I Believe in Mount Katahdin
I believe in Mount Katahdin. Maine’s highest peak captured my heart twenty-five years ago and became the landmark I have steered the course of my life by ever since.
Soon after my wife and I first hiked its flanks with friends, we abandoned our life in New York City for a new start in Maine. Days on the mountain, set in the wilderness of Baxter State Park, reminded me of the family vacations I’d taken as a child on a lake in Canada. They were weeks of wonder in a foreign land where we redefined our relation to the natural world and to each other as well. Katahdin offered a return to this primordial focus for my wife and I and the children we planned to raise.
Over the years, the mountain has fulfilled that promise. My family has learned some of life’s most valuable lessons while ascending its stony slopes and exploring the fertile forests and silver streams that lie in its shadows.
We have learned perseverance. Since they were old enough to walk, my daughters have followed my wife and I farther and farther up Katahdin’s twisting trails. In their earliest years we rewarded their progress with juicy prizes from the wild strawberry, blueberry and Indian Tea plants that lined our path. As they grew, they caught our summit-fever and learned to push past the perceived limits of their young bodies, ignoring aching muscles, broken breaths and pounding hearts for the chance to stand on a pink granite peak and survey a landscape that still showed the record of the birth of a wild and untamed planet.
We have learned compassion. On a climb during the girls’ middle school years we were halfway up the mountain when my wife sprained her ankle badly. The day’s goal changed in an instant, but I heard no complaints when we reversed direction and began our descent. The girls and I took turns helping their mother down the trail, lifting her body and spirits with the stories and songs we shared during the long slow return to camp.
We have learned courage. In high school, the girls were finally ready for the rigors of a week-long backpacking trip on the mountain. Miles from camp, my eldest took a hard fall on slippery rocks in the middle of a rushing stream. Shaken, but unbroken, she gamely shouldered her pack to resume the long trek to that night’s site. Later in the trip, both girls conquered Katahdin’s biggest challenge, overcoming fatigue and vertigo to negotiate the mile-long ribbon of granite known as the “Knife Edge” that winds between its two lofty summits.
Most important of all, Katahdin has taught us to believe in something larger than ourselves. It is a place where every crack of summit thunder, each breath of balsam-scented breeze and the tiny perfection found in a single blossom of trillium reminds us of the divine mystery behind and within our lives.
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