Sunday Morning ~ What We Agree To
Khoza lipita ndi mwini dzanja. ~ The ivory bangle goes if the owner of the hand agrees.
~ Chewa proverb
September 12, 2021
A friend from Peace Corps/Seed has been visiting for the past two weeks and we’ve been going non-stop. It’s given me another opportunity to tune out current events and focus on the beauty of this state. The Texas news broke just before she arrived and I balanced sinking into despair with preparing for a camping/ hiking adventure wondering what to do next in this forever fight for reason and equality. I wrote a blog last week but didn’t post it. It was a sarcastic tirade about the patriarchy and it felt redundant and not particularly well written. I let it go and left for Baxter State Park hoping we had all we needed for a week in the wilderness and my noisy breaks would hold out on the dirt roads. The three hour drive gave me time to think.
I thought of Texas as a spoiled child making more and more outrageous demands. I don’t have much tolerance for unreasonable demands. Those who expect more than they deserve or earn irritate me, especially when the demands bankrupt others emotionally and physically. They make everyone miserable. It’s just so Texas right now, throwing a fit in the grocery checkout line when we say no to more candy. They can scream all they want but we have the wallet and the car keys. I want to leave them there and let them walk home, if they can find the way.
Then I think about generalizing and how I rail against that when it applies to race or religion. I realized I was doing this with Texas hoping the whole state goes down in flames. There are many, many good people there who are ashamed of what their state has come to. Believe me, we were there in Maine for eight years. There is a powerful group needing a comeuppance but I need to stop blaming the whole state. The challenges are not insurmountable. I need to reframe my thinking. I am making a conscious effort to describe the governor and republican legislators in my disgust, not the state as I have been. This took focus as civilization retreated in my rearview mirror.
Mount Katahdin is the highest peak in Maine and the beginning or end of the Appalachian Trail. It is a sacred place to the Wabanaki people and to many who have experienced it. It’s short compared with mountains of the western United States, but it is a challenging climb with a unique summit with a ridge that spans a little over a mile. That ridge is narrow with steep drop offs to each side. It’s called the Knife Edge and is spectacular. Crossing it is not for the feint hearted or acrophobic. My friend Polly was up for it and we set out on Tuesday which looked weather-wise to be the best for completing the circuit. The first three miles are a pleasant mountain hike to the cirque where Chimney Pond marks the start of the steepest ascent. We were there in good time and I thought we’d make the circuit well before dark, have time for a bit of a swim even! But when we talked with the ranger, he was discouraging people from doing the Knife Edge, or even summiting. It’s often a windy mile up there and can be dangerous. The winds were blowing with 30-40 mph gusts. We pondered. Should we try again the next day? Predicted sunny but windier, we ruled that out. It’s a process to even get to the trailhead with a 4:45 a.m. start and doing that two consecutive days without a guarantee wasn’t attractive. We decided we could at least make ti to the summit and decide if we wanted to cross or just turn around and come back the way we came.
We decided against going up the Cathedral Trail (my favorite). It is very steep and very exposed and the winds would make that unpleasant. We went up the Saddle, which is almost as steep but less exposed. It was a challenge and all the way up I thought, ugh, this is going to be the easy way down if we can’t do the knife’s edge, and it won’t be easy. It was very wet from the previous day’s thunderstorms we thoroughly enjoyed from the porch of our cabin. The aftermath of that rain wasn’t as pleasant, but we made it to the saddle with another mile to the summit on loose stones. As soon as we crested, the wind about took our skin off. I pulled my down jacket out of my pack and if I hadn’t held it with both hands I would never have seen it again. I told Polly we were not doing the knife’s edge in that wind. She asked if it would be worse than going down that same trail? I knew what she meant. That was not an attractive thought either. We decided to wait and see what it was like at the top.
The next mile was a cold, windy trudge. We were engulfed in a cloud so there was no view unfortunately. The view makes it all easier. I willed the cloud to move but it didn’t. Tiny and vulnerable humans that we are, it’s humbling. The landscape is majestic and must be respected. We make our decisions and pay the price or reap the reward.
At the summit we nestled between boulders to eat our lunch and drink our hot tea. We took photos. We sat to decide which way to go. The wind had subsided a little but who knew when that would kick up again? Polly asked again, would it really be worse to cross the knife edge if we went slow?
If I had been with anyone else I might have said yes, but I knew her mountain skills and strength. I was fairly confident of my own if we went slow. Again, I knew what was ahead and I have heard horror stories of unprepared overconfident people trying to get over in bad weather. I had no desire to spend the night up there. I like reading those thrillers but am not keen to be the protagonist. We agreed to turn around if we felt unsafe or unable. We started and it felt like the right choice though the wind was fierce and the rocks slippery. It took a lot of energy to stay upright. I started thinking when we’d past the point of no return that going the direction we were, the hardest part is at the end where there is a very steep “chimney”. I started thinking I’m not sure I’ve ever done that section without help. My legs are short and I’ve needed a push up that section. Don’t think, I told myself. Look at what is in front of you. The clouds parted occasionally and the view opened slightly and what was ahead was strikingly beautiful and terrifying. Sections looked impossible to traverse. The winds blew in gusts and we crouched on all fours, very slowly making progress. Each section we crossed I thought, it’s amazing what we can do if we only look at the bit in front of us. Focus. Progress. Stay strong. Nourish. Encourage.
By the time we got to the chimney I was spent. I wasn’t sure I could hoist myself up those vertical boulders. Don’t think. Polly got up and I handed her my backpack. I asked her to stay close just for reassurance, knowing she could not haul me up. But she cheered me on and that helped. No choice, just do it. I checked my hand grips ten times. I knew once I stated to haul myself up there was no going back. Falling wasn’t an option either. When I made it to the ledge we rested a minute and it all became clear. I looked back and marveled at what we accomplished. Stopping hadn’t been an option. Bemoaning what’s ahead only wastes energy and we needed every bit. I thought up there in that cloud that the Texas fight is like this. We can summit and cross looking at the steps in front of us. Failure to descend is not an option. This scary, rocky path is crossable if we focus on getting past the dangerous part then we can relish the way down.
Love to all,