Thursday, August 30, 2012

Not the Top

How do you say “I hiked the mountain,” when you didn’t actually hike the mountain?

At least—if you hiked up the mountain, but you didn’t quite reach the peak?

If, in fact, about ten minutes away from the peak, you decided to turn around and go back?

I promised this post about three weeks ago, soon after making the hike, and I nearly told it last week, until I was distracted by the story of another hike. So, here it is at last, the story of my journey up the mountain.

All journeys start with a path, and ours was no different—from the lodge, I set out with four other mountain climbers, all of us geared for steep crags, blinding snow, blizzards, and dehydrating heat.

Well, sort of.

I packed an extra water bottle, and we all took sack lunches. We had been told to plan 7-8 hours for the hike, but I forgot to ask about the terrain and didn’t hear about the last stretch until we were nearly at the top. All I knew was that the path went up.

In fact, we were given a crucial piece of advice just as we were setting out—“If you’re going down, you’ll never make it to the top.”

We kept that advice in mind as we head up the Beaver Trail, and out along the trail toward Tanalian Mountain. We made the first stretch in just about forty minutes, with only one stop along the way.

And then, after the slightest of dips, the trail began to go up…

…and up…

…and up.

We went from birch woods and root-infested paths to grass jungle in the space of a couple hours, and we were still far below the tree line. And the path was steep. We climbed five steps, stopped to catch our breath, climbed five more steps…

The view was great, though, if you like leaves.

On one side, through the trees, we could see the mountain, peeking above the forest.

On the other, we could see the lake, nearly hidden by a mass of trees.

Not to worry, though, the path kept going up—and up, over a rock slide, through more grass jungle, up mud slide after mud slide. I don’t see tall grass often here, or wet grass either, but this grass was very wet, and very tall. And the path went straight up the side of the mountain.

The trail did level out in places, and even dipped down along one or two low spots on the hillside, but it always reverted to old habits and started up again before we could get too worried.

Finally, we began to see patches of open space between the trees—and the open patches got wider and wider.

At last, about three hours after setting out, we cleared the trees. The hillside didn’t get less steep, but we managed to scramble up a couple hundred yards above the tree line, to a semi-level knoll a couple hundred yards. We’d already left two people in our party behind, but the remnant of our group thought we’d stop and eat before we went on.


I was ready to sit down and have lunch right there (it was noon, after all), but someone suggested we cross over to the next hump and sit there for lunch. From there, it might have been a case of the grass always being greener on the next hump, except that the humps very quickly ran out and left us with a steep drop and a gorgeous view, so we stopped just short of the edge and ate lunch looking down on the world.

After lunch, of course, we still had a mountain to scale, so we packed up once more and set off on the last stretch.

The path kept going up, when there was a path—and when there wasn’t, we scrambled up anyway over short-grass alpine meadows. Meanwhile, the peak got closer, and closer…

…and closer.

A third person stopped, deciding to wait for us, but I kept going with another girl, while the path climbed over a series of spurs, slowly getting narrower, and narrower…

…until I finally decided I didn’t like the idea of crawling up a two-foot-wide ridge. Three feet maybe, but two feet was a little too narrow, especially with a steep drop on grass and rocks on one side.

And a steeper drop onto a rockslide on the other.

I halted once, before I managed to push on another hundred yards or so, but then I stopped for good, and we started sliding down the path back to the jungle below.

The fun thing about going up a trail, obviously, is going back down, over steep grass, vertical mud slides, and a cliff or two. I think we made it down in half the time, and with only a few tumbles. By the time we reached the rock slide again, I was wishing I had tried just a little harder—maybe I could have made it, maybe if I could have just got past that one steep stretch, maybe…

But, in the end, we came, we climbed, and we came down again in one piece. We might not have reached the summit, but there are some small consolations. I am a writer, after all. The regrets are easing even as I begin to wonder curiously just how long I might be haunted by the shadow of this mountain—and which of my characters might find himself stuck on a thin ledge of rock wondering just how he got to this place, how he will get down, and why he can walk a sidewalk downtown, but not a two-foot-wide path four thousand feet in the air…


Friday, August 24, 2012

We play with fire...

Yes—at the lodge, we do enjoy playing with fire very much. There are tales about how much the guys on the crew here like to play with fire.

And sometimes, the other girls and I get to play pyromaniacs as well, however accidentally. Tonight, therefore, it snowed fire and wax.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Out in the Woods

I’ve been trying to decide whether to tell you the story of the mountain, or the tale from last month of my return trip to the falls—alone.


Back at home, back when I was younger, I was taught not to wander about in strange places by myself. It was safer to stick around with someone else, going only to places I knew, and especially not staying out too late. Mostly, though, it was thought safer to stick around with someone else.

