Tuesday, September 27, 2016

the beehive

I have long been attracted to a certain hike in Acadia National Park, not because I have hiked it before, or honestly not because of anything I had heard about the hike itself, but rather because of its name, the Beehive Trail.  Ahem.  Beekeeper here.  But having landed on a description of the trail once when researching honey bees, (ah, Google), I read on and liked the descriptions of the amazing views while hiking, the dramatic climb, and the stories about the work and maintenance that go into the trail system in Acadia.  This trail, with its crevasse cross overs and iron rungs and ladders on exposed cliffs seemed a maintenance challenge if ever there was one.  

The trail would also be different than the easy meandering trails of our past life with young children. In most hiking guide books and pamphlets. hiking trails are typically divided into easy, moderate, and strenuous categories.  Somehow, we have become a family who can tolerate a strenuous hike, who's children would prefer a strenuous hike, and therefore Jonathan and I are throwing ourselves off cliffs...no...I jest...um...working at acceptance of our children's growth, and seizing the opportunities that their developing strength and maturity allow.  Doesn't that sound very accepting and positive of me? 


We are on a bit of a hiking tear here, back from a summer spent hiking in the Rockies. One or two or three of our children seem to have gotten it in their heads that the more bells and whistles a hike has, the more interested they are in doing it.  A hike toward a mountaintop lake?  Awesome.  One on which there might be mountain goats or bighorn sheep but definitely not a grizzly bear?  They will mix their own Gorp.  One that also has an ice cream stand at the top would be even better.  Sadly, there aren't as many teahouses and chalets with wood fire baked cookies along hiking trails here at home as there were in the Rockies, though I am thankful for the lack of grizzlies.  

So, I am searching for other motivators. Iron rungs and ladders are the bells and whistles here.  The kids are particularly fond of hikes that require a bit of scrambling over boulders, gripping with one's fingertips, or scooching around turns with dramatic drop offs beside you. So the Beehive Trail came to mind when we were researching hikes in Acadia.

The planning conversation with the kids went a little bit like this:

Is it hard? child number one asked.


Is it Scrambly? child number two queried.


Is it dangerous? child number three wondered, rubbing his hands together enthusiastically.


Good.  In unison.

And so, when in Acadia a few weeks ago, even despite the grey weather and fog that did not seem likely to burn off, we headed out for our planned hike.  This sign helped me to increase the overall enthusiasm.  

Well.  Honestly, it didn't help me.  I have a wee bit of nervousness around high places.  When I see one of my children step too close to the edge, I have a strong physical reaction that involves a particular full bodied plunging sensation.  And I get just a tad snippy with those who seem to be testing me or toying with my height issues.

And the Beehive, I read and have been told, is kind of scary.  And not just for people with height concerns.  But child enthusiasm was high, so we decided to give it a shot.  I positioned myself behind the shortest legs and the one I thought was most likely to get frightened.  And up we went.  

We were not alone.  There were many people hiking that trail.  It is, after all, the Centennial Celebration of the National Parks and it was one of the last weeks of summer.

The trail begins normally enough.  Just a walk through the woods here.

But eventually, you near the beehive proper.  And trees start to thin.  

So see, here's the thing.  This is what the view looked like:

I am sure that on another day this view is equal parts stunning, as it looked toward the ocean across the woods between us and it, and terrifying, as that is a hundreds of feet drop off next to the trail.  But, I could see neither.  So though tense, because I knew dangers were just there to my right, and to my children's' right, I was not able to see just how dangerous.  Somehow this was equally comforting and concerning that my fears were lessened by not being able to see just how we could die.  

When the smoothed-by-wear branches are no longer enough to keep hikers safe on the increasingly narrow and steep trail, iron makes an abrupt entrance.  In the form of bridges and ladders.

Lest you think it was all serious hiking...

I am sure that on a clear day, this moment, when one child is crawling across a wooden bridge and two others are on the other side and far beyond my grasp, cavalierly walking along a cliff with loose grips on iron rungs, this moment is terrifying.  

And though the sign told us we were at the top, we could see...nothing...sitting in the cloud that enclosed the mountain that day.  

That view and the very real but unseen drop offs in clouds, we focused on our feet, our hands, each other, and the height, steepness, and work of the actual climb. And thusly, laboriously, and slowly, waiting for the groups ahead of us to work their way up the metal rungs, we summited the Beehive.  On another day, we would have had our eyes cast toward the scenery, the vista, but instead I focused on the work of climbing and we turned to each other at the top instead of facing outward.  I think, actually, this might be how my children climb, typically.  I am not sure they are hoping for that gorgeous view, but instead want to feel the accomplishment of having done something difficult that they set out to do.  And a bowl of ice cream of course.

