We were lucky to get in one last walk before the snow arrived. The deciduous trees bordering the creek bed were naked and shivering, tentatively clinging to a couple of blackened leaves as we crossed the bridge’s rough-cut planks. The tall prairie grass ahead leaned heavy under crystallized frost, painting the cuffs of our jeans as we strode across the open field. Ahead, Pan’s Rock – a boulder covered with fairy moss and hidden song that emerged as spring runoff flowed noisily over its mythical features – marked the trailhead for Pease Mountain.
Neither Dad nor I owned this particular piece of property, but we considered it ours, and it was doubtful any others received or gave back as much as we. We walked in single-file silence, our labored breath dominating the quiet around us, following our progress upward in steaming puffs.
We skirted the stark stand of alders that would awaken first, in early March, abuzz with honeybees robbing seemingly bare branches burdened with pods of heady, orange pollen; then passed lopsided turkey blinds that would require minor repairs before the next mating season began.
We reached the top in short order, stopping to catch our breath and look out upon the valley beneath us. The perspective was different on the peak, separated from everyday life below – the stresses and schedules left temporarily behind. The mountain provided a unique opportunity to leave what was; a step to look back and reflect; an occasion to consider what lie ahead.
The mountain was happy to share memories with those who returned. My first deer was taken on the hill, from a tree stand near the base on a frigid, November morning, not far from where my son bagged his first tom this past April. Four generations of family had made the trek up at one time or another, leaving their mark, tamping the trails with stories of their own. My girls picked wildflowers in early spring, making miniature bouquets of buttercups and bluebells for the table, while the boys worked hard to construct forts from the branches of dead trees using pocket knives found in Christmas stockings. The kids would first encounter skepticism on a hike with their grandfather, suspicious of his assurances the oblong pellets discovered on the forest floor were miniature, chocolate-covered eggs, hastily discarded by a tardy Easter bunny losing the cover of darkness on a particular Sunday morning.
Not all paths, however, were forged with pleasantries. I worked through a divorce on the steep-sided hills and soggy bottoms, punishing mind and body, trudging through sucking mud, suffering the persistent attacks of mosquitoes and biting flies and the acknowledgment of failure. I mentioned this remembrance of self-infliction to Dad as we sat down on a rock outcropping, our legs dangling over the edge. He nodded, knowingly.
“This mountain is a great listener,” he said, “even when you say nothing. A walk up here clears the noise inside and helps you dig deep, figure things out. When necessary,” he shrugged, “it can also help you let go.
“The granite rocks up here have seen a lot of tears,” he said , patting the cool stone beneath. “A great majority of them mine.”
Finished, he rose and left, undoubtedly thinking of his lost love, the mountain’s magic working overtime as he made his way back down.
I stayed awhile longer, an anxious soul squeezing out a few more minutes of therapy. The snows were close; I prayed our mountain enjoy its upcoming winter break. With taxes and college tuition concerns on the horizon, she’d be seeing a lot more of me come spring.
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