I commenced the second day of Christmas by discovering the Latin and colloquial names of my houseplants. Then I made coffee. Then I went for a walk. On my walk I started to make a plan for surviving the next two months. As you may have gathered from my previous post, I am not at my best in winter. I must find ways to move from one thing to another, to another...
There is no reason to delve too deeply into all that again. It is just a fact of life that requires a certain amount of organization. Organization, however, is something I am very bad at. So I have some time between now and Epiphany to figure out an approach. No doubt it will involve being out in nature. There will be hikes, of course. Also, my Christmas gift to myself was a stack of gardening books so I can solidify my gains from last year. I have a tab open with tomato seeds! For part of the season I will be working at a job I usually enjoy. Then--for a little while at the end when I am most despairing--I will be on sabbatical.
So much of this time can feel restrictive. Hibernation-brain is right there picking away at our resolve. The trick is not to keep busy for busy-sake but to find ways to be excited about...something, even though it might take a herculean effort to get going.
One of the the things I will try to do is make some "top" lists for the new year that I can share with you. It is actually a big help for me and, maybe, you will enjoy it too. The ranking lists for blog posts and such is canonically around "Mount Roberts Day" when I began this project. These ones are more specific to the background of the project. To start, here are the six (6) most influential books I used this year for planning hikes and walks or planning for planning...if that makes sense. Some are trail guides. Some are practical, and one is historical. They have all been consulted before, after, and during hikes. Some of them are quite beaten up now as they have lived for a time in my backpack. I will hopefully deal with more speculative books and maybe even equipment in later lists....
1) New Hampshire's 52 With A View: A Hiker's Guide by Ken MacGray.
Ok so I have talked about the New Hampshire and New England "Hiking Lists". They exist elsewhere of course, but I don't so these are the ones I know best. My favorite list is the "52WAV". They range from relatively easy--you do have to be in shape--to rather brutal. Each one, though, comes with a view. The list is subjective. It is curated by a committee and so far their taste in views has been spot on.
Ken MacGray is a bit of an insitution. He has worked on a number of other hiking books and runs the Facebook page for the 52 group. His prose is accessible and clear while also being entertaining. Even though I have climbed more 4,000 footers in New Hampshire--the 52's are a bit of a me project right now and I like to hike with people--this is my favorite book and my favorite list. Five stars, buy it. Start with Willard.
2) Climbing New Hampshire's 48 4,000 Footers by Eli Burakian.
Actually there are more that 48 4,000 foot mountains in New Hampshire so--while the 48'ers like to pretend at objectivity--this list is subjective, too. This is the basic book for the task of hiking all those mountains. It contains suggested routes and maps. Maps are a plus, by the way. MacGray's book assumes you have separate maps on you--and you should--but it is nice to have these as well. I have used the routes in the book when planning. Most of the time I have taken the exact route. At other times I have modified my route using another book--in the honorable mentions--and/or those maps. The text is brief and to the point, which I like.
3) Appalachian Mountain Club Guide to Winter Hiking by Yemaya Maurer and Lucas St. Clair.
I am in the process of re-reading this book right now. There is a great deal of difference between hiking in winter and hiking the rest of the year. It is imperative that we know at least the basics of what we are doing. I do not camp in winter, but those sections are good to be familiar with as well just in case you find yourself having to be out overnight. The presence of roads into the wilderness sometimes confuses us as to how at risk we are. Just because we can reach the foot of Presidentials in a couple hours does not mean we are strolling on the local rail trail.
This book covers the basics that one needs to know to be relatively safe and comfortable in the ice, snow, and dangerously low temperatures. There is some practical philosophy as well. I found the description and use of equipment, tips on reading the weather, and the basics of layering to be the most useful. The authors make you feel like you are part of a team, namely a team of prepared and educated winter hikers.
4) In High Places with Henry David Thoreau by John Gibson
This is the history book I was telling you about. It also has routes and maps! I am a big fan of Thoreau's writing--he will appear on a different list--and when I have managed to walk in his footsteps I have found this book to be indispensable. However, this is not a general book. The mountains picked are rather niche, thanks to the subject matter. Thoreau--who walked a great deal--needed to have spent some time writing about them in order for them to be included here. However, my readers will note the Thoreau-heavy blog posts for Katahdin, Washington, and Wachusett. I gotta get back out to Greylock, and when I do...this book is coming with me.
5) 50 Hikes in Massachusetts by Brian White and John Brady
Yes, there are hikes right here in the Commonwealth. When I feel like heading out but do not know where to go exactly, this is the book I take. I used it as recently as Thursday when I went to Leominster State Forest. Pretty much any hike in Massachusetts I have taken has been planned using this. It has maps but I often diverge a bit. This has nothing to do with their quality! It has more to do with my confidence with lower elevation hiking. I do, however, plan those alternate routes in advance as well...and I have detailed maps. Spontaneity isn't always a good idea in the wild.
Another great thing about this book is that it has many easier hikes. This, alone makes it worth having. Hiking doesn't have to be a toxic race to the highest, most dangerous peak. That is not very sabbath, after all...
6) Field Guide to North American Wildflowers: Eastern Region by the National Audubon Society
I picked this up out of envy. My brother Dan--who features largely in many of my posts--is a wildlife biologist. Hiking with him is a hobbit-like excursion where I follow him around as he identifies birds by their song, animals by their poop, and plants by their leaves, needles, bark, and roots. I wanted to get in to the game myself. What a great way to enhance one's dialogue with nature!
Anyway, I love this book. It takes a while to figure it out because it relies on the reader knowing at least the basics off what they are looking at. That said, I have enjoyed it during my sabbath breaks on smaller mountains. If you know anything from my various posts, sermons, and so on, you know that it is that it is OK to enjoy something you aren't good at. Also, I think it is helping me get better....
Here are two more that are deserving of note. The first is The 4,000 Footers of the White Mountains: A Guide and History by Steven Smith and Mike Dickerman. This thing is the Bible of the 48'ers. My wife swears by it. When I go off the suggested trail in the Burakian book, I always consult this. It only gets an honorable mention because I don't seem to use it as much. It is dense. There are no helpful maps. However, it has one big advantage that the other book does not; there is a winter description for each mountain. Had I consulted it before hiking Mount Jackson, I might have been more prepared for the icy ledge and the high winds that greeted me.
Finally, I wanted to mention the thin book entitled "Guide to the Wapack Trail" by the Friends of the Wapack. I have mentioned this trail before. It begins on Mount Watatic and runs to the Pack Monadnocks straight through some of my favorite landscape in the world. It is a long day hike--21 miles--or can be done in pieces. I would love to take a day and do it this year...
Anyway, that is all for now. You got me through my morning! I hope your Christmas is going well... :-)
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.