There are different kinds of walking pilgrimages. I certainly know many people who take them. The traditional Camino de Santiago--in all its variations--is popular among the Christians. Others--like the Muslim Haj--involve walking of another sort. That said there are other journeys that are less explicitly attached to a tradition but still carry a special meaning. For example, a year ago my son finished through-hiking the Appalachian Trail. The people who I know that have taken that journey describe it as spiritual and life-changing.
The key element is that the walk tells a story with both external and internal elements. To the extent that it does this, it can be considered a pilgrimage of sorts. I wrote about this elsewhere so I will cease traipsing down that road. All I want to say is that--among other things--climbing the 48 4,000 footers of New Hampshire over the last two years (from August 21, 2021 to August 27, 2023) constitutes a pilgrimage for me. Yes, this project was shoehorned in among other challenges of life. Also, it accounted for only about half the hiking I did during that time. Still, it counts as a pilgrimage. There was intention in the undertaking that included a desire to get out in order to take part in Creation.
I am listing the mountains in a series of posts in the order that I hiked them. In some cases there are specific articles or videos, which I will link to with minimal comment (the links are in "Longer Video"). Others I never got to writing about. They may get a paragraph or two. Any way, it is a record of a pilgrimage of sorts for people who might want to do the same or, at least, to know that it is done. At the very least I want to remember. This is the easiest way I can manage.
A Rough Beginning:
One thing that joins this first batch of hikes together is the simple fact that I shouldn't have done them. Right before the pandemic I injured my back. As the plague wore on, the pain became so bad that I could not walk more than a few feet before curling up in a ball on the floor. Many people never noticed, of course. All the world was separated by a disease. Technology--like zoom and video worship--meant that no one had to witness anything other than what I curated for the public. Still--just like everyone else--there was a lot going on. Also I was depressed...but who wasn't.
Anyway, eventually medical people could see me in person and it was decided that I should have surgery. I did this and it was a spectacular improvement! Having spent the previous year or so on my back watching YouTube hiking videos I was ready to go. However...rehab was slow. I was weak and there were stitches to worry about. I really should have taken my time. That said, Allison--my wife--had been climbing the 4,000 footers of New Hampshire and I wanted to spend time with her. FOMO is real, folks. So I began before I should have. All of these hikes were really difficult. Still...I made it didn't I?
Moosilauke #1 (August 21, 2021)
This was a mess of a hike. I made it to the top OK but felt miserable on the descent. There is a long post if you want more details. I am told it is a great mountain and I remember the views being spectacular. I think it may be a while before I climb it again, however.
Mount Cannon #2 (August 27, 2021)
This hike felt arduous at the time. Mostly I remember the first time involving falling down more than I would like. This was true for all of these. I really couldn't twist because of the risk of damaging the surgical area and the still-healing part of my back and spine. This meant just letting gravity take me and hoping for the best. The results were--thankfully--mostly comical. What a sketchy thing to do though...
The Tripyramids #3 & #4 (September 6, 2021)
All I have to say about this is that I weirdly had a good time. I must have looked pretty pathetic--I basically crawled up the mountain in the rain--because after we were done Allison suggested that perhaps mountain climbing wasn't for me. However, it was the first post-surgery hike I enjoyed at all.
Mount Tecumseh #5 (September 10, 2021)
Longer Post (including a later winter video)
This was my first solo hike of the 48! Most of these hikes were with people. However about a third of my hiking is by myself. I am also working on the "52 With a View" list. I do plenty of climbing in Massachusetts and some in Maine. Many of those are weekday trips when I duck out on my "clergy sabbath". I LOVE Mount Techumseh.
Mounts Tom, Field, Willey #6, #7, #8
(September 27, 2021)
This felt ambitious when we did it. It was a long loop with limited views. At the end we added Mount Avalon--a 52WAV mountain--which made the long hike beautiful. The hike still falls in the "shouldn't have done it" category, but I did feel like I was getting better.
Galehead and Garfield #9 & #10 (September 28, 2021)
The "longer post" is pretty thorough. The day after Tom, Field, Willey, and Avalon, we went up Galehead, thinking that was it for the day. Instead we kept on going for a singularly long haul that ended in the dark. Garfield was beautiful. Galehead was a slog. After this hike--while I wasn't really physically up to snuff--I stopped worrying about whether I could make it up or down. Future hikes indicated this may have been a mistake. Still, this is the end of the "first phase".
