Monday, September 26, 2005

Mt. Washington

I am gone away again… A broad gulf is spanned by a thin thread that bears the heavy contents of my heart…of my soul.

Today is Washington. We rise and prepare in silence, occupied with our own thoughts of the day ahead and what it will bring. You accept, when you plan for these wanderings, that you will be forced to find the place where that strength flows within you. This is a strength that has nothing to do with your muscles or your bones…it is the only strength that is real…that is permanent…the strength that is you in all truth and is your tie to the light. This is why we seek out these moments to wander. We discover ourselves, however briefly, exposed as we are and not as we appear in this world of lies and shadows.

The early morning in New Hampshire is cold this late in September. The air is crisp and inviting and it seems to clean your lungs as you take it in. This is not the hot diseased air of midsummer, but a cold drink that feeds you with every breath. We stop for coffee on the way to our hike. Our coffee has become as much a ritual as our review of the maps and our selection of the gear to be placed in our packs. The coffee is hot and steams deliciously in the cold air. I can feel the energy that it imparts as I drink it in. I think that, “I’ve never had a better cup of coffee.” I know this is nonsense and I know I will feel the same way as I sip my coffee before our next hike. Still, I am happy in my ignorance and I savor every drop of the warm brew as it chases the chill from my body.

We reach the trail and begin. Near the mountain, the air is even colder than in town and our fingers sting with the harsh wind. We stop and get gloves, which we promptly don to quiet the screaming needles in our fingers, it is 30° and the wind is strong and constant.

The opening of the trail lay before us, shadowed and inviting. As we take our first steps, I can feel that joy begin to well within me. The trail here is much like the trails in Maine and I wonder at the peace and permanence that surrounds us.

I can see her taking it all in; she has the eye of an artist and I hand her my camera so that she might capture some sense of the beauty in which we find ourselves. We cross a small bridge and a glimpse of red catches her eye as the trees

begin to take their fall colors. She pulls up the camera and saves an image of the moment; such a beautiful picture, yet such a pale shadow of the true beauty of this place and moment. Our conversation draws to how futile these attempts must be, of how impossible it is to share this wonder through any picture (or words that I write here). We express our regret that we can’t share this time with those we love and that so few will wander in our footsteps and feel what we feel. I say a silent prayer of thanks that I have this moment to add to those that fill my heart. The trail is steep, but very well maintained. We make time quickly and are constantly surprised by the speed with which we are gaining elevation. It is not long before I am bathed in sweat and I remove my flannel shirt, gloves and t-shirt. I place these items in my pack and she exclaims at the steam that comes from my body in the 40° mountain air. There has always been some type of furnace deep within me and the Under Armor wicks the sweat from my body as the cold air seems to keep the fire from burning me up. I re-shoulder my pack and we begin again. The woods here are ancient and the trees form both ceiling and walls to the trail as we continue our ascent up the mountain. We are bathed in that familiar green that I love so much. It filters all of the other colors as the rhythm always lies behind the tune of a beautiful song. I can feel the first protests from my legs at the exertions and I welcome the feeling as another familiar companion on these hikes. She is quiet as she so often is at these times and I wonder at what emotions are filling her. I am sure they are both similar and very different to mine and I am happy that she can take this time to fill that well from which her warmth is so freely given to everyone she knows or meets. I feel my own worries fall away as the rocky soil passes under my boots….no better therapy than this.

After some time, the trees begin to fail us. They rise to no more than ten feet as the elevation increases and we enter that strange middle-ground between the forest and the tundra like surface of the ridgeline.

