Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Mount Marcy Revisited

(Mount Marcy, the highest peak in New York State)

As my daughter, Meredith, and I get closer to reaching the goal of having hiked the 46 Adirondack High Peaks (we're at 41), it occurred to me that I might want to make a journal of my experiences in the mountains.  I chose this winter to look back and see what I had written over the years. This blog post is an account of the time my husband, Bill, and I hiked Mount Marcy.  I had hiked a number of the peaks with my father when I was a teenager, so it was only fitting that I should take Bill to one of my favorite places.  

Readers who have been in the mountains recently will notice quite a few differences, such as being able to camp up to 5000 feet, having Colden camps all to ourselves on an August trip, dipping our drinking cups directly into the streams and, of course, visiting Marcy Dam before Hurricane Irene came and let all the water out.  May all of you enjoy this adventure.

Mount Marcy, August 1981
            There must be an alternative to the hot dog and chocolate chip cookie meals my father and I had consumed when we hiked, I thought, as I contemplated what Bill and I should take on our backpacking trip to the Adirondacks.  We had been married two years and had developed a satisfactory diet of natural foods including whole grains, vegetables, raw sugar, herbal teas, homemade breads and granola...along with occasional food runs for ice cream and white-crusted restaurant pizza.  Our first wilderness outing together would be an escape from the pressures of daily life, a time to cleanse the spirit, all enhanced by a wholesome organic diet.  

            For two and a half days we would eat a nut mixture, a dried fruit mix, rice, bulghur wheat, and peanut butter balls loaded with nutrition and calories.  Bill looked at my portioned-out menu with approval.  It would be a test that we had been eager to take.  For years we had been outward natural food enthusiasts, yet a pan of brownies had always been just a recipe away.

(the iconic view of the high peaks from Marcy Dam)
            I was excited to introduce Bill to the fabled high peaks and had mapped out a route that included lakes, forests, babbling brooks, and the highest mountain in the state.  The August sun was brilliant as we donned our packs and started along the easy jaunt to Marcy Dam, the point at which many of the more popular trails connect.  

            Marcy Dam is a great introduction to the Adirondacks' drama.  A small pond, surrounded by mountains that seem to rise straight up from the shore, makes one feel far from civilization. When we arrived at the Dam, we sat on a picnic table, the last we would see for a couple of days, and helped ourselves to our first taste of nut mix.

            My boots felt solid underfoot as we chatted about everyday events on the way to Avalanche Lake, but a few feet from our first view of the lake, I stumbled on a root.  Once off balance, the weight of my pack swayed and I fell headlong into black mud.  So much for being the fearless leader!  Together we tried to clean me up.  My face and hair were smeared with black.  I walked to the edge of the lake and made a feeble attempt at washing. I could imagine what I looked like now.
(one of the Hitch-Up Matildas at Avalanche Lake)
            Although Avalanche Lake is beautiful, it is also treacherous. We hiked over roots and rocks, up and down ladders, and across precarious wood bridges, called Hitch-Up Matildas, that hugged rugged cliffs  above a drop into twenty feet of water. By late afternoon we arrived at the Opalescent River and set up camp near Lake Colden.  We dipped our cups in the brook and took a long drink.  The cold clear water made a perfect accompaniment to a fruit and nut snack. 

            Bill decided to have a cup of tea.  Casual pawing through our packs for the sterno for our little stove became frantic. I remembered that the last time I had seen the sterno, it was on the kitchen counter of our apartment. "I thought you packed it," I said.  "No, I thought you packed it," Bill said. Without a way to heat water, we not only had no tea, but could not cook rice or bulghur wheat.  Our nutritional plan had hit a major snag.

            After Bill flung our food over a high branch to keep it away from bears, we strolled to the lake shore, deflated and concerned about our reduced food capabilities. Red squirrels ran back and forth on the branch above us, tantalized by our bag of nutty provisions. We reasoned that we had plenty of dried fruit, nuts, and peanut butter balls to last us for a couple of days.  We'd managed with a lot less in college sometimes.  A ranger stopped by; otherwise we saw no one.  Quiet and still, the surface of Lake Colden reflected the last rays of evening sun.