A couple months ago I had to admit that my sabbatical is over. All the signs are there. I am not zipping off to go climb mountains. I am not writing for my own enjoyment. I am not in some expensive training. I haven't made a video in some time--though I did experiment with Tik-Tok and might go back...I guess.
Mostly it is work now. Church work is good work, of course, and I love being a pastor. Still...my energy is going into that work instead of where I have put it for discreet blocks of my time over the past year. Now it is going into programs and preaching prep. It is going into integrating what I have learned about myself and about the ministry. Honestly the spare time that I could use for writing is spent staring out the window or watching TV. My brain is full. It needs time to digest.
Still, things did happen over the summer. There was a great deal of hiking in July. It was carefully scheduled and arranged between floods and rain. Some of the hikes were epic and grand. Others were pedestrian and brief...but better than being indoors. Allison finished her NH 48 4,000 footers in July...and I have only one left. I will say that I didn't do much filming on those hikes. Again, my brain is full enough and I just wanted to experience them. I didn't even really take many pictures.
August--thanks to rain, work, and family commitments--did not center around the trail. We did take a road trip, though. We went back out to the Midwest where we moved after college so that I could go to seminary. The seminary was in Chicago, where I got my Master of Divinity and later my Doctor of Ministry degrees. It is also where Al decided to become a social worker.
That isn't where we went on this trip. We went to Detroit and its environs, where I interned long ago. The reason was to participate in my friend Shane Montoya's installation at the Congregational Church of Birmingham. The area has changed over the last 20 years, for good and for ill. It was, however, wonderful to see friends and to inhabit old haunts where we once belonged a lifetime ago. In between we hung out with my farthest flung brother and sister-in-law with stops in State College PA both heading out and heading back. Then to Newport and New Bedford to see our eldest who lives and farms on the south coast. Life does, indeed go on.
Now we are back. I am getting back to church and preparing for the big fall opening as I have for two decades at Eliot Church and half a decade elsewhere before that. However, it is hitting differently this time around. I have become a creature of habit. I hit the gym more than I did before. I still get out on walks whenever I can. My garden is the best it has ever been.
Every day there is a project. I harvest, plant, and re-pot frequently. Occasionally I mend things. This is new. I have never been a handy person. Now I sometimes repair, re-string and play cheap instruments at the shed table where I take care of garden needs.
The church has a great deal to figure out. I do too. Not the least of these "figuring" has to do with this Sabbath Walks blog. I do not know what it will become. I have many potential posts, though...if I can find the time. Some are about hiking. Some about the garden. Some are about the spiritual life. Some about folk music. I guess we shall see won't we? I have to do some emptying first.
Hiked On: June 4, 2023
Edward Everett Hale was a Unitarian minister and 19th Century man of letters. He was most famous for his short story "Man Without a Country" that served as a teaching tool for American middle schoolers in the 1980's. It is just OK. I have gotten more joy out of his memoir "James Russell Lowell and His Friends." As one of those friends, Hale is able to breathe air into the period. He is nostalgic, intellectual, wry, and moving. This is more his speed than didactic tales of place and patriotism.
Hale also loved the outdoors and the White Mountains in particular. He would travel up north every summer, leaving his family in Rhode Island to explore the wilds of New Hampshire. No doubt the landscape appealed to him. He had romantic, transcendental leanings after all.
He also had a mistress living in Intervale, the not-coincidentally obscure Harriett Freeman. Freeman was a conservationist and botanist who made substantial contributions to Hale's work. She was an intellectual--like the already married Hale--and they hit it off first in the world of ideas. Both her collaborations with Hale and her own work were suppressed after Hale's death out of respect for his wife and children. Only recently have people begun to tease out her contributions.
While she had attended Hale's church as a child--there is something to unpack--he was 62 when the affair started. Freeman was 37. Their relationship lasted for 25 years.
The free-thinking Hale was also a chauvinist. In my Sunday School curriculum about the Universalist minister and suffragist Olympia Brown I teach that Hale liked neither Universalists nor women clergy. He wrote to Freeman "1. I dislike Universalists. 2. I hate women preachers. 3. A Divinity student, who is a woman, is worse than a preacher proper. 4. A conceited person kills me." All this because he had to spend time on the train with someone who was definitely numbers 1 through 3. Whether she was also actually number 4 is lost to history. Like I said, Hale was a pig.