As we come out of the woods, we are faced with a sheer wall of granite. The face of the cliff is lined with small waterfalls as the mountain’s runoff finds its way to creeks and rivers on its path to the sea. The wall is 1000 feet high. Here as nowhere else on this hike, we are faced with a physical representation of what we seek. By overcoming this mountain, we tap into that part of ourselves that will not fail us. We are given the opportunity to put our inner strength up against something meaningful and fulfilling; how much better this challenge than the meaningless trivialities with which we fill our days. The

path cuts along the perimeter of the cliff and we begin a very difficult and steep climb up the side of the mountain. At times like this, as your muscles scream at you for rest… the world narrows to that next step…that next step…that next step. The focus brings with it a certain clarity. I believe this is what long distance runners and other athletes strive for. It’s as if the world takes on a sharpness that we miss at other times in our lives… that can only be captured through this type of physical stress. I’ve never been one for running, but I can understand the addiction that runners get to this feeling. I think I know why they need to tramp away the miles in the rain and heat.

We top the cliff and the slope gradually tapers as we come to the ridgeline. She comments at the fact that the moon has accompanied us throughout this hike. In the clear blue September sky, it has been like a signpost ahead of us all morning. I snap a picture of it over the ridge as a reminder to us of this strange and comforting companion. It is good that moon is there to distract us.By now we are both quieting that voice inside us that is begging us to stop…to turn back…to give up this mountain. We can hear the screaming of our muscles and know how much more lies ahead of us. At least 1/3 of the mountain is still before us…and then the climb back down. We are 3 hours into what will be over 8 hours of hiking. In the uncertainty of what lies ahead, the next 5 hours seems endless. In some ways, however, this is the best of the trip. About a hundred feet up from the cliff wall, we find ourselves on the open ridgeline. The world is endlessly open to us on either side of the mountain.

From here, we can see four states, as well as the thin line of the ocean that lies 65 miles away. I am brought back to our time on Mt. Katahdin. There are no trees at this altitude and the world takes on the look of the barren lands of the far north (Alaska or Canada). Small scrubby plants make up the only vegetation and the rocks that pepper the landscape give it an otherworldly feeling. I know that she welcomes this part of the climb as much as I do. On the ridge, the path levels and the weary legs that have been protesting through the climb get a needed break before the final ascent to the peak.

There are many trails that lead up Washington and here they are marked by cairns of rock, rather than the common blazes that are painted on trees to mark the trails in the woods. The cairns stand as eerie sentinels lined across the desolate landscape. They are cruder than blazes and they give the ridge a very ancient feel. It is as if in climbing the mountain we are going back in time somehow. It is here that the surety of our success begins to sink in. We are kicking Washingtontoday. From now on, this mountain is ours. Washington will prove something less than Katahdin to both of us, but this is the highest peak on the eastern half of the country and our defeat of it is just one more deposit into that bank we will draw from when the next trial comes.

As we move toward the final slope, the strong smell of sulphur hits us. She comments on how odd it is to smell that in this desolate place. After several minutes, we find the source of the smell. They have built a Cog Railway to take sightseers to the peak of the mountain and we can see the plume of black smoke rise from the trees below as the train makes it way slowly up. It is perhaps 2000 feet below us still, but the stench of its exhaust is distinct in the otherwise clear/crisp air.An appreciation of the effort to share this wonder with others does not ease the feeling that the mountain has been somehow diminished by this invasion.

The climb to the peak…That last 500 feet seems like an endless distance as your muscles reacquaint themselves with the pain of strenuous activity. We run into a couple of Meteorology students from a local college. They come here as a class every year to climb the Mountain. There is a NOAA station on top of Washington and the climb has meaning to them in their study of weather as much as the experience of the hike has meaning to them as people. The weather on Washington is a marvel. This peak has the highest recorded winds in North America and the summit is frequented by snow and ice (even in the summer months). We talk with the students through the final climb, passing each other back-and-forth between our frequent breaks to rest the legs that want to buckle from beneath us. The conversation is friendly and carries something that isn’t generally there in the pleasantries that we have with other strangers that share our lives. As we all find ourselves here on this mountain, we understand that we share a bond of experience that separates us from others and that we’ll never be able to fully share with them. The short time that we talk seems much more meaningful than that pleasant conversation with the person in line for coffee on their way to the office. There are certain things that we know about each other just from our being here together. It is just one more comfort in our love of hiking…other hikers!

