ease the climb. With each right turn, I see the mass of Acadia National Park rising out of the Atlantic fog a hundred miles away. Left turns show off the vast Maine interior, slowly dying with the season, well past the peak of fall color and well into the dreary grayness of early winter. I thank the clouds for lifting just enough for just long enough.
My light attracts people who need help, and this was no different. I always do what I can. In the Mahayana sect of Buddhism, there’s the concept of a “bodhisattva”, one who can achieve Nirvana, but delays doing so in order to help those still suffering. A human bridge, between pain and light. Sometimes, in my most romantic thoughts, that’s how I see myself. I help ferry people from a tough spot to a more stable one. They’re set up well, go on to be well, and it truly makes me happy. But like I said, once you give someone everything they could want, they have no reason to keep you around, they’ll keep on striving for the next thing, whatever it is. And here’s the truth; I’m not a bodhisattva. I’m nowhere near Nirvana or inner-peace. But I can pretend I am, if it means people view me in a way that allows them to use my bottomless well to get closer to their peace. But the question remains with me, who helps the helper?
Nearing the top now, above the trees, I can see the old radio tower through the mist. It’s not in use anymore, but the little hut I know is next to it makes me wish it was. Have to be an interesting cat to hang out up here working a radio, I’d love to chat with them. A good story is all that matters. The trail dropped the scree act and is now mostly massive slabs of granite. Don’t need to focus as much, you can let your feet handle themselves as long as you stay balanced. The mind didn’t need it, but it has a little more real estate to wander. The clouds start to move back in, cutting down the visibility. I lose sight of the tower, but I know it’s still there.
She wrote me songs and poems and a million sweet things, and you know that really did me in. I’ll always fall for an artist, another deficiency of mine. Other things I fell for included words and promises I didn’t even mean to believe. I knew they were as empty as any other words, words have the significance we place upon them, and I still went and slipped right into her words becoming the most significant thing to me. Frankly, everything she did was significant. I love the little things. The specific way she fixed her hair up in a bun. The way she buried her head into me when she was asleep, always trying to get closer. The way she chattered non-stop about everything. The way those blue eyes lit up when she talked about something she loved. The way those same eyes darkened when she talked about the past.
Finally, I reach the bare, blank summit. Gray gray gray, all around. I can’t see Acadia anymore, I can’t see anything further than a few dozen feet in front of me. There’s no one around. The wind howls. I let a barbaric yawp rip, but mostly just to show off for the rocks and the rain. This is always as good as it feels, the top is truly the peak. But then the shift occurs, and I realize that I must, eventually, go down. I duck under the overhang on the old radio tower’s hut to escape the rain a moment. There’s still a sign on a fence around the structure telling me not to trespass, but I don’t think anyone is coming to get me. Besides, I’m not done thinking.
It truly is what it is. We made jokes and had fun conversations about a future together. It sounded very nice, a great illusion. And I always trust my gut on these things, so I’m sure we could’ve been something great. But we won’t, we never will be, and I’m perfectly fine with that. I definitely saw her one foot in the door and chose to believe in that, but I did not fail to realize where her other foot was. To come with me would be significant, reckless, it would require a new, expanding, her, and she wasn’t ready for that yet, she still had some past to work through before truly cutting her tether. I knew she’d eventually choose one way or another, uphill and onward with me or calmly staying still for a while longer. That’s why this doesn’t ever cut me anymore, I know what I’m doing. I’m choosing to believe in love, a love with no past, a love that just IS, and yes, a love that is reckless. A love that honestly asks a lot, in some ways. Someday that love might even come, and it will be good and worth it, and it’ll all be fine forever and ever. Until then I’ll just keep tramping in the hills and across the world without fear or tether, learning about myself and the gods and trees and kindness and everything else, falling in love with little moments and with people everywhere in this loveless and scared world full of scarred people who trap themselves before they know themselves, on and on into the neverending void.
I take a bite of chocolate. Two more. A sip of water. Time to go, days are short this time of year. I feel fresh. I breathe in the clean cool air that this little squall is bringing with it. The air that cleans you out, like you’ve never breathed before. Who else has breathed this air up here? Truly anybody could have been here, I suppose. It wouldn’t make much of a difference to wise little Schoodic Mountain, so it makes no difference to me. I’ll try to be more like a mountain and less like a bridge. And each day I’ll think less of eyes like a frozen lake. And I’m sure there will be more eyes to forget but that’s just fine, I’d rather risk it all over and over again then stay tethered right now to who and what I am and what I was. I’ll dash my heart against the rocks a million times, and be reborn better rather than bitter each time it fails until I don’t have to anymore and I can just be.
I’m 24 and full of confusion, completely free from everything. Free from self, free from the past and the future, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
The pack gets slung on my back. I start making my way down. I’m not carrying as much as I did on the way up.