We stayed only briefly at the top, and headed right off to descend along the Bowl Trail.  This trail takes you past, well, the bowl, a mountainside pond.  It was, actually, beautiful that day, the combination of what you could and couldn't see.  Both under and above the lake.

The rest of the hike down was relatively quiet. And as we left the trail to return to our car, we turned around, and just in that moment, the wind sucked, the clouds shifted, and the beehive peeked out at us to give us a glimpse of where we had just been.

These clouds, that turned our focus toward the trail, away from the bigger picture, looking at our feet and our immediate present instead of the longer range view, the unknown, worries, and danger veiled for just awhile.  There, but not the focus.  What a hike this was, seeing all this growth as opening doors for new and challenging and exciting things they can do, and we can do with them. 

Back in the car, the kids yammered about how much fun that was.  So proud of themselves for not being scared.  

Were you scared Mommy?

Not really.

Could we find another one like that and do it now?  


And could we do the Beehive again, when we can see?

Absolutely.  I want to do that hike again as well.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

beyond the scenery habit, in Taproot: Wander issue

We have three children back at school for their first full week and I am eager to get back to writing.  And I can't think of a better way to jump back in than to have my essay, beyond the scenery habit, be included in the most recent issue of Taproot: Wander.  This issue is, as usual, visually gorgeous, and full of good things.  My essay is about our family's road trip, taken last summer, and specifically about Yellowstone National Park and our time there.  Several images I took of the park are also included.

My copy of the issue arriving in the mail inspired me to pull out our photo albums from our trip and sit for a while with them, remembering our time together there.  Such a perfect activity to do with our children as we all transition back into the school year and schedule.  The difference even just one year makes, their faces longer, shiny now with orthodontia, legs longer, those shoes now in the hand-me-down bins.  It makes one realize all that can change within one year, within one person, within one place.  And makes one excited for the year to come, aware of all that a year can hold.  
We used to visit our national parks most often by car.  Families took time and experienced the gradual approach to the park being visited.  Anticipation was part of the journey as was the wildness of a family spending time together for hours and days, traversing states.  Today we arrive by plane.  We miss the trek across the vast expanse of this nation.  
from The Hour of Land by Terry Tempest Williams

Part of an amazing 3000 mile road trip last summer for us, Yellowstone National Park is a fascinating and complicated place, and being there as a family with eyes wide open and bodies stretched and exploring, it's all the good stuff of parenting these days.  And there was much wildness of a family spending time together for sure.  For me, I had visited as a child and now twice as a parent.  We returned to the park this summer as well, and experienced it as a family who had been there before.  We did some of the same things, responded to each can we do that again? with yes as often as we could.  But we also explored new scenery, and had different knowledge about the park and its history than we had before, different capacities for taking it all in, and even just a year later it felt different, was different than we remembered, and we were different within it.  And certainly, I now have a different understanding of the complexities of preserving land, history, story, and wilderness in the United States having done the research for my essay.

Today, I watch from here in the East as wildfires close access to our beloved campground there in the West.  The distance erased by the Twitter account I followed upon entering that park more than a year ago, and will not unfollow. And I think of those woods, those trees, the sounds that held us while we were there.  I look through photos of woods that burned, tree trunks charred, and green grasses and wildflowers thriving at their bases and remind myself of the natural processes at work.  

I am currently reading The Hour of Land:  A Personal Topography of American's National Parks by Terry Tempest Williams.  We have visited as a family over the past two summers many of the parks, each chapter devoted to one that she has a personal history within, .  I am learning more.  I am watching as Maine begins the process of creating another National Monument in the northern woods of Maine, after years of advocacy and of dissent.  This newly protected place near the woods of my own childhood, so familiar that I can, here at my desk, conjure the smell of the lake water and cedar and dirt, squint in the dappled light filtering down through the thick branches while listening to the lake lap against the old wooden dock.  And Nicholas, our oldest, has just returned from a week spent near those woods.  I can smell those woods in his backpack, and he is full of stories of sleeping under shooting stars beside a lake.  Now he has been to a part of those woods that I have never visited.  And that is...where we are now.  And it's good.
This is what we can promise the future: a legacy of care.  That we will be good stewards and not take too much or give back too little, that we will recognize wild nature for what it is, in all its magnificent and complex history -- an unfathomable wealth that should be consciously saved, not ruthlessly spent...Humility is born in wildness.  We are not protecting grizzlies from extinction;  they are protecting us from the extinction of experience as we engage in a world beyond ourselves.
from The Hour of Land by Terry Tempest Williams

I hope you will find a copy of Taproot and enjoy all it holds.  

Here in Portland, Maine, it is available at these shops.  And it can be ordered online here.