Ascension Sun, 8th June, 2014
Vermont's Mount Ascutney called to us during our vacation time there last week. The farm where we stayed was carved out of the northern slope of the hillside with a clear view of this beautiful, 3,000-foot mountain of green overlooking the Connecticut River Valley. Were we there to conquer the mountain, or was it going to be the other way around?
In the final morning of our stay, my son Owen and I decided to embark on a journey to the summit of Mt. Ascutney. Trudging up the mountain paths, mostly in silence, the hike quickly became for me a living metaphor of our journey through life and the world.
The first observation was that the path up Mt. Ascutney is an ever-changing adventure—with a green, wet valley in the South that reminded one of the Pacific Northwest, complete with ferns, moss and cascading waterfalls...then a more rocky, scrubby Ozark-like setting in the Western slope...and finally a pine-scented, Rocky Mountain alpine experience at the higher elevations.
If one were looking for a true wilderness adventure, this was not it. Like the sheep that grazed on our farm, this mountain had been domesticated, conquered even. A paved road from VT Route 44 allows less ambitious thrill-seekers to arrive near the summit by car. And the summit is crowned with multiple communication towers, meaning our smart phones never lost connectivity. (I resisted the urge to check in on Facebook.)
But I didn't go to Vermont looking for wilderness. My favorite thing about the place is the beautiful balance between Nature and human civilization. There are the verdant Green Mountains, yes, but also beautiful farms, historic architecture, covered bridges and, yes, Ben & Jerry's made from Vermont's finest milk and cream from cows who are happy not to live in New Hampshire.
Although there were no grazing Holsteins on this journey, this hiking experience was pure Vermont, combining the best work of human hands in the midst of God's own handiwork. This Weathersfield trail, one of several trails that ascend the mountain, had been lovingly maintained and improved over the years by the local Ascutney Trail Association.
Far from leaving hikers to their own devices, true caring was evident on this mountainside. Places that had washed out had recently been repaired with new stones scavenged from nearby slopes, thoughtfully placed and set in with fresh soil. And the trail was well marked with rectangular, white blazes at key turning points. Whenever doubt crept in about the correct path as we clambered up root-covered, rocky faces, we only had to look up to find the thoughtfully placed markers just when they were needed. Sometimes it's nice not to be first person to have passed this way.
Most impressive of all were the occasional staircases that had been assembled from native stones (see picture to the right). I climbed the primitive escalator with a clear sense of gratitude and admiration for those who came before.
And that is the obvious lesson and reminder for me: that while we may be called to seek new adventure and new heights, we also have an obligation to build a bridge, or place a helpful stone or mark the way for those who will come after us. It is our reminder that, even in moments of solitude or even lonely struggle up a steep and uneven path, we are never truly alone. Like my phone at the top of the mountain, like it or not, we are always connected.