One of Barbara’s favorite books was “Mountain Summers”. It is a collection of first hand stories of women who hiked in the White Mountains in the nineteenth century. She re-read it often, and was in the midst of a reading at the end. Those women were her heroines, hiking rough back-country in long skirts, never letting their expected place get in the way of where they wanted to be.
I played hooky from cleaning up the condo today and finally made it back up to the White Mountains myself. I hadn’t been in over two years; the last time we went was a day trip in May 2012, before everything fell apart. We were scouting sites for a camping weekend later that year that never happened.
My daughter and I had planned to go last summer for a camping trip, but her campaign work kept her tied up past the end of the season. We are planning on going up camping for a weekend or two next month, and maybe a whole week once her current assignment ends. But today we decided not to wait any longer and get up there, even if only for half a day. I am really glad we did.
For quite a while I have had this recurrent thought train of “I want to go home now”, followed by “You can’t go home, you have to build a new one.” While that is somewhat true, it isn’t the whole story. Getting back to Dolly Copp just for a walk around the campground made me realize that the magic in that place hadn’t been lost in her passing, instead, it had been crystallized by it.
Almost every summer for twenty years we managed to make it up there for at least a week or two. She loved the place, and passed that along to our kids, and to me as well. For that week or two, we got rid of all the distractions and just spent concentrated time together as a family. I never got tired of the sight of Mount Madison in the morning, or the Imp Face in the afternoons, and the incredible view of the Milky Way far away from any light pollution. And the stories of her time up there as a kid, the same ones over and over. She was only ten when her mother died, so there really weren’t that many years for her to go on, but she remembered everything. When our nephew uploaded a batch of old family photos to Facebook last winter, I was able to tag her and comment, since I already recognized the stories behind so many of those pictures I had never seen before.
Today when I was walking around the campground with my daughter, I recognized myself doing the same thing she always did, as each spot triggered memories of those times together; more years than she had with her mother, but still far too few.
I was a little worried about what returning to that place might do to me, but now I know. This is the place I can return to. This is the home I was looking for.
Cities change, they evolve with time and commerce. Buildings come and go, people move in and out, are born and die at a dizzying pace. We are transient creatures. The mountains aren’t like that. They defy our timescale completely. They witness our comings and goings, and the mountains remember. And when we go back there, they remind us of who we are.