Dawn on Foss Mountain

Eaton — April 17, 2010 — This month, I initiated a series of Peace Hikes. I was inspired by a member of Havurah HeHarim, the Mount Washington Valley Jewish community, who thought a Peace Hike would compliment a memorial service on Holocaust Remembrance Day, taking place at the Unitarian church in Tamworth last Sunday at 5 p.m.

The original suggestion, was to take a short hike in the Tamworth area on the afternoon before the service. I thought it better to do a series of Peace Hikes, and started immediately.

The first, up Mount Washington, I did by myself. Then I went with a friend up Pleasant Mountain in Maine. This week, I went with another friend on a dawn hike up Foss Mountain in Eaton. The final Peace Hike, will likely be up Mount Adams, perhaps this coming week.

A couple folks have expressed interest in going, but I won’t know until it happens. It has been an interesting activity — announcing and describing these hikes in my column, hooking up with interested people and doing them together, or doing them by myself. It has been a practical lesson that the frame of mind in which you approach an activity is not only important, but can be transformative.

By last Sunday, a couple Peace Hikes had already happened, but the short hike in Tamworth just before the memorial service was still on. On Saturday I had reaffirmed in my column that it would be on Page Hill, a short climb up an old forest road to a great view north towards Mount Chocorua.

On Sunday, I arrived at the top of Page Hill Road a little before 3:30 p.m. and waited by the road side for any takers to join me. By ten of four, I figured no one was coming, and I had better start walking if I wanted to be at the service by five.

It was a beautiful afternoon, and as I walked slowly up the old road through the well lit early spring forest, I was delighted to be there. I didn’t feel alone, yet enjoyed the solitude — the best of both worlds.

I didn’t hurry, placed one foot in front of the other, and followed my breath. On top, the view though the clear air of Mount Chocorua was great. In a few minutes, a young couple came up the trail. Without asking, I knew they weren’t there for my Peace Hike. Instead, they were there for their own.

Facing the view, the girl reached in a sack around her neck and drew out a creature. It was an Australian flying squirrel, or sugar glider. She let me handle it for a moment. Then she reached in the small sack and pulled out another one.

The sugar glider is a marsupial. Incidentally, its young, that are sheltered in the female’s pouch for part of their development, are called “joeys.”

After that unique encounter, I headed down at the same slow pace. Later, the service at the Unitarian Church was very well done and very moving. It included personal family accounts of the Holocaust, and professional quality singing in Hebrew of songs composed at that time.

Yet it ended with hope and humanity reaffirmed. Friend Judy Felsen/Karp, who suggested the Peace Hikes, and is an avid hiker and volunteer for the Appalachian Mountain Club, led the service. The service will happen again next year at this time at the Unitarian Church.

This Wednesday morning, I did a sunrise hike up Foss Mountain in Eaton with Jamal Lee-Elkin. Jamal was the perfect companion for a sunrise Peace Hike. Founder of Mountain Spirit Journeys, a wilderness travel company that emphasizes healing encounters with nature that take place everywhere from nearby mountains and rivers to Alaska and beyond, Jamal is both intimate with, and concerned about, man’s relationship with the planet. Though Caucasian, he grew up in several African countries where his parents taught English as a second language, thus his unusual name.

His multicultural background plus his unusual name that brings together two cultures that today find themselves in conflict, made for the ideal companion for a Peace Hike. His vocation in nature was icing on the cake. In short, I had found someone else who was crazy enough to get up at 3:30 a.m.

I picked him up at the bottom of his long driveway a little after four, and we drove to the dirt Foss Mountain Road in Eaton, parked in the winter parking lot for Foss Mountain, and started hiking up the road.

We decided to walk up the road without using a headlamp. Stars moved in and out of tree tops above us. We moved past a house on our right, barely visible in the dark, that was once the summer house of Helen Keller. She had been to the top of Foss Mountain in her day. What did she “see” and “hear” there? Plenty, I’m sure, I said.

We moved past the last farmhouse on our left, and around a mud time “Road Closed” sign on the narrow woods road that leads up to Foss Mountain. A blue hint of dawn was visible above a wooded ridge ahead. A male ruffed grouse drummed in the dark woods, and you could feel the vibration in the air.

We moved quickly along the road, and in no time could see the dawn light on Eaton’s commercial blueberry fields, located at the base of low ridge of Foss Mountain. We reached the summer parking lot, and took a right up the short trail that climbed through the open field and through a short section of trees to the open ledges on top.

Midway up, in the trees, we paused to listen to the delightful steady squawk of a male woodcock, in the midst of its crepuscular mating ritual. We reached the ledges and climbed up to the right into a steady cold flow of air from the west.

Electric lights lingered in the valley. To the east, a TV tower in Sebago blinked. To the south, on the lower slopes of Green Mountain, the Lakeview Neuro-rehabilitation Center was dramatically lit up. Towards Wolfeboro, a string of red lights blinked in succession, perhaps to warn approaching planes of the Ossipee Mountains.

To the north, few lights were lit in the Mount Washington Valley, and we could barely make out Mount Washington beyond. Our conversation was a murmur in the quiet.

Jamal’s recent trip by motorcycle to the tip of South America came up, and his readjustment since getting back. I described the people and beautiful country encountered on my recent trip to Orcas Island in Washington state.

Slowly and inevitably, the blues and reds in the east grew in intensity. From such a beautiful spot, we could look out and imagine the encroachment of civilization, and I mentioned the unconscious grief that people feel at the constant whittling away of nature, replaced with the artifical, and that sometimes we can ironically see man as our own enemy.

“I feel good about being a human being,” said Jamal. “We are just another of the wonderful creatures alive on the earth.”

That was good to hear, and definitely necessary for the chemistry of peace in the world. The warble of early morning bird calls in the trees had died down. The direct sun hit us, taking the chill off. We headed down.

The next day, I took a hike up in Evans Notch to Shell Pond, and bushwhacked up to the top a cliff to get a view of the pond, below. It was a beautiful day. I knew that nothing was different, yet something had been added. I knew that from now on, all my hikes would be peace hikes.

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