And when I came up here last fall, I was told soon after arriving not to wander the woods by myself. It was bear season, apparently, and safety meant going in pairs or groups.

So, last year, I didn’t wander very far. There was work, there was break time, and once in a while there was the chance to go exploring with someone else, or just walk down the runway during the afternoon.

Then this year came.

And I was restless.

We had afternoon break—the time between cleaning cabins and prepping for dinner in the evening. It was free time to do anything.

Anything within reason…

One afternoon as we approached break time, I began to think. And in thinking, I decided that a hike to the falls was within reason. Why not? We’d done it before.

Unfortunately, no one else wanted to go.

So, I began to think again—“Hey, could I hike to the falls by myself?”

It wasn’t bear season yet. It wasn’t moose season either. It was still early afternoon, so I’d have plenty of time to get back before it got late. (And late at that time meant dusk at 11 pm. Dinner was at 6 pm, so I’d have bigger problems if I wasn’t back before dark.)

The question was—was it actually safe, or even okay, to hike somewhere by myself?

After some hesitation, I asked the experts—Jael and Leyla. They live here; they would know, I figured.

Surprisingly, they said yes.

So, since time was ticking, and I had two hours to make the hike and return, I grabbed my water bottle, camera, and a small bag of dried fruit. Then I hit the trail.

Of course, before I went, I also got the warning to make plenty of noise, just in case there was something out there in the bushes.

Goal: reach the falls within an hour, so I’d have 10-15 minutes there and still make it home before the search parties headed out.

I walked fast.

In the first ten minutes, I crossed town and headed up the Fire Break, the nearly vertical stair-steps trail. I was nearly halfway up the Fire Break, when I heard an engine behind me. A minute later, a four-wheeler loaded with at least four people drove up the trail past me, followed by a second, heavily loaded vehicle. By then, I was also nearly out of breath, which raised an interesting question—had someone not so heavily loaded passed me and offered a ride, would I accept? Should I accept?

If the purpose was exercise, obviously no. If the goal was reaching the falls within a limited amount of time, then maybe yes.

Besides, we have so few moving vehicles in Port Alsworth that the general rule is to take a ride if offered. A four-wheeler, much less a truck or a boat, is the big excitement of any week.

No one else passed me, however, and so there was no ride.

On the positive side, though, I figured that the group ahead of me would scare off any stray bears in the area.

That theory lasted until I reached the top of the Fire Break, passing the four-wheelers at the head of the main trail, and passing their crew about ten minutes later.

Now I was at the head of the line, in charge of scaring off the critters.

To cut the suspense short, I didn’t see anyone on my way up the trail other than a few people and this little guy:

He wasn’t too scary, but he sure was mad at me for disturbing his forest.

Soon after I left him behind—only fifty minutes after leaving the lodge—I came down the trail above the falls and cut through the woods to a look-out point on some cliffs above the river. (Yes, the cliffs we climbed up on our last trip—they’re not so easy to go down, though, and I wandered back to the main trail and hiked down to the lower falls.)

Fifty minutes—yes, I set a timer, so I knew very closely how much time I had left. So, after a few minutes, I climbed up to the upper falls…

…took some photos of the dogwood (no, not the trees, the flowers)…

…and then left for home.

I was nearly back, just to the birches path above the trailhead, when I discovered the importance of planning ahead and making sure you have extra time in your schedule.

As I rounded a corner, hurrying to get home a little early, I heard a rustle on the path ahead of me.

Then I saw a gray bird, with half a dozen little gray puffs exploding under her.

It’s not every day you meet a ptarmigan in the trail (much less a hen with her chicks), and it’s nice to have some spare time when you do.

Still watching my timer, I stopped for some photos of the hen, located one of the chicks in the tree, took some photos of him, watched the hen fly up into a tree, took some more photos of her, and then scooted for home. I made it too, just in time to change and head back to work.

I’ll have to tell you about the mountain another day.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

PTA's Believe It Or Not 3.0

It’s August?

About a year ago, not long after starting my blog, I resolved to post something at least once per week—barring unforeseen or insurmountable obstacles. Last week, if you happened to be waiting for me to post something, you might have wondered where I went…

One of those obstacles had intervened.

We had our internet connection shut off.

About Friday afternoon, already behind on my schedule, I was frantically finishing up a long overdue book review. And then, when I opened my browser and typed in the address to open my blog, I found only dead ends and blank pages.

It’s amazing how much you can’t do without that small detail called an internet connection. It’s also amazing how much you can do without it.

