Chocorua Part 4: Meeting the Chief in the Clouds

As my husband and I continued our journey up the quiet mountain, I stopped now and then to place my offering of tobacco leaves in the nooks of trees and rocks. Noting, as I did, how sometimes others had made their own offerings. Small and large stones nestled into crevices of wood and stone, along with the more permanent and not so mindful markings of names carved into the skin of trees. I saw the carvings as a sad reflection of the ego’s need for permanence, forgetting that the mark that lingers is a mere shadow of the true self that never dies. How we yearn for something that is false, so often forgetting the harmony that beats around us. I found the buzz of the mosquitos oddly comforting, in its reminder of the cycles of life. The sacred spring below having given birth to the insects that followed my footsteps along a path older than the trees surrounding me.

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There are several large and impressive boulders near the summit of Mt. Chocorua, but they hold their stories in a quiet, watchful manner.

The mountain remained, to me, quiet and reserved. Welcoming, yet not offering too much. Not yet. This was my first visit, after all, and as the miles slowly rose, I realized that I would likely return someday. Perhaps not to the same trail. Perhaps not with the same companion. I didn’t yet know, and that was okay.

Life cycles as it will, and it behooves us to allow it to play its rhythm without resistance. When we push, we are often met with a counter-push. A simple law of physics. Perhaps this is why the snake appeared. Not once, but twice, as we hiked the long, winding trail, slowly losing the mosquitos as we gained elevation.

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One of two snake messengers we encountered during our journey. This one reared its head toward me as though reading for an attack as I ventured near to photograph it.

I have found the snake to be a frequent messenger that appears at points in the cycle of life that call for a surrendering. A letting go of the old “skin” I choose to wear to make way for the new, lighter sheath. They remind one of the wheel, ever-turning. Endings moving into beginnings, endlessly repeating.

I had thought that the mountain might harbor hurt. A long held wound from the legend of the chief who fell from its summit. Cursing, as he met death, the white man who had poisoned his son. As I walked the first half of the mountain, I found that I was also, in essence, curing the “white man” who had felled all the trees, and placed the wall of stone beside the path of the sacred waters. Yet, as the snake reminded me (twice), time moves on, whether we allow it to or not, without judgement. The cycle weaves its circle of life and death, over and over again, and we can be a part of it, or we can use defiance to try to resist its flow.

I could not forget that I had breathed acceptance into my body before I had left my hometown that morning. There are no true accidents to life. I realized, as I walked, that it mattered little, if at all, that I was not seeing the faces of the long passed in the rocks, or feeling the pull of the familiar through my cells. Instead, there was that quiet harmony of belonging. Of being present with my beloved in human form, and the sacred landscape around us.

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A guardian along the path

There was no denying the many gifts that had been offered. The crow who had welcomed us, the “ghosts” beside the stream, the white feather in the path before the call of my feathered seer, the snakes of renewal, and even the mosquitos buzzing life. There were also berries, full and ripened to the deepest blue of truth as we approached the final mile. Tempering greed, we reached, now and then, to pick small handfuls of the fruit and felt the renewal of life in each magnificent bite. Agreeing that there was never a better blueberry than those grown on the nearly soilless top of this mountain. A grateful gift that was even more welcomed when we discovered how little water we had left and how warm it had become during our journey, as well as how unsatisfying the apples were that we had brought. Mealy and soft, whereas our mouths hungered for a cool, crisp bite. I thanked the land for the blueberries as I offered it more tobacco in return.

As we sat on the granite ledges and took in the views of the landscape around us, my husband and I noted the time and how far we had come. We felt the ache of the climb in our bodies and the hunger in our bellies. Ahead of us was the head of Chocorua, perhaps another half mile away, we could not be sure. Its side looked steep and a bit dangerous as we realized we would either have to make our way around it to find a more gentle side, or allow ourselves to finish our journey below its peak. I was surprised that I did not feel disappointment. That there was no resentment bubbling up inside at the possibility of not “completing” our journey. Instead, I felt acceptance. It was enough, all of it.

We did not turn around then, though, but decided to walk a little further. I was grateful, as we continued on for this small final leg of our journey forward, for the soft presence of the land and it’s hallowed feel. For the berries that continued along our way, and for the knowing that we had just enough daylight ahead of us to get back down, and just enough water to quench our thirst if we needed it. I thought of that sacred stream and the yearning of my body to feel its cool release. And, as I turned my gaze one last time to follow the path of a vulture around the neck of the mountain, the mighty bird moved toward a cloud that hovered beside the rock face. Perhaps it was my imagination, but to me it looked like the head of a chief in profile. Its face pointing away from the summit that would need to wait for another day.

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Where we stopped to rest with the cloud formation of the legendary chief in profile. It was a bit more clear in person.