I do not know Freeman's opinion, but it is probably safe to say she was at least sympathetic to Hale's position. Like many wealthy Bostonians--and wealthy Boston Unitarians--she had a number of blind spots herself. She was into eugenics in a big way. She belonged to the racist Immigration Restriction League. She took part in the anti-suffrage movement and also the DAR. These two weren't exactly the ideal couple for a costume-drama romance, which is probably why no one has attempted it.
Anyway, that is plenty to think about when hiking Mount Hale, one of the 48 4,000 footers of New Hampshire and my 40th. As these hikes go, it is short and straightforward, which is why I didn't make a video. The 4.4 mile round trip is best saved for a rainy day. There is no view from the top. Our trip included a little June snow, which reminded us of the strange weather these mountains produce. Mostly, though, it was a pretty walk on a drizzly day with other peak-baggers who had the same idea.
It would not have been like this for Edward and Hattie. They would have trudged up this mountain some time after the devastating forest fires of 1886. That year a passing train sparked and burned out the entire Zealand Valley. The place was still being described as a "desolate burnt wilderness" as late as 1907. It is entertaining to think of the two of them up there in their awkward 19th Century hiking clothes that look like party clothes to us. They would have had spectacular views of the many larger mountains around them, which they probably also hiked.
For us, though, the way was lush and green. We looked down at the flowers and foliage near our feet. We paused by Hale Brook. In is interesting to think that the reason for the lack of view may be traced to Hale and Freeman themselves. After all, they were dedicated conservationists at the beginning of that movement. I liked it this way just fine.
Would I recommend it? Absolutely I would. The forest it passes through is lovely. There is the brook that provides spots for reflection and a near-constant soundtrack. Then, when you are done, you have plenty of time for a leisurely lunch at one of the many good restaurants within driving distance. You can have a romantic chat about ideas if you wish, like a 19th Century thinker. You could also just talk about the hike and make plans for more. I have done both. If you are looking for a brew pub for this talk--and we frequently are--both Reklis and One Love fit that bill nicely.
As you walk and later relax with whatever post-hike ritual suits you, also give a thought to the humans of the past
that this mountain reminds us of. What a complicated bunch! You can also give a thought to the humans of today, too. We met many on this trail oblivious to the foul weather on a snowy summer day and fully alive in the midst of the abundant wild around them.
Hiked on May 28, 2023
We were dreading this one a bit. Owl's Head Mountain is on New Hampshire's "48 4,000 footers" list. To climb it you must walk nine miles into the forest and then turn back around. The views are scant. The footing is just OK. Also--since some of the trails are unmaintained--there is the possibility to get turned around or lost. It is an exercise in perseverance. It is a test of your physical endurance and your ability to move about in the forest. The reward is...well...you get to bag the peak.
For me, this hike came at a moment of transition. I know I talk about this elsewhere, but I have a great deal going on. Much of it is life-stage stuff. Our eldest is in the process of moving out. Middle Son--who was the subject of many unschooling posts in my previous weblog--graduated from college the day before Owl's Head. Our youngest was in Kentucky competing in high school debate nationals. Also, there are vocational concerns for me. My rapidly-ending sabbatical has been about transitions. What will happen to the church in general? What will happen to the church I serve? In spite of plenty of thought and study...I don't know.
Anyway, what a great time for a walk in the woods. Nature, too, is in flux. Even without the brutal destruction of ecosystems. Change is in its nature when left alone. Out in the "wilderness" we can look around and see that living things grow, live their assigned cycle, and die.
The natural world reminds us that we are a part of it. We are presented with the fact that the continuous transition we witness and experience comes from being part of a whole vast organism. Our failing is when we lose track of this organism and start believe that we--the constituent parts--are the beginning and the ending.
This hike was hard. When we got back, my legs--relieved at having to walk no more--cramped up for a solid 30 minutes. Sometimes you choose a high degree of difficulty because the the challenge reminds you that you can do hard things. By doing these things in isolation--away from the high stakes areas of love and regular life--we can get the practice we need. We can develop the confidence that perseverance and problem solving bring. We can look back and recognize that--while no true mountain is the hardest mountain we climbed--we did the deed. We realize we can keep going on with hope even when we do not know the way.
