I’ve been practicing a new skill. I’m learning to reach out to the world around me and embrace it. Which is why, after working the overnight shift in the ER, I wasn’t napping as I waited for my friend to join me at Acadia National Park.
The sound of the crashing surf drew me down the stairs to Sand Beach. My face tingled in the moist salty air and I breathed deeply feeling the ocean energy flow through me, chasing away the last vestiges of sleep.
The sea glowed a mystical green as she sent her waves rolling toward me. I stood for several minutes and watched them swell, rising to a crest that, for a moment, opened a window to the world beneath the surface before transforming into a bubbly white foam as the water crashed against the golden sand and rushed back to the sea. It would be easy to spend my day here, but instead I forced myself to turn away. Today is not about the sand and sea. It is about challenging my muscles as my hands grip the rocky surface and my legs carry me forward and up. I turn my back to the sea and join my friend, together we begin the first phase of today’s journey—The Beehive.
I step along the strategically placed rocks that form the beginning of the trail.
The sun filters through the aspen and maple that stretch toward the sky on either side of me. I can’t help but reach out and runmy fingers along their trunks as I pass.After a few minutes of easy climbing, we reach a marker. Despite the yellow sign warning of narrow ledges and steep climbs, I veer away from the easy route that skirts The Bowl to ascend the backside of The Beehive and set my feet on the path to ascend the face of the mountain.
Here the trail turned into a combination of scrabbling over boulders and making our way along the narrow ledges. As I hugged the rock wall to work my way around a sharp bend in the ledge, my friend spoke behind me.
“I don’t think I can do this.”
And this is where I learned something new about my friend. I learned that she (along with about 5% of the general population) suffered from Acrophobia—the fear of heights. While I was taking in the view and enjoying the climb, her terror had silenced her. That silence hadn’t been a signal to me, because when we’ve hiked in the past, we’d often walked side-by-side along the trail, breathing in the fresh air and listening to the sounds of the forest.
I heard the tremble in her voice and I turned. Her face was flushed red and her hand shook as she clutched the rock wall. I looked down, we really weren’t very far
along and we could turn back. I looked up at the ledges, rungs and rock scrambles ahead of us and did what any good friend would do. I encouraged her on. I talked non-stop about how beautiful it will be when we get to the top. I coached her around tight ledges and coaxed her up ladder rungs, until finally we reached the top.
Below me, the mystical green sea had transformed into a sparkling ocean of blue diamonds. The beach that I’d stood on that morning was only a strip of golden sand. I paused and watched the waves crash against the shore.
After soaking up the sun on the rocky summit of the Beehive, it was time to continue our trek. Stubby pines and bushes covered with dark blue berries bordered the trail. I held one of the berries in my hand. It looked like a blueberry, but I’d never seen one so dark.
There’s a comradery among hikers, even day hikers—an opportunity for brief encounters among strangers connected by their appreciation of the natural world. And it was through this connection that I learned that the dark berry in my hand was a huckleberry. Curious, I popped it into my mouth.
I don’t like huckleberries.
The Bowl is a serene body of water nestled at the base of the surrounding peaks. Pale purple aster grows along the banks and tiny fish dart about beneath the surface. It’s a peaceful place and I could have spent the rest of the afternoon there.But my goal was to reach the summit of Champlain Mountain, so I turned away from the water onto what I, at that time, believed was the trail.
A red squirrel chattered and scolded me as it raced up and down the trees along the trail. I realize now, that he was warning me that I was off track. But I pressed on. Before long the ‘trail’ tapered off and disappeared. I backtracked, looking for a blue blaze, then gave up all together and tromped onward to what I at that time believed was Champlain Mountain, puzzled as to why I couldn’t find the trail.
It was a fun hike, scrambling up the occasional boulder, weaving around huckleberry bushes and enjoying the artwork of nature on uprooted tree stumps faded gray but the wind and sun. When I reached the top, I did what I should have done as soon as I lost the blue blazes. I took out my map.
As I looked across at The Beehive, then down to The Bowl and realized I’d gone right when I should have gone left. I led the way back down the mystery mountain, past the screeching squirrel to the water’s edge, then onto the clearly marked trail to Champlain Mountain.
I walked along the double-plank trail alongside the water, enjoying the shade from the maple, pine and aspen that towered over me.Before long, my friend and I left the flat ground and began our ascent up and over rocky boulders. To the delight of my good friend, there were no ledges here. Scattered stubby pines, huckleberry bushes along with the occasional low growing blueberry bush dotted the landscape.
A tiny maple, that somehow managed to root in the rocky terrain put on an early fall display of red-orange leaves. In the sky above, three vultures circled. We crossed a long flat stone clearing where cairns led us on toward the peak.
I looked out at the five Porcupine Islands and realized once again, I wanted more time in this beautiful place. I could spend a year here and still not experience the full splendor of Acadia National Park.
The comradery of hiker’s failed me when I tried to convince my friend to take the Precipice Trail down and follow the road back to the parking area. Without fail, every one of them advised against using this as a downhill route! So we followed the guidance of those who’d experienced the trail and made our way back along the now familiar trail to the trailhead.
Although my friend had to return home, she followed me to the Blackwoods Campground. I said my goodbye, then set up my tent. I always feel a little giddy when I manage to get my campfire going, so I settled onto the ground to watch the fire, mesmerized by the flames as my burger sizzled on the tinfoil covering the grate.
With my belly full, I dug my laptop out of my car and leaned back against the trunk of a tree and worked on Whispering Spirits, the sequel to Troubled Spirits. After all, what better place to work on a ghost story set in the Maine woods!
As always, I slept soundly in my little tent.