Sunday, February 25, 2018

Little Rock Pond

Two of my sons hiked the Appalachian Trail in 2005. Georgia to Maine, 2200 miles. The trail has a culture, thru-hikes take 5 to 6 months, people get nicknames, only about 10% of the people that attempt it succeed in completing the trail each year.

I drove up to Vermont the week of 4th of July, 2005 and met them in Bennington. I hiked with them for a few days, spent 4th of July in a small town called Manchester Center. Sean got hurt doing a quarry jump and he left the trail for a few days to recover. Mike and some of the other hikers went on. On the day I had to leave them, I drove them out to the trailhead and hiked in with them two miles to a pond. It was supposed to a pretty place and it would be a place for them to take a break and for Mike and I to say good bye.

Little Rock Pond turned out to be a beautiful place. Here's someone's short YouTube video that shows the place in some detail.

It was July and hot, so everyone wanted to go swimming. Mike and I swam across the pond. A beautiful sky, cool clear water, green hills. As I swam back, I stopped and floated. I deliberately stopped and tried to capture the moment, the perfectness of it, to remember it so I could return to it in my mind. Then I went back, got out and got dressed. In the picture, the ripple just to the left of the reflection of the rock is Mike.

Mike swam back a few minutes later. We took a few more pictures, hugged, and I watched him hike away. I turned south, walked back to the truck, and drove home.
In October of 2015 I attended a martial arts seminar in Buffalo, New York. To make the trip worthwhile, I took a week off and after the seminar I went to Vermont for a few days on the Appalachian Trail. Having hiked north from Bennington to Manchester Center in 2005, I decided to kind of start where I left off.

I spent a night in Manchester Center, then early the next morning hiked north into the Green Mountains. All my kids were still alive. Mike, as far as I knew, had found a girl, moved to a beach town, and was considering if this was the one. The others were scattered to their adult lives as well. I was a happy man. I was 10 years older than I'd been when I'd last hiked with Mike, but I was in better shape. I had been working out, had lost 30 pounds, and had better endurance. Sometime the morning of the 3rd day of the hike, I came to Little Rock Pond again. It was the 7th of October, cloudy and cool.
I took some pictures, reminisced about being there with Mike, and thought that I would show him the pictures and talk about old times when we all got together at Christmas in a couple of months. Then I shouldered my pack and headed north. Just an older guy in his late 50s, enjoying hiking solo, and happy that his body would still let him take the strain.

Mike died in November of 2015, less than a month after I had been on my hike. I never got to sit and share my pictures and stories of my time on the trail. We had him cremated and the majority of his ashes were scattered in the Green River in North Carolina where he kayaked. That was an event shared with family and friends.

In December of 2015, just a month after Mike died, my mother got a cancer diagnosis that was terminal. She tried chemo for a while, but by the fall of 2016 she had opted into home hospice. I knew her time was short and was planning one more visit.

Once again I wanted to make the driving worthwhile. In October of 2016 I again attended the annual martial arts seminar in Buffalo, N.Y. and picked my hike up where I had left off. This time I was starting in Peru, Vermont and continuing north into bigger mountains, headed toward the New Hampshire border. The plan was to hike a week, stop and pick up my oldest son in Massachusetts, and then the two of us were going to go visit my mom in Maryland.

A small metal can rode in my pack filled with grey ash. It is in my pack now. It will go on every hike remaining to me.

On the fourth day of the hike as I came around a ridge I could see a town in the valley. Suspecting I might get a cell signal, I turned on my phone and there was a message from my sister. My mother had taken a sudden downturn and I should come as soon as. Calls made and details confirmed, I hiked harder than I have in many years, coming out to a paved road by mid-afternoon, a couple of miles past where I had intended to camp that night.

I got back to my truck and headed south, running the state road through all the towns I had hiked past. When I got near Manchester Center it was a strong pull to stop and hike into Little Rock Pond. Strong enough that I did, I had to. I took the can out of my pack, slipped it into my pocket, and hiked the couple of miles in from the parking lot.

When I got there the sky was clear and the trees were beautiful. The fall colors not quite at their peak, a mix of green still showing, but it was a day where the coming winter was in the air. I knew by now what I had come for. I took off my shoes and socks and waded into the cold pond. Opened the can and took some of Mike's ashes and scattered them into the crystal clear water. It was like it was what Mike wanted. I don't know, how can any of us know? But it felt right. It felt like something was completed.

I took some pictures, thought about my life, then turned south again, as I had in 2005, to go back to my truck and leave the trail. I picked up my oldest son and the next day we were in Baltimore. My mom was still awake, a little, but no longer coherent, when we got there. She died at home 4 days later.

It's funny when I think about it, a little pond in central Vermont. out of all the lakes and rivers along the Appalachian Trail, and this one I have been to three times. This one is fixed in my memory for the rest of my life.

This one is the place where I really said goodbye to my son.


Old NFO said...

The fact that it calls to you, and you've answered is clue enough. Losses are hard, but each of us copes with them in our own way.

The Mad Irishman said...

Wow, just wow. I'm glad you have some sense of closure, I'm still dealing (poorly) with dad's passing, perhaps someday soon I can have a moment like that. It's been over a year and I still haven't taken Seamus to the range with that AR I put together for him From dads upper and parts.


libertyman said...

A very touching and thoughtful tribute.

Skip said...

An hour before She died, I told Her, "I'll take you to the coast." She gave me a little smile.
I will too...some day.

Emmett said...

Losses are always hard, my prayers for you and your family.

Glen Filthie said...

It's good to go back to these old places and milestones and look for echoes of absent friends and loved ones sometimes. I still do it once in awhile too. Hang in there ASM.