 

 

 

Chocorua Part 3: The Feathered Seer Returns

I had brought one more thing for my journey, which was not mentioned in Part 2. In the pocket of my shorts was a small bag stuffed with tobacco, the procuring of which is a small story by itself. When I asked my friend Darlene what I should bring for an offering, her definitive answer was “tobacco.” There was no budging her, but I tried. The thought of buying a tin of tobacco, or a packet of cigarettes, filled me with mild terror. Irrational perhaps, but a childhood that involved the illegal growing and smoking of “pot” by my parental figures turned me against all manner of smoking. The only cigarette I’ve smoked was in one very vivid dream. That was enough for me.

So, here I was faced with one of many tests during this journey, before it even started. How to procure some tobacco. And, as I was thinking about how best to find some, a little voice inside my head came to the rescue with one word, “Etsy.” You can find just about anything on Etsy and sure enough a quick search led me to a source of natural tobacco. Perfect. I could handle buying tobacco safely through the internet with the happy knowing that it would be packaged as pure, unadulterated leaves. My little bag of tobacco arrived within a couple days of ordering, accompanied by a lovely handmade floral magnet. I had my offering.

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Although all of the trees were “young,” no doubt from the logging of the settles, there were those that held the presence of the past, and I left my offering with them. 

Which, as I walked along the wooded trail filled with mosquitos, kept creeping out of my shallow pocket until it finally dropped somewhere not too far away from the white feather. Like the crow, the feather seemed perfectly placed before me, another sign often found during my journeys. And, although I had yet to feel the familiar nudging of spirit through my left hand, which may be because it was too busy grasping a walking pole, I took it as another positive omen that I was on the “right path.”

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The white feather on my path, which appeared freshly fallen. When I passed it hours later on the way down it looked worn and tired. Its fibers matted together.

It is sometimes said that true signs come in sets of three, and number three that day came in the form of a song. Sharp and sudden the voice of the pileated woodpecker pierced the silence surrounding us. Once again I found my breath stop inside my throat. My “feathered seer had appeared. I should not have been surprised, but somehow I had forgotten the dream of this sacred messenger seven months before when it flew before me atop a “Native American hill.” Looking into my eyes with the message, “Don’t be afraid to see.” Weeks later, I had met Chocorua capped in snow. And now, here I was upon its oldest trail.

Funny how the mind works, only now I am recalling the dream through my old blog post. Putting the pieces together as I write. “Do not be afraid to see.” I had been thinking, as I walked, how much I was trying to see with my outer sight. The bent trees to give me clues to the sacred places. The faces in stone. “Are the bugs flying into your eyes?” I eventually asked my husband through frustration as I every time I brought my sunglass to rest atop my head, my eyes became magnets to the swarming insects.

No doubt another messenger, but not a wholly welcome one. Sometimes we try too hard to “see” outside of us. I am thinking of the “ghosts” I glimpsed while walking beside stream that felt sacred at the base of the mountain. I had felt the impulse to pause. To look back as the outer eyes blurred to the inner. And there they were, a small group of people from the time before white men, gathered at the waters, their heads turned slightly sideways towards me. “We see you,” they seemed to be offering in a welcome without judgement.

I did not linger, but took the gift of their presence and tucked it inside. It would be a mostly quiet walk. The other hikers not making their presence known until 2/3 of our way to our destination. Instead, we had one more messenger waiting to greet us as we worked our way uphill through the heat and bugs.

To be continued…

Chocorua Part 2: The First Messenger

The plan was to stop for brunch along the way, but our late departure called for lunch. I hinted at the opportunity to save more time by picking up sandwiches, but my husband’s quiet response told me he had his heart set on a sit-down meal. As we neared our destination, we spotted a diner offering “All day breakfast” inside a homey log cabin facade, so we pulled in beside a queue of locals.

A “cash only” diner, the service was friendly and quick. The food ample and satisfying. And, there were bathrooms, which might not have been available had we followed my meager suggestion of “just grabbing sandwiches.” Later, I would be grateful for the full meal, only wishing it had been less laden with sodium, and those bathrooms.

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Photo Credit: Pixabay

We pulled into the dirt road leading to the trailhead at about 1:30pm, and found ourselves face-to-face with our first messenger of the day. A large crow sat in the middle of the roadside looking staring at us through the windshield. I sucked in large gulp of air as it raised its black wings into the air. Flying towards us, and then away, before it disappeared into the woods where we would soon future. My husband turned to me, “Is that a good sign or a bad one?”

“Good.”

Crows have a way of preceding my arrival in magical landscapes, and the presence of this one did not seem to be a coincidence.

