On the Importance of Ritual on Borestone
Halfway up the trail to the summit of Borestone Mountain, my youngest child turned to me and demanded, “Why are we doing this again?”
We were doing this because for as long as Rosalie can remember,
we’ve climbed Borestone Mountain, the Audubon Society’s sanctuary in Elliotsville, Maine on Columbus Day–traditionally, the last day the nature center at Sunrise Pond is open for the season. The trek never used to be something the heathens questioned: it was that second Monday in October, so we leapt into the car, drove forty-some-odd miles to the northwest, then climbed. Now, when I remind them that the time is coming right up, I get groans and eye-rolling. However, they have not got to the point of absolute defiance yet. As it is now, they still humor me.
But not with overall good humor, I’m afraid. As we made our slow way up from the end of the road and the parking turn-out to the nature center (slightly under an hour of woodsy clambering), the heathens kept making cracks about my relative slowness. Once again I was forced to remind them that I’m a bit more than thirty years older than they; if you’re so old, Rosalie complained, what are you doing climbing mountains?
I do it because it’s a ritual. I like to take the opportunity, on this one day of the year, to touch base, in a familiar setting, with my ever-growing children. I like the mild challenge of Borestone: I always realize my age in that first mile, and then, once we get above the pond, my age sloughs off me. I like standing on the bare granite summit, looking down on autumn in the Maine woods, at the trees, the lakes spotting the landscape below. I like knowing that we did it. Again.
This year the refuge was busy, Columbus Day being a lovely day–though windy at the top–after a week or so of gray and gloom and rain. By ‘busy,’ I of course mean in a relative manner: we surely didn’t have the hiking trail to ourselves, and we did run into Mark, a tenor-sax-playing man of my acquaintance, and his wife; and just before we got to the nature center, we met the family of one of Ben’s baseball-playing friends…but it wasn’t a patch on Occupy Boston, for example, which I had experienced just two days previously. At the second summit, we met only one other couple (the woman and I held onto the maps, bolted to the stone, while the wind whipped our more foolhardy counterparts), and occasionally crossed paths with other climbers on the way back down. Always, the same conversation: it’s windy up there today.
Have you been up before? It’s beautiful. Except, of course, with the woman at the summit, who commented on my Saw Doctors concert tee-shirt: You don’t see anyone who knows them up here much.
Meanwhile, the heathens seemed to ease out of their own clouds. Though several years ago, to save wear and tear on the primitive access road from the tiny parking area to the nature center, the Society built a new trail to cover that section, the kids opted to take the road, and I followed. Sometimes I walked down next to one, sometimes next to the other, when someone skipped on ahead. That, I think, is the part I like best: the talk when we’re all alone in the woods, the broad yellow leaves fluttering down on us, or skittering underfoot. And looking at the one who has gone just a bit ahead, seeing the person of now trailed, in my mind’s eye, by all their past selves–and hearing the echoes of all their conversation of our past hikes up here. I’m haunted, I think, by all the falls we have done this together: but haunted in a good way.
The woman working in the nature center this year told me she’d be taking off for Scotland once the mountain was buttoned down for the winter. She will be teaching a paddling class, and then spending the rest of her time busking. When the heathens and I signed in and paid the minimal trail maintenance fee, she remarked upon my Saw Doctors tee-shirt, and then we exchanged names of favorite bands. Strangely, I did the same with a couple we met a couple of hours later, on our way back down the mountain–though this pair, having nothing to write with on their hike, repeated my recommendations several times, aloud, to commit them to memory. Ha. Tee-shirt advertising pays off, obviously.
Oddly, I remember strapping Rosalie into her car seat after one of our first hikes up Borestone (the heathens were very small, and we had not yet made it to the top). She couldn’t have been more than three or four. Still, just before I closed the car door, she turned to me and said, in that serious way she has always had, Thank God we don’t have to do this again for another year. Humoring me even then, I guess.
More on Borestone: On Borestone Mountain (for the Twelfth Time)