June 9, 2011

A Day's Hike into the Clouds

Moist breezes swirl through the intricate spruce forest, carrying a sweet, delicate fragrance to my nose...a fragrance that is not pine, not mist, not soil, but a gentle concoction of all earthly pheromones that strike deep into some primordial nerve center, and a sense of home washes over me.  Momentarily bound in a cosmic plane, I shift my focus back to my physical reality and resume picking a slow and methodical path through the jumble of schist and granite boulders that dot the mountainside.  The path, and the surrounding forests, are constant sentinels of a medieval world that we, as travelers, struggle to comprehend on our recreational forays into the kingdom.  

There is magic afoot here, ancient powers that conspire to anchor trees in bare rock and send their woody antennae skyward in a silent quest for light.  Water, the lifeblood, the oil in the cylinder, seeps from every imaginable and unimaginable crevice from springs unseen, pulsing through beds of moss before submerging into the soil matrix, to emerge some months later in a river destined for the sea.  Meanwhile, secretive flowers advertise their genetic ribbons to a selective audience, perhaps to the one particular breed of insect that has evolved a quiet symbiosis with its floral brethren.

"Focus," I again remind myself, "or your tired feet will stumble and pitch you headlong into a rock!"  Oh, but for that intoxicating balsam perfume!  Onward we climb into a cloud, a literal ascent to the heavens.  Here, the weather has shaped trees into boreal statues crafted of gnarled fiber and resilient waxy needles; deformities, we might infer, but to the trees, all the better to withstand to ceaseless winds and brutal winter snows. 

Today, the bold rock and resolute statues of wood play second fiddle to the atmosphere, which, to the unaccustomed, at first appears to be a featureless sheet of white but, upon further inquisition, we find that the aether forms a vaporous canvas for the broad brush strokes of meteorological happenings.  Tendrils of cloud break free from the main body of fog filling the valley to whip past our faces and race through the trees, stripping us of the mountain views for which we came, but garnishing our climb with a much more surreal and contemplative vista.  What else but fog could free us from our preconceived expectations and usher us into an ego-less appreciation of the mountain as it presented itself to us?

It is only much later when, on the drive home, we see the entire ridge and solve the meteorological mystery that leaves our little mountain enshrouded in mist.  The ridge intercepts a moist northbound air mass that speeds through the valley.  The invisible freight train careens into the the ridge and climbs as did we, only much, much faster, compressing against the mountain then cooling in a flurry of instantaneous condensation which gives birth to a transient toupee of cloud over the barren rock.  On the summit, we surmise that the entire Presidential Range was enveloped, but our later observations show us that the clouds merely break over our mountain like an ocean wave before absolving themselves of existence in the lee of the rock, evaporating as uncountable numbers of water molecules warm imperceptibly and vanish.  

Mother Nature captures us again with her sorcery as she forms and destroys clouds at will in front of our eyes, but she graces us with benevolence today as neither rain nor sleet mar our passage; we journey home, tired as always, but ever more transfixed...


  1. Fun looking outing Mike! I think we need to Hike or fish soon.

  2. Very beautifully written...takes me back to a backpacking trip I did in the Presidential Range a few years ago. Very fond memories!