That was Owl's Head. It was a reminder that we are part of something much greater than ourselves. It was a reminder that--in this time or trail--I (we) can push on to whatever comes next. In the video we get lost and I lose track of time. However, I am glad we did it. I will be thinking about walking through that epic tree tunnel long after specific views on prettier, easier hikes are forgotten.
Hiked On May 21, 2023
I am an anxious hiker. Each big trip gets me worried about all the things that can go wrong. The list ranges from the practical and semi-preventable (like running out of water) to the possible (like an injury that requires immediate attention) to the statistically possible (bears). I worry about getting to the trailhead, getting actually lost (as opposed to just confused for a while), forgetting some item, or maybe a meeting back home.
Anyway, these concerns are compounded when the hike is long or complicated. They are also compounded when the people "in the know" are also worried. Enter the Wildcats. Wildcat "A" and "D" are both 4,000 footers. They are connected by an undulating ridge with two more "named" peaks and a number of unnamed prominences.
We worked our way up to this after the winter and...at least some worries were justified. Even though we took the smoother route up a ski trail, it was rough. There was a large, rapidly melting monorail of snow covering much of the ridge. There were patches of ice and water. Near the end--as we summitted "D" on our return--my surgically repaired back started to give out. I was not a happy camper.
That said, it was beautiful up there. The trees did their "tunnel effect" I have written about on Cube. The views--when we had them--were top notch. Stretches and food got me back from the brink in the end. It was a hike to remember...but not in detail.
If you watch the video you will note that I go on about the boring letter-based names and speculate as to why that might be. Later, it occurred to me that Wildcat Mountain isn't on Wildcat A, which is officially just named "Wildcat." Maybe that is why? Does the whole thing need to have the same name for marketing purposes? Anyway, just a final thought...
Hiked On May 13, 2023
I have been wanting to do this loop for a long time. It was on my list in the fall but got bumped because Allison and my brother Dan wanted to climb Adams and Madison. We did that and my knees still hurt today! This, however, is no walk in the park either. Sandwich Mountain is the tallest of the 52 With a View peaks and the star of the Sandwich Range. Noon is more of a ledge than a peak. Jennings is it's own thing--reachable by a spur off the main trail--and counts to the 52 on its own. This means plenty of elevation.
Also, there were tons of fallen trees on the trail. This happens sometimes. A storm will hit the side of a peak and chaos will ensue. Down below we hardly notice but up on the slope...wood starts swirling. This appears to have occurred some time over the winter. At times the trail was concealed and we needed to bushwhack a bit to find our place again. Still, the degree of difficulty did not conceal the beauty of the trip. It will be one of the most memorable and enjoyable hikes of the year I am sure.
I will let the video tell the story. That said, it was part of our slow increase in degree of difficulty after the winter. Allison had to take a break for graduate school stuff. I hiked alone in the snow during that time. Mostly I did smaller peaks. With snowshoes on I tend to be interested in high-satisfaction-for-effort hikes like Watatic. Of course, it has all been a workout for me!
Hiked on May 5, 2023
One of the ironies of our current hiking project is that I don't get out to western Massachusetts very often. Part of the reason is that it feels so far away from our home in the east. While it is closer to us than many of our New Hampshire hikes, it still feels farther. That said, we finally got out to hike the famous Mount Greylock. We had driven up--because that is a thing--but it was special take the slow route.
I am glad we did it. Greylock is the tallest peak in the state and, while it doesn't break 4,000 feet, it has the atmosphere of something larger. Our primary reason for choosing this particular day had to do with flooding in the north. All these big mountains release massive amounts of melted snow this time of year. Greylock does too. However there had also been massive amount of rain in northern New England making both hiking and driving difficult. The southerly position of our hike today meant that not only did we not have much rain, we also were on a peak where the snowmelt had already occurred.
So... here is our hike! I highly recommend it, particularly if you live in the Bay State. We have many pretty and impressive natural sights that sometimes get neglected for what is right above us on the map. We should be proud of what we have!