(Lake Colden in the evening)
            In the morning, after a peanut butter ball breakfast, we packed a day pack with a lunch of dried fruit and nuts. When I had hiked with my father, we carried our big packs over the peaks so that we would never camp two nights in the same place. Bill and I chose to leave our backpacks at the campsite.  What a treat to carry only our lunches and a cup to dip in the brook. We headed toward Mount Marcy, climbing steeply along the Opalescent and Feldspar Brooks.  The woods felt cool and the sound of rushing water drowned out conversation.  Despite the dried mud caked inside and outside of my boots from yesterday's fall, I felt strong and solid on the trail.

            At Lake Tear of the Clouds, the fabled source of the Hudson River, we read a sign that said, “No camping above 5000 feet,” but just beyond, five people had set up a tent and were out in the sun cooking up a pan of eggs.  Their breakfast smelled delicious. Moments later, the woods opened above treeline to hazy views under the hot sun.  People sat all over the summit rocks eating sandwiches.  Bill and I weren't very hungry despite our strenuous workout. We ate some dried fruit and nuts and lay down in the sun.  After a little while, we began the descent back to our camp.  Clouds rolled in.  Supper back at our tent was quick and boring as the first raindrops fell.

(a hazy summit view from Mount Marcy)

            Heading to bed early, Bill fell asleep like a rock.  I was restless.  My stomach began to churn. Rain pounded on the tent as I tried to remember where the flashlight was.  I rushed outside, cursing our food planning.  I hoped there weren't any bears.  Three times during the night I made that trip.  Why wasn't Bill suffering?  By morning, I was sure I had lost everything I had eaten.
            I gave Bill a ghastly look when he quipped, “So what do you want for breakfast?”
            “I won't ever make peanut butter balls again in my life,” I moaned.
            Our itinerary included a retracing of our steps around Lake Colden and Avalanche Lake.  We had considered taking a couple of side hikes before packing up camp, but the rain still came down in sheets. Only two of our five food containers were empty--all those uncooked grains would go back with us, along with a quantity of uneaten peanut butter balls. With the rain on our backs, we skipped breakfast and rolled up the tent, randomly stuffing all the gear into our packs. Then we stepped onto the trail, and put one foot in front of the other.

            Slogging out through black mud, we laughed about our great dietary experiment. It received a failing grade.  All morning we ate nothing and weren't hungry.  My stomach rumbled words of warning, but, after the initial couple of miles on the trail, I felt good.  The damp woods smelled of hemlock, and tree trunks stood black in the heavy atmosphere.  Avalanche Lake was pocked with pelting rain and only gray shadows of the cliffs rose out of the water. Rivulets drizzled down my face and mixed with dirt.  I sloshed through puddles and got dirtier.  It felt okay to be wet and dirty.  Still, whenever we poked our heads out of hoods of our plastic ponchos, our conversation turned to what we would eat when we hit civilization. We were hungry for white over-processed carbohydrates. 

            When we reached the car, we got a glimpse of ourselves in the rear view mirror.  After toweling off my face, I made a stab at dragging a comb through my hair.  Fresh dry clothes that we had left in the back seat felt like heaven, and we changed from our hiking shorts to long pants.  At least no one in Lake Placid would be able to see our mud-caked legs. We also hoped they wouldn't mind our three-day hiking aroma—there wasn't much we could do about that.  Finally we were ready for our debut.  Turning the heat on in the car, we drove the short distance into town, parked in the Main Street lot, threw jackets on, and ran across the street to Lums diner.

(Bill and Virginia on a cleaner day, 1979)

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Winter Reading: Anna Karenina

(In Tolstoy's day, readers thought that this painting, "Unknown Woman" by Ivan Kramskoy, could be a likeness for Anna.)

A couple of months ago, when I first heard that a new movie of Anna Karenina was coming out, I emailed my sister-in-law, Mary Jo, asking her if she would like to see it with me.  She responded right away, "Yes! And I'm downloading the book right now!"

It had crossed my mind to read the book, but Mary Jo's comment prompted me to get to it. Bill downloaded Anna Karenina onto his tablet, and I also reserved the hard copy at the library.  It would take a while to read 900 pages!

Mary Jo and I have a tradition, now in its third year, of going to movies together that have accompanying books.  It's a fun way to read a book we might not otherwise, go out for an evening together, and make a stop for ice cream at Emack & Bolio, just up the street from the Spectrum Theater.

Thanksgiving was approaching, with Christmas right on its heels.  It would be hard to read such a long book with the holidays looming.  I knew Mary Jo would be busy fitting family life and holiday festivities in with a demanding work schedule, so, in my next email, I said, "should we figure on going to the movie after the holidays?"  "Let's go in December," she replied, "when Emack & Bolio might have holiday flavors."  Now there was a thought to take seriously.  We put December 13 on our calendars.

