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.
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.