HIKED ON APRIL 29, 2023
Stinson is considered one of the easiest hikes on the 52 With a View list. It is also one of the closest to where we live. It made sense as a half day trip on a busy weekend as we prepare for bigger things. As I note in the video, lots of people don't particularly like it. It is a common compliant on multi-use trails that the hikers become a bit of an afterthought in winter. Also, mountains like this lose a bit of their "wild" feel when they are super-accessible. This is even more true on the famous mountains like Washington, so it isn't Stinson's fault.
That said, it was a lovely day for a walk. The leaves hadn't really even begun to appear, leaving the greens of moss and small flowering plants to distract us from the browns and grays. I go on quite a bit in the video about skunk cabbage. It is usually one of the first plants to appear after the snow. Finally, on a frustrating note, I lost my poles on Stinson and still haven't quite relaced them...
Hiked on April 15, 2023
It is fun to get to make a new post! Through the late winter I was mostly revisiting old hikes that I had already written up. Of course I made videos for most of them--which was different--but I just placed those vids with the older weblog entries. This hike, however, was a new one. Also...it was about a week late. We tried it the week before and the water was high. Instead of risking advanced wetness, we turned around and hit Hedgehog instead. Hedgehog is always a winner.
We changed strategies for this attempt. Instead of parking in the Hedgehog/Potash lot we pulled over next to an access road that avoids the stream. We were not the only ones, either. There weren't many of us on the trail, but those that were took this little detour. It isn't "cheating" of course. It feels a bit strange to be off the regular route. That said, when we have done this in the past--as with Carter Dome--it made the journey more interesting. In this case--having hiked a bit of the other way--I think it was a lateral move.
There are a number of Potash Mountains in northern New England by the way. The wood on this and other similarly named mountains (and lakes and streams) was used to produce a variety of potassium salts that were--and still are--used in products we use today. When I was in high school I was taught to pronounce this word with a long "o" sound. Of course, since the word derives from one of the earliest methods of obtaining these salts--soaking then burning wood in a pot--the short "o" is fine. My US History teacher Steve Morris would not approve of me going rogue like that. Therefore it's the o-sound of potassium in his memory for me.
This video is one of the shortest I have done. This is not a reflection of how I feel about the walk! The hike was lovely and the view was excellent. It is just that I didn't have much to say. I didn't have any special insights. Nor were the views all that different from what I had seen in other places. Allison and I have hiked quite a few mountains now. I, in particular, have been exploring the Sandwich range and its environs. Many of the peaks in the distance seem like old friends. I could see Hedgehog, Chocorua, the Sisters, Passaconaway, and Whiteface, among others. All of those were good memories. Some new mountains appeared--like "the Captain" and Green Cliffs. Both of those require bushwhacking to the summit. So I think I will enjoy them from afar.
I would recommend the trip to Potash. Just don't climb it right after Hedgehog.
In my previous post I wrote a bit about the "whys" of the process of making youtube videos. You should probably check that out for more information. That said, the reasons are pretty basic. One is that they provide a creative outlet for me. They are a way to generate a dialogue with nature and with others who might be interested in the experience. Also, this experience is a bit of an experiment into the possibilities for spiritual communities, who will increasingly find themselves in need of creative ways to reach out beyond their doors.
In addition to the previous post, you might be interested in the reasoning behind the initial project or my attempt at a method for sabbath walking, which underlies a lot of this work.
However, what I would like to do in this post is share some videos, talk about my motivation to make them, and discuss a little about what I have learned from them. I will be going in reverse chronology--most recent to least recent--as it may help to set where I am now before talking about where I have been.
Mount Watatic in Winter:
This video is fairly typical of what I have been trying to do. The format is fairly well established at this point. It opens with a description of why I am hiking the trail and what I--or we--hope to see. I also talk about my relationship with the walk. In this case I am climbing my favorite mountain. Earlier hikes up Mount Watatic helped me to refine my thoughts on mindful walking.
Technically there are still problems. While the music has improved a bit, I am still not a great musician. There are compression issues and sound issues, too. These are all problems that could be fixed with money...which I do not have. I am using my phone for all the elements of recording. I am using a fairly basic editing platform (Filmora) which is probably best suited for end-of-year high school slideshows. The musician is free. Also, I was not terribly satisfied with much of the footage I recorded initially. It took quite a bit of work to tell this story.
