In New Hampshire with 8th Graders, on Carter Notch, Carter Dome, and Mt. Height
October 3-6, 2006
1:25 p.m. There was a wonderful softness in the morning hours of the trip. The seats on the bus, the fresh donut I ate, the puffy clouds floating above us, the thoughts I was thinking as the miles passed – all seemed utterly soothing. Even the sentences in the Dickens’ novel I had brought along seemed pleasingly fluffy as I read them.
3:45 p.m. A strong breeze sprang up this afternoon. It blew leaves, butterflies, students’ hair, seeds, and small bugs. I felt happy as I sat on a stone, imagining that this fresh autumn wind had blown us up to the mountains all the way from Stonington.
5:40 p.m. The kids are full of exuberance – some in a noisy, physical way, others in a quiet, more cerebral way. A few moments ago, there was some banging of doors, some shouts, and soon a group of students tumbled out of doors with a teacher for a football game. Meanwhile, in the comfortable living room of the lodge where we’re staying tonight, a small group is huddled around a chess board, talking quietly but excitedly as the pieces are moved around the board.
7:45 p.m. I’m in the equipment room with a group of boys (getting ready for tomorrow’s hike), and we’re doing a bit of silent writing at the moment. I’m writing, but I’m also listening – to the hum of the lights in the room, to pages in notebooks turning, to the sounds of clothes rustling as we shift positions, to some hushed movements from the adjoining room. In some ways, it’s been a noisy day, and so it’s nice to listen to sounds that are almost silence.
10:35 a.m. We’re taking a break in the forest about a half-hour up the trail. Everything around us, in fact, seems to be taking a break. The trees appear to be relaxing in the light winds, swaying easily back and forth, and the stream below us is making restful music. Meanwhile, the boys are enjoying their break by playing a simple, happy game.
11:45 a.m. A few moments ago, when I stripped down to my short-sleeved shirt, it struck me that the forest is stripping down, too. The trees are releasing their leaves to face the winter with bare limbs, and animals, I suspect, are cleaning out their homes in preparation for the cold season ahead. Even these sentences, completely free of unnecessary words (I hope), are stripped down to speak their meaning as directly as possible.
12:40 p.m. The stream beside us has been scouring these rocks for eons, just as endlessly as clouds have been passing overhead. Humans have come and gone; the stream, rocks, and clouds remain without end. People live for years; nature lives forever.
1:40 p.m. Strange, how climbing a steep trail slowly and deliberately can make the work seem almost easy. The path is still steep and my muscles are still laboring long and hard, but somehow the climb seems almost like a casual stroll when you’re doing it patiently and thoughtfully. It’s a precipitous mountain trail, but for the last hour, climbing it in a laid-back way, it felt like a quiet walk in the park.
2:12 p.m. I’m not sure I’ve ever spent an afternoon and night in a cloud, as I’m doing now. The students and I are surrounded by a storm system that’s settled on the high peaks, and the feeling is one of being both lost and cozy. We are in a haven of silence and serenity as the cloud softly swirls around us.
5:10 p.m. After a full day of hiking on steep trails, some of the kids are throwing a hacky-sack back and forth among the evergreens. Others are relaxing by talking and laughing down on the steps of the girls’ cabin. Earlier, a rousing game of Eagle Eye was played – another way of chilling out after a long day of hiking under 30 pound packs.
9:10 p.m. A gentle rain is falling as we prepare for a night’s rest. I have a feeling the sleep of we students and teachers will be deep and rewarding. The soft rain will allow us to wake with a willing spirit, ready to undertake another arduous climb. (Wrong! The gentle rain soon became a nasty, night-long storm of 45 mph winds, robbing most of us of a truly comfortable sleep.)
6:30 a.m. When it’s only October 5, and when it was 60 degrees yesterday, and when it’s still almost summer-like at the beach back home, and when you didn’t bring winter gloves – when all this is true, you don’t expect to wake up to a wind chill of below 20 degrees! I’m writing this while shivering on my bunk in our unheated, un-insulated cabin. I’m astonished by the wintry feel of things, and even more astonished by the fact that I’m sitting here quietly writing with my frozen left hand.
9:25 a.m. In the morning mist, we’re quietly preparing for our ascent up to Carter Dome – a high summit with a steep, tough trail leading up to it. We’re packing lunches, checking equipment, and giving final instructions. Hopefully the sun is preparing to shine on us.
11:10 a.m. Our AMC guide, Christine, just explained how a “nurse log” helps new things grow, and I began thinking that maybe I’m a kind of “nurse log” in my role as a teacher. I’m growing old, and perhaps, like the decaying log, I’m giving my life now to “nursing” my students into new and higher lives. The log nurses lichens and moss and even young trees, while I "nurse" students. Eventually, like the log, I will decay and become other things, while my students will grow and thrive where I used to be.
2:19 p.m. Christine asked us to find and study a “tiny” thing along the trail, and I chose a three-leaf clover with a small bead of moisture on it. As I looked closely, I noticed something wonderful. In the moisture, I could see the white clouds and blue sky reflected – something vast reflected in something tiny.
5:35 p.m. We could see no stars in the sky last night, but there were plenty of stars today as we worked our way up the precipitous trail to Carter Dome. I hiked with the girls and was totally impressed with their quiet courage. They never complained. Like hiking all-stars, they just put one foot in front of another all the way to the top.
6:45 p.m. The cold is biting. It’s been hovering around 30 degrees all day, and now, as darkness descends, it must be down in the 20’s. I can’t seem to get warm. Starting with the freezing wind on top of Carter Dome around lunch time, I have felt chilled through and through. Even sitting here in the fairly cozy hut dining room, surrounded by 24 vibrant teenagers, and with hot food steaming out from the kitchen, the mountain cold has me in its grip.
7:15 a.m. As I write, everyone is getting organized for the hike out of the mountains and back to our bus which will take us home. The AMC instructors are packing unused food, the kids are cleaning the bunk houses, and I’m doing the quiet work of organizing my thoughts in written sentences. It’s been an amazing expedition for us, filled with an immense variety of experiences, and I’m sitting here in the hut carefully sorting them out in my mind, and on paper, while others are sorting out equipment for the trip home.
12:00 noon. After four days of moving slowly and carefully, I’m back now at the boundary of the rushing, careening civilized world. I’m sitting against a boulder on Rte. 16, waiting for the last of the hikers to arrive back at the trailhead. Since Tuesday, we’ve been hiking watchfully and thoughtfully, step by step, and now we’re preparing to re-enter a world that rarely seems to do anything watchfully or thoughtfully.