By Marguerite Jill Dye
We’ve been hiking up the left side of Mt. Killington from the last patch of snow just above the K-1 Lodge, up Bittersweet and a series of trails and pebbly service roads. We pass the tops of the Snowshed lift, the Vertigo Head Wall Trail (so steep I would never attempt to hike, let alone ski down), past Needle’s Eye, Skyeship Gondola II, Skye Peak, and around to the far eastern side to Bear Mountain. I feel as if I’m in the Alps or Germany’s Allgäu, looking straight down at Sunrise Village below. Each time we cross a ski slope or lift, the view opens up, at first, to the north, where Mt. Mansfield peeks out behind other peaks, then around to the east where the stately White Mountains appear, beyond the Top of the World. It’s a beautiful hike up the gravelly road and narrower trails where bike paths cross. We’ve been hiking in the evening after chores are done, when most hikers and mountain bikers are gone. One evening, we spotted a rust colored hare nibbling verdant grass and clover. The light glowed orange through his translucent ears. He wasn’t afraid until we passed.
He brought to mind the Canada lynx kitten that graced our yard last summer and fall. The lynx runs like a hare, its favorite prey. Both have long back legs to spring into action. The lynx kitten and her mother must have moved on to find a new hunting ground.
The steep incline of the pebbly path is just what we need in preparation for hiking Spain’s Camino del Norte pilgrimage route in September. It’s the most difficult, and beautiful, one of a dozen Caminos to Santiago de Compostela, where ancient fishing villages on the Cantabrian Sea are separated by Cantabrian Mountain foothills.
After our hike up Killington mountain we returned to the shores of Kent Pond. We were happy to see everyone there—two Canada geese families were feeding, with six goslings born three weeks apart, and a mother duck and her two ducklings, swimming through reeds and water. The eagle’s nest high in a pine tree was out of sight around the bend. Then father loon, across the pond, called out between dives for dinner. Mother loon and her one chick safely awaited in their island home.
Kent Pond brought to mind naturalist, writer, and Transcendentalist Henry David Thoreau, who put his philosophy into practice with a two year experiment in self-reliance. He lived in a simple shelter he built in the woods beside Walden Pond. He spent his days observing wildlife, plants, trees, and water clarity. The beauty and magic of Walden Pond is not dissimilar from Killington’s Kent Pond. Thoreau penned his thoughts in “Walden” (1854): “Simplify, simplify!. . . Our life is frittered away by detail.” He came to understand the unity in nature, reaffirmed his faith in humanity, and man’s individualism. Thoreau reminded everyone that life is wasted pursuing wealth and following social customs. Nature demonstrates that “all good things are wild and free.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson, the “first truly American thinker,” led the Transcendental Club and encouraged Americans to think for themselves
instead of imitating Europeans. His essay “The American Scholar” inspired a uniquely American idealism and spirit of reform. He believed in the innate goodness of nature and people, our limitless potential, and that society and institutions have corrupted the “purity of the individual.” All people have an inner self knowing, intuition, imagination, and an understanding of the world that “transcends” the five senses and empowers the individual to believe in their own inner voice, he wrote. American Transcendentalism was America’s first important philosophy and inspired other movements, religions (such as Unitarianism, Positive Thought, and Unity), and writers such as Nathaniel Hawthorne, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Walt Whitman, Louisa May Alcott, and Margaret Fuller.
I go to the mountains, pond, and woods to be renewed, inspired, and to find my own voice when I feel challenged or dismayed. The overwhelming discouragement I now feel has led me into the Vermont woods more often. I’ve been grieving for the loss of something I hold dear, something I’ve taken for granted for many years. I’ve been grieving for the loss of confidence and pride in something I’ve believed in all of my life. I’ve been grieving for the nation I love, now in chaos and disarray. The precious, freedom-loving American dream is being challenged by corruption and greed.
Maybe it’s time for a walk in the woods to contemplate our very existence. What is America’s reason for being? What are the values of the American People? Are they power over people, and wealth at all costs? Do we believe in “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” for each and every American? Have hate, fear, and exclusion replaced brotherhood, love, and compassion?
I believe in an America that celebrates our diversity as a great strength and gift to the world. I believe in an America where people who’ve feuded in old parts of the world can work together in harmony and cooperation. I believe in an America whose powerful voice on human rights stands for “liberty and justice for all,” and where human rights include basic, psychological, and self-actualization from Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs: food, water, warmth, rest, safety, security, belongingness, love, esteem, and self-fulfillment.
I walk, meditate, and pray that, together, we remember we’re a nation based on rights, dreams, and ideals, still a relatively new nation in the history of the world. When you go outside and look up at the sky, what inspiring thoughts will enter your mind that identify you as an American?
Photo by Marguerite Jill Dye
Kent Pond, “Killington’s very own Walden” according to the author, provides a retreat for reflections.