On Saturday we were introduced to Mt. Israel. I’d seen the panoramic photo of the Sandwich Range taken from Israel’s summit by Ken Stampfer and on display at the Mountain Wanderer. Since first laying eyes on it decided I wanted to go there. As good fortune would have it, Atticus and I were invited to join Ken and his wife, Ann, for a leisurely hike to the summit.
To say it is only a four mile round trip seems to discount this hike unfairly. It is a real treasure, especially if you don’t get fooled by the false summit and continue on to the true summit, a rocky cone that offers up even better views than the false summit. (However, it is easy to see why some don’t get beyond the first viewpoint, for it seems that the view cannot get better.)
But the charms of this hike lay not just in the views from the summit, but in the gradual climb through the open forest. When we started our hike we did so by walking under the outstretched arms of a magnificent tree just starting to bud. From there we walked along a earthen path strewn with dried brown leaves and made our way along the dips and rises of a man-made stonewall and a God-made stream. They both offered charming boundaries to the trail, and at times we crossed them in our ascent.
We ran into a few other hikers but were glad to have let them get an earlier start than us. There was the fellow with the new Bean boots, and his wife with the new boots, too. And all the gear they had appeared to be the greatest gear ever made, or so we were told by the gentleman who appraised our worn gear with less than charitable eyes. They had a nice but somewhat high strung dog. She was introduced to us as the greatest hiking dog ever. I smiled and offered their dog some water and told them I hoped that Atticus would some day be half the hiking dog theirs was.
I did not find the man to be insulting even when he continued to praise his dog and discounted Atticus by suggesting he looked more suited to napping than hiking. And while I’m cannot say for sure, I am fairly confident Atticus was not put off by this either.
The third couple we encountered was the most interesting. She had a voice like a Screech Owl and it carried through the woods just as easily. They were the reason we took our time reaching the summit. However, on their descent we chatted with them and they proved to be quite pleasant. Nevertheless, it was great not to have that voice on a summit day made for napping.
We had timed our hike just right and reached the top as the day was stretching into the afternoon and we took a more than leisurely rest atop the stone dome. We ate, drank and chatted quietly. Atticus moved about checking out the view towards Moosilauke, then to the behemoth of Sandwich Dome right in front of us, then the Tripyramids, Sleepers, Whiteface, Passaconaway, and all the way east towards Chocurua. He then found a bush that offered some shade, scraped up some cool dirt with his paws, and lay down for a nap. It was one of our longest summit visits ever. We were in no hurry to get going and instead took a lesson from the wildflowers we had met earlier and raised our happy faces towards the sun in languid pleasure.
I enjoy the walk through the woods, the conversation with select people, or the meditation when on my own. I also find myself relating more to these new peaks, these first-time climbs, as I would when I was a child and playing in the woods not far from our home. And much like those woods back home, no matter how near they are to the road and civilization, it doesn’t feel that way. Stepping into them is like melting into them, and finding myself in a magical story where nature is the leading character and my imagination flies making all things possible.
In Carl Jung’s “The Holiness of Mountains”, I am reminded of two things. First that Jung believed that the collective unconscious was simply nature. He believed that when we removed ourselves from nature we lost touch with the magic of life. The other is a direct quote from that essay: “Knowledge does not enrich us; it removes us more and more from the mythic world in which we once at home by the right of birth.”
These sojourns into the woods and up the mountains are for me a chance to get back to that innocence of more feeling and less knowledge. It reconnects me to much of what I have forgotten to hold onto through the years. It brings me back to that place where I was when while unaware of much that I now know, I was more aware in other ways.
We left the woods six hours after embarking and covered only four miles, but what a wonderful four miles they were.