Nov 17 2008

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View from the Hill

Posted at 5:17 pm under Blog Post

Midday.  Matika and I stretch our legs.  There’s a light flurry of snow falling, which is probably why we have the hill all to ourselves today.  The forest is mostly shades of brown and gray.  Matika cavorts about the open woods, looking for a chipmunk or squirrel to terrorize.  She occasionally finds one rummaging about the leaves.  I ignore her for the most part as I amble up the trail.

Halfway up the hill, I detour to the lookout for a quick view of St. Albans.  The town sprawls before me like a model railroad layout.  The collective hum of cars coming and going contradicts the stillness of the greater panorama.  Beyond the edge of town, farm fields and woodlots stretch to Lake Champlain and its islands.  Beyond the lake, mountains rise into low clouds.  A squall to the west blocks the northernmost edge of the Adirondacks from view.  The cold wind brings tears to my eyes.  I turn away from the lookout and slip deeper into the woods.

While climbing the last rise to the summit, I wonder how many more times I’ll hike this hill before I tire of it.  There’s no way to know, of course.  There’s only this eternal present.  Deep in it now, I realize that I come here more for a sense of perspective than anything else – a quick fix of the wild when I haven’t the time or inclination to drive an hour or so to the mountains.  A week, a day, or only an hour in the woods, I take what I can get.

I cross over the summit ridge, then catch the view eastward from the nearby ski slope.  More cars race along the interstate below.  I turn away, deliberately cutting my pace to make the downhill half of the hike last as long as possible.  I have work to do but am in no big hurry to get back to it.  Matika chases a squirrel up a tree.  I call her back to my side.

On the way back to the car, I pass the remnant of an old, dead tree still protruding twenty feet into the air.  I’ve been passing it for years and can’t help but wonder when it’ll come down.  Someday it’ll drop.  It’s just a matter of time.  Chances are good that I won’t be walking past it when it does, yet fallen trees litter the forest floor.

It seems like everything is a function of time and scale.   “Time is cheap and rather insignificant,” Thoreau once wrote in his journals, “It matters not whether it is a river which changes from side to side in a geological period or an eel that wriggles past in an instant.”  A walk in the woods, even a short one like this, drives this point home.

The roof of my house is visible from the lookout on the hill.  So is the cluster of buildings downtown where I run my errands.  The better part of my life is visible from up there, though I rarely think about it as I go about my daily affairs.  Someday I’m going to sit up there and ponder things for hours on end, or so I keep telling myself.  But I can never sit at that lookout more than twenty minutes before growing restless, thinking about all the things I should be doing.  That, I find, is the essential paradox of a good view.

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