Elevate Thyself

When Rebecca and Mark joined the seventh grade class at the Grammar School for a two-trip to Mt. Moosilauke we knew that the trip would be a joy. The Ravine Lodge is legendary in the lore of Dartmouth and in fact Rebecca’s freshman trip had culminated at the Lodge. And we had all (Nathaniel, at the age of five if I remember correctly, and Ellie, in a pack) had climbed the 4800′ peak on a beautiful fall day during one of Rebecca’s Dartmouth gatherings.

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Well, our roles as parent chaperones turned out to be as expected: despite clear instructions to parents from the thoughtful teacher, Hop, kids showed up dressed for a walk down main street on a January morning in Miami. The shoe thing was the most remarkable. Here it is late October, there is four inches of snow above 3500′ and kids are showing up in unlaced tennis shoes with flat soles. So we did a shakedown on the morning of departure and pulled from our bag of extras the requisite gear: hats and gloves and jackets. Oh my.

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Nathaniel’s acocunt of trip is as follows:

We started hiking up Mt. Moosilauke from the Ravine Lodge. It was cold and windy and we were dressed in layers—two layers on the bottom and three on top. I carried a backpack with food and extra clothes. The trail was very rocky and there was a little bit of snow on the ground. After about thirty minutes, we stopped and waited for the rest of the people to come. There were signs that said “last sure water” and “Elevation 3300 feet. We sat on a granite rock and ate our snacks and drank water. Then Sebbi, Jamie, Traven, Miles and my dad went down to meet the rest of the group. Then we ran for a while up the trail. The higher we hiked, the more snow there was, and the trees changed as we went up the mountain. And I saw evidence of fir waves up high on the ridge. We kept hiking until we reached a point where there was as view. We could see the lodge far below and the round hills were brown and orange and the tops of the highest mountains were covered with snow. Then we got to a point where my dad said we had only fifteen minutes before our turn around time. My dad asked if we wanted to drop our packs and run up to the summit. We did and we ran on the single track trail through dense trees with rime ice and snow. We broke out into the open and there were only small trees close to the ground. At some points the snow was drifted and up to our knees. We ran and climbed up the boulders to the 4800 foot summit. At the summit we all took off our shirts and waved them around like flags. Then we stood at the very top and my dad took pictures. When we started running down we met part of the group, who wanted to go up, but they had to turn around. We all hiked back down to our packs and waited for the group. We then asked if we could run down. So Sebbi, Jamie, Miles, my dad and I ran all the way down to the lodge. When we got the lodge we put on dry clothes and sat by the fire. Dinner was served and we first had garlic bread and then soup. Then they brought out macaroni and cheese and broccoli. After dinner, the lodge workers came out and introduced themselves. One of the workers showed us how a bird dipper worked—something even Albert Einstein could not figure out. Then we headed back to our bunk house. The bunk house was very small and very cold. There were twelve bunks. We all went to sleep. I woke up and my nose was very cold. It was about 20 degrees. Early the next morning we packed our stuff and headed over to the lodge for breakfast. Then we drove to the Flume. The flume is a gorge that has a river running through it. The gorge was made by magma that was eroded away leaving the harder granite on the side. The flume was for me really amazing, especially how it was formed. We walked up the middle of the gorge and we saw another deep gorge and pools of water, a small cave called the wolf’s den. Inside the den was damp and dark. You had to crouch to walk though it. On the last part of the trail there were giant glacial boulders that were left behind when the glaciers melted.

The trip to Mt. Moosilauke and the Flume showed us a lot about New England and its natural history and geology.

His sequences of then are wonderful–the narrative of an almost thirteen year old boy who clearly enjoyed a day out under a grey sky with a dad whose presence made the summit possible (let’s drop the packs and run!) and who gamely separated out the five kids who wanted to run down the icy and rocky trail to the lodge.  And I love that last sentence: offering itself up as a dutiful coda to an essay written for a teacher.

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The bare upper bodies of young boys on a calm thirty degree summit in the White Mountains of New Hampshire.

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The well insulated body of the chaperone on a calm thirty degree summit in the White Mountains of New Hampshire.

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I was reminded on the trip what Thoreay said in his essay Walking. “Methinks we might elevate ourselves a little more.”

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Of course Thoreau, as always, has bigger fish to fry, in this case wholly appropriate to the experience these kids might not know they are having. Here is how he puts it in one of his indelible passages from Walden:

We must learn to reawaken and keep ourselves awake, not by mechanical aids, but by an infinite expectation of the dawn, which does not forsake us in our soundest sleep. I know of no more encouraging fact than the unquestionable ability of man to elevate his life by a conscious endeavor. It is something to be able to paint a particular picture, or to carve a statue, and so to make a few objects beautiful; but it is far more glorious to carve and paint the very atmosphere and medium through which we look, which morally we can do. To affect the quality of the day, that is the highest of arts. Every man is tasked to make his life, even in its details, worthy of the contemplation of his most elevated and critical hour. If we refused, or rather used up, such paltry information as we get, the oracles would distinctly inform us how this might be done.

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