(Poor Anna, incredibly wealthy, nothing much to do, and desperately unhappy)

I hated to admit that, as a literature major, I had never read Anna Karenina, but as I told people about reading the book, I discovered that many of my friends had not read it, and others had read it in college and forgotten most of it.  So I dug right in, determined to read the entire book before seeing the movie.

Anna didn't appear until 100 pages into the story.  By then, I was taken with Levin, a man I could relate to.  He lived within the rhythms of nature, where he found solace in the sights and smells of the fields and meadows.  Here Tolstoy offered marvelous descriptions of the plants along a roadside, the shadows of trees at the edge of a hay field, and the smell of dampness in early morning. In addition, Levin was on a spiritual quest.  This character had everything.

(Leo Tolstoy, around the time of the writing of Anna Karenina)

I would have given the whole book up to Levin, but, when Anna came on the scene, she sucked the print right off the page!  Now every scene had drama, intensity, and raw emotion.  No walking through meadows here.  Moscow and Petersburg drove the story from dances to dinners and carriage rides.  Conflict arose at every turn as Anna confronted her husband, her lover, the society she lived in, and herself.  Her tumultuous love affair was beautifully juxtaposed with Levin and his story of love and marriage.

Again Tolstoy's writing captivated me--such ability to put into words the subtle meaning of a facial expression, or tone of voice.  I could imagine every nuance. Anna Karenina was a descriptive feast.

At times, I read reviews of the upcoming movie. The New York Times described the unique way the story was portrayed on film--creative, unusual, a different view of a classic. These were not necessarily negative comments.  The Times Union gave the movie one star.  Their blurb made the movie sound bizarre.

Oh well, I thought.  Mary Jo and I would have a good time, and the movie provided an excuse to read a great piece of literature.  I continued on, using both the tablet and the book.  Sometimes it was nice not to hold that heavy book, and, if I sat on the couch with the cat on my lap, she offered no complaint when I propped the tablet on her back.  The 900-page book was another story.  I felt more comfortable carrying the book around, though.  Taking Bill's tablet out of the house was a responsibility I wasn't sure I wanted.

(Kiera Knightley, as Anna, and Jude Law, as her husband, Sergei)

Besides the story and writing, I loved the characters' names.  Everyone had three and a nickname.  As I read them, I'm sure I pronounced them incorrectly in my head, but on the page, they looked great: Stepan Arkadyevich Oblonsky (nickname Stiva), Katerina Aleksandrovna Shcherbatskaya (Kitty/Katya), Konstantin Dimitievich Levin (Kostya). And often, in conversation, the characters called one another by at least two of the three or four names--quite a mouthful in a heated moment.

I had finished the book by the time Mary Jo and I met at the theater.  And, in fact, the movie was bizarre.  Filmed as if it were partly a play on a stage, and partly made for the wide-screen, the story shifted back and forth.  A horse race began in the confined space of a theatrical stage, then moved to a track outdoors, ending with the fall of a horse into the footlights back on the stage.  Characters, who went upstairs from a dance, walked between theater scaffolding, ropes, and pullies.  At times background characters stood like mannekins until the main characters came near them, waking them from their doll-like positions.

Still, we enjoyed it.  Mary Jo and I don't go to a lot of movies.  We just want to be entertained. The story was great, the actors were fun to watch, the sets kept us on high-alert, and the costumes and occasional expansive scenery were gorgeous.  Mary Jo had only gotten through about 100 pages of the book, but she had no trouble following the plot lines, despite the unconventional nature of the movie.

(I think Kiera Knightley is a treat to watch)

And after the movie, we walked to Emack & Bolio. The shop's Christmas decorations were charming and the case was full of enticing holiday cakes and candies.  From a list posted on the wall, Mary Jo ordered cosmic crunch ice cream with hot fudge.  I got mud pie in a cone.  I always like a cone.  Ice cream just isn't quite right in a dish, but I ogled her hot fudge.  Maybe next time I would have to go for that.  We sat in the front window next to electrified plastic candy canes and colored balls, and were still chatting at 10 p.m. when the waitress said she was closing up.

(Emack & Bolio, Delaware Avenue, Albany)

I saw Mary Jo at Christmas and she was half-way through the book and enjoying it.  Maybe we'll have to have a book discussion when she finishes it.  We'll also keep our eyes peeled for an enticing book/movie for 2013!