The parking lot, if you can call it that, was full with five cars, so we squeezed over on the side of the dirt road, nestling in behind a large pine. We gathered our two, not quite full, metal water bottles and stuffed them into the sides of our backpack, which also held a small first aid kit, two granola bars, two apples, and a can of animal deterrent spray. Just in case. As we pulled our hiking poles out of the back of the car, I spotted the bug spray I always keep in the trunk and threw it into the pack. Just in case.

It wasn’t long before the bug repellent made its way out of the pack as we stopped about 1/8 of a mile into the trail to shower our heads from the invading army that buzzed around our ears. “The comments said the trail was buggy and to bring DEET,” my husband offered belatedly. Our spray did not contain DEET, and proved to be less effective than my sunglasses, which did a fine job of keeping the invaders from diving in for a swim in my eyes as long as I kept them over the bridge of my nose.

I had let my husband worry about the minor details, you know: getting to the trailhead, figuring out how steep the climb was, and how many miles the Hammond Trail was…while I had let my head fill only with the legend of Chief Chocorua. Which meant neither one of us had really and truly prepared for the full journey of eight miles it would take to reach the summit of the mountain via Hammond, followed by, we soon discovered, another trail or two, doubling our anticipated hike. I was soon thinking about the four miles to the summit the sign had promised, and four back to the car on this hot, humid July afternoon. Our lodging for the night another half hour car ride away.

We are not regular hikers. Instead, we are those intermittent types. Dragging the teenagers up a modest mountain or two maybe once a year, and every other year or so getting a chance to climb without them. Eight miles. I tried to do the math in my head as I walked along the buggy trail that was eerily quite aside from the mosquitoes whining in my ears. How long would it take us? And, would we make it to the top?

To be continued…

 

 

Chocorua Part 1: The Journey There

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Chocorua in early August

Sometimes the spirits of the land study you before you are allowed to study them. Their secrets held inside the membrane of earth and stone until you have proven yourself worthy of receiving.

Before we left that morning, I sealed acceptance into my aura. There was the knowing that I would be given what I needed to receive and perhaps not all that I yearned for. There is no rushing the land and its protectors, but a grateful, open-heart is always accepted.

I had met Chocorua over the winter, when I had turned a bend in the road and found myself faced with its head of stone, balded in patches of white from the snow, looming before me. It was one of those moments when the body defies words. My daughter looked at me, and I at her, with the same knowing. Someday, I would return. There was no discussion.

We drove the rest of the way to her ski meet immersed in our own thoughts, my eyes blinking away the moisture bought on by our encounter with Mt. Chocorua. Why, I wondered, have I not seen you before? 

I have lived in NH since I was nearly five years old. The mountain I had just passed, a mere 1.5 hours from my childhood home. I must have heard of it, even “seen” it in my travels.  I have learned, thought, that we do not truly see until the land is ready to be seen.

And, so I found myself traveling the roads to Chocorua six months later. Now mid-summer, there was no snow, but plenty of heat. We had just over twenty-four hours for our trip, and this would be our first night away without our children, ages 14 and 15, since they were born. A strange way to celebrate a slightly belated 20th wedding anniversary, perhaps, but my husband, like my daughter, understands my desires even if he doesn’t entirely comprehend them. When I found out he had booked us a night in North Conway so we could celebrate two decades of marriage by hiking the legendary mountain, I was deeply touched. My only reservation was that we would not have enough time.

Which was part of the letting go.

The morning began with tension after the release that yoga brings. I had a morning class to teach, and when I returned home, it was to find my husband nowhere near ready to go. I have a long history with time controlled by the minutes that tick by on the clock. I loathe being “late,” in whatever circumstance that involves. It’s not easy for me to let it go. I had breathed acceptance into my body at the start of the day, and it was not going to allow me to forget it.

When finally we got on the road, an hour after I had hoped we would leave, my husband and I found ourselves doing our individual best to release the threads of tension between us. That is until twenty-five minutes into our journey he realized he had forgotten his dress clothes, and, true to his nature, blamed it on my long-battle with time. Once more I found myself breathing into acceptance as we turned the car around.

It was a mostly wordless journey back home. When we arrived our daughter, just recently having woken, greeted us with some surprise as she smiled above the top of the couch. We had now lost about two hours of the day, by my calculations with the clock, but my body knew it was what we needed. This test of letting go of what we tend to hold onto, if we could.

And we did, gradually at first, as we settled back into an uneasy silence. My husband making the first offering of peace by placing his right hand on my thigh as he navigated the road back toward the mountain with his left. I felt the letting go as I met his offering with the wrap of my hand around his. Our journey now officially underway with all we needed packed in the car, even though later we would lament not having brought more. Not in terms of clothing, but in terms of supplies for the long walk ahead of us. In our determination to hike 3.5 thousand footer, we had not given much thought to the long, indirect path we had chosen to get to the top.  Chosen as though it was not a choice, because it was the path walked before the white man had landed on the shores of New England.

To be continued…