While my little mom was entertaining guests yesterday afternoon, Dennis and I took off for Stowe, where we thought we’d go for a hike. We drove up and through the Notch Road, the tiny, windy seasonal road that goes between Smugglers’ Notch and Stowe, two towns on either side of Mt. Mansfield, the highest mountain in Vermont. I’d had it in mind to find a trail that leads to a series of little waterfalls, but because I hadn’t been to that particular trail since I graduated from high school, it was a challenge trying to find it again. So rather than spend our time driving back and forth along the Notch road with our eyes peeled for what may have been a trail, we just parked and found a real trail up Mt. Mansfield.
In 1999, I spent the spring and summer living in Jackson, Mississippi and working for the state Geological survey as an intern. We worked during the week down on the coast in Hancock, Harrison, and Jackson counties, in the little towns of Bay St. Louis, Lakeshore, and Waveland, and in the larger towns of Pass Christian, Biloxi, and Gulfport, the same towns that would be destroyed in the wake of Katrina just six years later, from the Louisiana state line over to Pascagoula. We mapped the coastline by walking the entire length of the three counties, and East and West Ship Islands, carrying GPS mapping gear on our back, sometimes two or three times if the gear didn’t pick up a signal the first time around. Back in Jackson, we imported the data into our computers and built maps from them. That summer it was flat and hot. It was filled with a lot of silent walking from just after sunrise until just before sunset, with a break for po’ boys and sweet tea at lunch time. It was about plotting the shape of the land beneath me on the beach and out into the hot Gulf waters swarming with jellyfish. It was about charting the flatness and the movement of the sand for miles and miles, on public white sand beaches and in the waist-high wetland Spartina bordering the Pearl River.
Finally, in August when I returned to Vermont, I was so hungry for topography, so hungry for a deep, dark green environment, I spent day after day hiking to the top of Mt. Mansfield by myself just to drink the altitude in. Spending a summer in the flats of the South, where the land didn’t rise to more than a couple hundred feet, had been more than my body and my eyes could take. Coming back to Vermont was like being born all over again and sitting on top of Mt. Mansfield and breathing deep that clean cool air was like taking my very first breath of real life.
I was reminded of that Mississippi summer yesterday as Dennis and I plodded our way up the Stowe side of the mountain. The air was thick and heavy and cold. The day promised to storm and we knew it so we went out expecting to hike for just a little while. Fog had settled down over the mountain and rested on our skin. The ground beneath our feet was muddy and dark, rich with nutrients and with an overpowering earthy smell. Back in Brazil, the land is so dry and smoky it’s a rare thing to smell the lushness of a deep green forest. The smell, the air, the closeness of the trees on the trail made me dizzy. It was a lovely, full feeling.
After an hour or so we turned around and headed back home. The rain had begun to come down with intent and our stomachs grumbled with the same determination, so we wound our way back over and through the Notch toward home, stopping on the way for black bean burgers and beer. Before we knew it we were home and fast asleep, our bodies indulging in the satisfaction that comes after a good hike and a good meal. I hope to hike some more this summer, making it to the top of Mt. Mansfield and looking down on my town from above.