Several years ago I hiked Mount Lafayette in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. That trip stood out for a number of reasons, but most importantly, I was able to reconnect with what was important to me. I did some thinking about my need to seek out ways to find peace, and I reminded myself of why it was so important to find that peace. Finding some kind of peace has been a dominant theme in my life since my brain injury, and although I go astray at times, one of the truths of my life is that I always need to return to it.
After I parked my car, I took the trail from the parking lot that wound around a ridge, and hiked about three miles up to the AMC Lodge, where I was going to be staying for the night. The Lodge sat just a little ways below tree line, and afforded great views of both the Notch across the way, and the long summit ridge to the east.
A special moment came for me after dinner, when I grabbed my headlamp and hiked about halfway up to the summit of Mount Lafayette. I sat on some rocks a few hundred feet above tree line and watched as the sun set. The sunset was not spectacular by any means, in fact it was kind of run-of-the-mill, but I was reminded how something so ordinary can be so special when experienced in the right frame of mind.
Above tree line the world changes; things become much more fragile. As the elevation increases and the environment becomes harsher, the trees become smaller until they are only dwarf shrubs, while the other vegetation consists of perennial grasses, mosses, lichens and other low-to-the-ground plants.
The landscape becomes otherworldly.
Another piece of unreality above tree line is that wind blows constantly, mercilessly. In fact, the day after I was there, there were hurricane force gusts on the summit. The wind blows and blows with nothing to knock it down or slow it up, and it helps create this great landscape.
Up there above tree line the only thing I could hear was the wind, and I could hear different dimensions to it. I could hear the winds that smoothly blew the grasses into flowing waves. I could hear another level of wind that gently rustled the brittle leaves of the low bushes, and there was still a third level of wind that swirled up by my head.
That was all the sound there was. The only humans within several miles of me were in a hut about 1/4 mile away, so it was just me and the wind. I listened as it bobbed and weaved around me. I thought of how great it was to be up here, away from the crowd of people who wanted something or wanted me to be a certain way, and who overstimulated me and sometimes confused me.
As the sun dropped lower, a single bird began to sing a song, and although I wasn’t familiar with it, I felt it was for me and me alone.
This was the peace I had come to find, that I need so much in order to invigorate me. So often the world confuses me or overstimulates me, and I just want a vacation from all the noise and the commotion. I want to be in a place where it is still and it is quiet, except for maybe the white noise of the wind: a place where I am left with my thoughts. Sometimes I think of it as wanting to be back in a coma, which is a very strange thought indeed.
Dusk was gaining. I turned my headlight on and I hiked down to the hut in the darkness. When I got back to the hut there were a few people outside who commented that they had wondered what that mysterious light was bouncing down the mountain, but then they saw my headlamp and laughed.
I always want to have that up that “above tree line” feeling, but I know I can’t. I want to be above it all, listening and watching for the little things that are so special, and I want to be where the air is clear and it is peaceful. Somehow I need to integrate that into my life, but how can you be down there and up here at the same time? I don’t know if there is a way, but at least I know those things are here, and that my own tree line is waiting for me. Maybe someday I can be at peace in the world, but right now I just need to be above that line, where I can be clean and clear.