For now, though, I have internet back, and I’ve posted twice today to make up for last week.

Oh, and out of the past week, we have had a total one (1) day of sunshine. Yesterday.

Happily, yesterday was also the day I begged off work to climb the mountain with a few other people. That might be another blog post in itself—sometime later on, wind and internet permitting.

Book Review: Implosion

Recently, I listened as a couple friends tried to pick the one thing which they could present as uniquely American. Perhaps they had experienced some disillusionment, because the only thing they could name was the hamburger…

I don’t agree with them—there are any number of things that we could associate with the American identity, from apple pies to reality TV—but their question returned to me with new significance as I was reading Joel Rosenberg’s Implosion, a nonfiction look at the United States’s current state of health. What does the US have to offer the world? Or, rather, what is left of our greatness that we can protect, revive, and restore to a world in chaos and fear?

Rosenberg, an author, political expert and homeschooling dad, writes that he has built his career in the two things other people don’t talk about—religion and politics. He deals with both in Implosion, taking a broad look at America’s political, economic, and religious health. While I have not read much of Rosenberg’s fiction, I am familiar with it, and he deals with many of the same themes in this book.

In Implosion, Rosenberg doesn’t offer immediate reforms, or sure-fire cures, but he does highlight major problems in American society, and the disturbing reality of where we're at.

In the first couple of chapters, Rosenberg gives a sweeping overview of the doomsday predictions from political leaders and pollsters. I found these chapters difficult to read, but once past them, Rosenberg addresses a wide array of issues, from the role of Scripture in looking at current events to the accuracy of prophetic revelation to major dangers the US faces today. He looks at the possibility of a crippling terrorist attack, an economic meltdown, a devastating earthquake, and even the likely impact that the Rapture could have on today’s society and economy.

I disagreed with Rosenberg on a couple issues, the first being that America is in a uniquely catastrophic state. We are in bad condition, yes—but much of his evidence relies on pundits’ hyperbole. He speaks of recent natural disasters as the ‘worst’ earthquake ever, the ‘most dangerous’ point in our history. I can’t cite chapter and verse like Rosenberg, but I know that many other eras saw their own time as “End Times.” From the American Revolution, the Civil War, WWII, and every era in between, people have proclaimed that theirs is the highest, or the worst, the most advanced, or the most degenerate of societies. It’s the way we think as humans because we so often lack historical perspective.

In the chapters describing the US’s immanent collapse, therefore, I tended to discount some of Rosenberg’s predictions. This did not affect, however, the urgency of his message that we need to shape up, and we need to shape up now.

Moreover, for me, this urgency raised another question—if this is how things are now, where will we be raising our children? Rosenberg doesn’t address this question in Implosion, apparently because he doesn’t think it will be relevant if we can’t turn our country around at once.

Even when he lays out a devastating case for change, though, Rosenberg doesn’t point to political cures. Instead, he argues for a religious reawakening. The last third of the book reviews America’s original Great Awakenings, analyzing those turning points in our history and describing the influence of several key religious leaders. These include leaders many people know—Charles and John Wesley, Jonathan Edwards, George Whitefield—and ones we aren’t so familiar with like Lyman Beecher, Francis Asbury, Charles Finny, Timothy Dwight (a president at Yale, as well as a major leader in the Second Great Awakening).

My second, relatively minor disagreement with Rosenberg stems from his arguments for a pre-wrath Rapture. I don’t necessarily think Rosenberg is wrong on this point, but I don’t agree with some of his definitions on this position. (Rosenberg thinks the ‘wrath’ which Christians do not need to fear means the Tribulation, while I think it means the final judgment; he takes the churches in the first chapters of Revelation as figurative types, while I think they were actual 1st century churches, though they could serve as types as well.)

Rosenberg does make good points, however, and defines his position well. He particularly hammers the urgency of evangelism—that we don’t know the day or the hour, and so we should take advantage of the time that we have, always working as if it is our last opportunity. He demonstrates his own passion for evangelism both by describing what it means to be a Christian and by outlining key steps for Christians to take for their own growth.

This last point forms a strong theme throughout Implosion. Rosenberg argues repeatedly that we should be passionate about the Gospel. And, he asks—what you are passionate about, what you love, do you spend time on that?

In the end, I found Implosion to be a well-written engaging survey of America’s current state. Rosenberg covers some areas more in depth than he does others, and it is easy to see his passion for finding the right lens for understanding current events. If you don’t read much nonfiction, or if you aren’t interested in the topics Rosenberg addresses, this might not be the book for you—but it might be a good read anyway.

[My thanks to Tyndale Publishing House for sending me a review copy of Implosion, in exchange for my honest opinion of this book.]