Mount Kearsarge (South) in Winter:
This video was fun to make because I had the company of my wife Allison! She did some recording of me and I could also record her. The addition of people--including an anonymous fellow traveler--gives the video more motion to carry the story. Also, while Watatic is important to me, one could argue that Kearsarge has more general importance. There were a lot of human (historical and artistic) resources for this video, which helped. The view from Kearsarge is also one of the best in New England.
By the time I got to this video I felt I had hit a wall technically. The music needed to be updated. You will hear some of these same cuts in every video as we go back in time. Why bother with music? It helps to move the story along. There are walks-and-talks that need a little something sometimes. There are moments when the view is the story and some framing is necessary. That said, it went together fairly quickly, which was nice.
Tecumseh in Winter
This was a fun one. I recorded it just a couple days before the Kearsarge hike so many of the points in that video are relevant here. I had a friend with me--Andy Linscott--and we knocked out one of our favorite 4,000 footers. Here we had the challenge of too many people, which made recording awkward at times. For some reason editing was a BEAST. You will note a couple spots where the sound gets clipped a bit. I will say that after this video I tried to develop a method for layering the various elements together; completing one layer before starting the next. The system is imperfect but having one was probably the adjustment that made the Kearsarge and Watatic edits go more smoothly.
Finally, this marks--I think--the ideal length for one of these videos. Keeping it Between 8 and 9 minutes tells the story before tedium sets in. I feel this way about sermons, too. However, it seems easier to stay tight when you have another hiker with you. My solo climbs are all a bit longer.
Poet's Seat, Deerfield, MA
I had the most fun making this video. It is different from the others in that the hike, itself is relatively unremarkable. Instead I spent time talking about the poet Frederick Tuckerman. He is relevant to the walk. Things don't always work out that way so I took advantage of the opportunity You will note there is no music in this. My one assignment from my son was to record voice overs instead of leaving long stretches of relatively silent (or scored) walking. Thankfully Tuckerman had enough poems to fill things in.
Also, this was the first time I used a tripod mount for my phone. This enabled me to film myself sitting and walking. It feels ridiculous while you are doing it. However, it does help to give motion to the narrative. This is a worthwhile practice...if you can avoid other people.
Starting Seeds and Hiking High Ledges
Before these videos--and you are welcome to look--my channel was mostly either panoramic views of mountains I climbed, sermons I wanted to share, or music from our various music ministries. I think one can also find some of the earliest pandemic worship services hosted here before we got the church youtube page updated. That was fun too. The services were even necessary. I do feel, though, that the two videos below mark the beginning of something new.
Like the pandemic worship videos, they are self-contained and internally consistent. The goal is not to record something and say "look what is going on out there." Instead they say "look what is happening right here." That is an important distinction between, say, an edited youtube worship video and a recording of a live-streamed worship video. The first has an immediacy. The second is a document of something that happened in the past. With these nature vids I am looking for immediacy. They differ from the pandemic material in that while they may be spiritual or even worshipful in some ways, they are not beholden to the traditional ideas behind those concepts. They are meant to have their own patterns and pacing because both the media and the context are different.
I am putting these two together because they show some of the same challenges. They are both too long, The planting video in particular drags in the middle and is saved by my cat. There are too many musical interludes in the hiking video and there is a sort of "reflection" bit that goes on too long at the end of both of them. I think that somewhere in my subconscious was the form of a traditional worship service. I wanted a "sermon" of some kind.
Still, I like them. They are watchable and they represent an effort to do something creative and new.
The struggle in all this video-making is the same struggle any artistic act has. I try--as in preaching--to ask myself how I am inviting others to inhabit this world I am presenting. After all, true inhabitation of life is part of the goal of a good sabbath. Putting yourself out as a religious or spiritual professional means building those bridges so that people may cross to that "place" (an emotion, idea, action, or actual place, for example) that we would like them to journey to and dialogue with.
The goal is not to impress others with your accomplishments or enlightenment, but to reach out to where they are and welcome them on the journey. It isn't what I see but what you see that is important. I am just pointing out good places or moments to begin.
This change in media has helped with this process of mindful composition. I hope to do more when I can. That said, I am back at work. Palm Sunday and Holy Week are on the horizon. These are steeped in tradition. It may be a while before the next great explore...
I am a full-time pastor in a small, progressive church in Massachusetts. This blog is about the non-church things I do to find spiritual sustenance.