Creative Nonfiction, Featured, Leslie Vogel

Climbing Mount Monadnock

by Leslie Vogel

I took a day off today, and a bright and beautiful day it was, too.

I went to hike up the mountain, solo; although you couldn’t really call it solo because Mount Monadnock truly lives up to its reputation as one of the most climbed mountains in the world, especially on a beautiful fall day like today. And it’s just as well. If I were really climbing solo I’d be thinking about bears all the way up the mountain and all the way back down again, and I’d be afraid to bring snacks.

This way I was climbing with all sorts of international families. There was the family with the little boy who was dragging his feet all during the initial woodland stretch of the walkway, but who got all energized climbing up on the big rocks later on, and even found a lucky quarter near the top of the mountain. There was the family who took turns carrying their 14 month old baby in a backpack all the way up the mountain and all the way down. There was the little German girl who showed her mother exactly where to put each foot in each stepping place all during the steep rocky part, speaking rapidly in bright, non-stop instructions. There were the three young teachers, barely out of school themselves talking about teaching in a charter school, and the young woman who was telling her hiking companion all about her latest sad relationship. There were the two young men walking vigorously while animatedly discussing hiking equipment, and the elder couple resting and sipping from their water bottles—wondering out loud to me as I greeted them about how it was that the young ones were constantly passing us by on the trail.

“Isn’t that their job, both on the trail, and otherwise?” I wondered in return.

And then there were the four young people at the very top of the mountain who looked at me curiously and just had to ask:

“What era could your leg warmers possibly be from?”

I had forgotten about my leg warmers.

I was wearing the very same day-glow rainbow leg warmers which, over ten years ago, my youngest daughter had expressly forbidden me to wear in public ever again. I had put them on today to keep my sixty-five year old leg muscles from cramping up on such a long hike, and there were no daughters around to fuss about it; but now here we were.

I had to laugh with the quartet of young people and remind them that if you were going to go ahead and actually wear leg warmers (era of the ’80s, I explained: original purpose to warm the legs of dancers in rehearsal) then you might as well go all out and wear rainbow ones. Besides, you’d be easier to find out on the trail after dark if you got lost.

But here’s another thing that happened. When you hike a well known and familiar trail each rock, step, crevasse and chimney stirs your memory: there they are, as they were before, unchanging. As they were the time when I climbed solo and barefoot in my early thirties, and the other times when I climbed with my friends, or with my sister, or with my own children.

And the early years when I climbed with my brother.

Now the voices of the families climbing nearby fade away, and I am climbing with my brother again. Here  we are at the rocky part, and each step I step for him as well because he can no longer climb these earthly mountains.

“Don’t step on the ground, only rocks” he says—a favorite game of ours when we were young. I play it now; blithely leaping with my sixty-five year old legs that have suddenly become twelve year old legs, and landing precariously on one good stepping stone after another in my tired old sneakers.

I’m in this earlier world, just for a moment, stepping from rock to rock on the side of this ancient granite mountain. It is almost my brother’s birthday, and I place a small rock for him on one of the cairns, and then another.

I am glad I could climb all the way to the top of the mountain today, for my brother, and also for myself.

The voices of the other families climbing nearby fade back in again, and I enjoy being a part of the international chatter around me; the children, the young people, the parents, and the old folks like me.

I had given myself five hours of daylight, lots of snacks and water, a warm jacket; and of course, the leg warmers.

All well, and a day well spent.