Each October while living in New England I would find a ‘postcard day’ and drive 5 hours to the White Mountains of New Hampshire to hike. One of my favorites was the Franconia Ridge just north of Lincoln (pictured here as seen from Sugar Hill.) 

Just when I thought I couldn’t hike another step, I began to notice a thinning of the trees around me, and as I peered through the branches, I could make out the Cannon Mountain ridge across the valley west from me.

Cannon Mountain ridge

Cannon Mountain ridge

A bit higher and a bit more thinning (and a bit more shriveling of the trees also), and now I could see north for endless sunswept miles. I passed a sign informing me that I was now in alpine country where the vegetation was fragile, so be careful or we’ll do terrible things to you.

I looked up above me and saw huge swaths of blue sky open overhead – no more being caught in a net of birch, maple and cedar. My steps now had purpose, and I climbed faster.

Then suddenly, I was out of it – all that nasty flora, and on it – the rocky crown of Little Haystack Mountain. I didn’t want to look just yet. I always liked it as a kid when someone would cover up my eyes and march me into another room where a surprise awaited. I wanted this moment to be like that. So I walked to the summit, then turned around. There is scenery on this earth that you can drink in, actually take inside yourself, till you feel it coursing through you, becoming part of you, bringing life to you. That was this.

I’ve basked in the Rockies, and worshiped in the Sierra Nevadas. New Hampshire has no 10,000 foot, snow-capped behemoths. A purest might question calling these the White Mountains. (I used to have some of that snobbery in me.) But Rembrandt wasn’t a better artist than Mozart because he could paint, and neither do the mountains of the west exceed those of the east in artistry.

I was standing at 4,840 feet above sea level. Due north was Mount Lincoln, so close it seemed you could touch it. Everywhere else, as you pivoted lightly on your feet, was a tableau of hundreds of hills and mountains, dells and valleys, stretching endlessly to the horizon till they were lost in a milky haze.

And then, and then (eat your heart out Rockies ‘cuz you ain’t got nothing) remember that this is New England in October. The glory of these mountains is the rainbow robes of maple that drape regally across this landscape.

Were time not against me this day, I would have just sat there for awhile in numinous silence. Maybe read a psalm. Meditated. If you miss the sacred at times like this, you miss the better part of the experience.

Mount Lincoln

Mount Lincoln

The typical tourist just botches these opportunities. First of all, Joe-Tourist is way too noisy. You don’t belch aloud in church, and you don’t come into the holy of holies in nature and talk your head off. Quietness is a must. At least use your indoor voice. Better yet, just shut up, would you?

A month ago I had taken the tram up to Cannon Mountain. Atop the observation deck were a dozen Asian tourists singing Amazing Grace with broken English but worse voices. For ten seconds it was cute. I know they meant well and were trying to find a way to consummate the experience for themselves, but the truth be told, they were mucking up the moment for the twenty or so others of us there. When they finished we all breathed again – till they broke into an encore. Worship is fine when experiencing the beauty of God’s creation. But so is skinny-dipping – just don’t do it in front of everyone else.

Be quiet, then listen. Then listen some more until you are conscious of your very breathing, and then send your consciousness forth and perceive the voices around you. Listen till you can hear the voice of the wind. The voice of a distant waterfall. The voice of a bird circling down below. Listen, and the voice of God can speak to you here.

Then Joe-Tourist blows it by reaching too hurriedly for his camera. Rather than being in the moment, and looking with his eyes, he makes like a nature-paparazzi and zip! whisks out the camera. There, got that one. Oh, and there’s another. Smile, kids, wave at Dad. Over to your left a little Sarah; we wanna get Mount Washington in the shot.

 As though we can bend a 6,200 foimg_8240ot mountain that has slain nearly two hundred people in the past century to our will. I love looking at my pictures as much as the next guy, but you don’t go on an eight hour hike to take pictures. Picture-taking should almost be an afterthought. Savor the moment first, then slowly, respectfully, humbly take the shot.

So it hurt me that I had to act like one of them on this particular day. I begged the mountain’s forgiveness, took my pictures, and continued the .7 mile hike over to Mount Lincoln.


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