We reach the summit…Katahdin (where we hiked last year) had been a very spiritual place…

a very haunted and powerful place. There is no power in Mt Washington, save its eminence as the tallest of the mountains on the east coast. The summit houses a souvenir shop and a café. We drank coffee and had a chili dog as we rested and prepared for the climb down. This meal was one of the best I’ve had, probably more due to my hunger and weariness than to the actual quality of it. As much as we both enjoyed the food, we couldn’t shake the feeling that it was just WRONG for this to be here. I remember commenting that it felt like they had taken a Great Old Lady and dressed her in a mini-skirt. The mountain seemed violated in some way. She and I talked about the balance between sharing these natural wonders with people and destroying them through our efforts to make them accessible. I think we were both a little sad to have come through this experience only to find a souvenir shop at its end. I have no doubt that we will find ourselves on Washington again, but I know that this will not be one of our favorite destinations and I look forward to the other peaks throughout New England that wait for us. I fill our water bag, I must admit it is wonderful to be able to do this (and the water is ice cold). We take a few pictures at the top…collect a few rocks for our children and friends…and begin our climb back down.

Climbing down a mountain is much faster than climbing up. We spend an hour less going down Washington than we did climbing it. It is also, in my opinion, more difficult and dangerous. By now, our legs are truly spent. The climb down is something of a controlled fall and we must be careful to be slow less we find ourselves in deep trouble. Each step is a pounding on the knees and hips as our muscles can’t hold back the weight of our bodies and we pound down into our boots on every rock. The surety of our accomplishment helps as the path seems to magically stretch itself out endlessly before us. Somehow the trail-head never seems to get closer. This is a very quiet time for both of us and I know that our thoughts are focused on finishing. We begin to think of how good that beer will taste when we stop after the hike. Of how well this experience will sit among the memories that we build wandering this world and we mourn for those who choose the easier path. That this memory must be our own and that we can never really share it makes it both special and a little sad. We have found some of what so many people seek. Others have found this in other ways and other pursuits, but not enough of them. So many walk this world in quiet despair and it would be wonderful to be able to give to them a little of what we take from this mountain. This is not a gift that can be shared outside the circle of common experience…this is the bond of hikers.

Love to all! Norm.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

I'm ready for my close-up Mr. DeMille


I don't have a real high level of respect for most of the people wandering this crazy world, so I sometimes wonder why I still look for any approbation of myself from others. Maybe this is a sign of why I haven't yet moved on.

Funny thing happened to me last night...I was in class and we were asked to "Google" our names. I have googled myself many times and have never come up with me...there's some Architect with Norman Shaw in his name and he must have done some great things because he's all over the web. Funny but this always bothered me a little, like I didn't exist or do anything of any import. Anyway, last night we googled our full names (with middle initial). I got two real hits on myself! The first was from a research paper that I did with the advanced speech lab at Temple University. The second was from a study on ground-source heat pumps that I performed as a young engineer back in Florida. I can't tell you had good it felt to know something I had done was actually out there somewhere.

The Scottish Poet Robert Burns wrote for his own eulogy, "Here lies one whose name was writ in water." Obviously, Burns had a somewhat pessimistic view of his contribution to poetry. I think we all worry about our impact...we all look for our "15 minutes of fame"... I guess it's because we feel the need to know we've made a difference.

How lost we are when we don't realize that the most important difference we make is on the hearts of others!! I need to stop looking for approbation and acknowledgement for my accomplishments and start sewing seeds of happiness in the hearts of those around me! One of my favorite quotes is from The Catcher in the Rye:

"The mark of an immature man is his desire to die nobly for a cause..
The mark of the mature man is his desire to live humbly for one."

I am a bit of an arrogant ass, so being humble doesn't come easy to me. For now this will be my focus...this will be my goal. I'm not sure how many more lessons lie between me and the light, but I'm sure that this is one of the big ones that I haven't yet learned. Those of you who are close to me can help me...remind me when I'm being a bore and don't let me get too high on myself. Then just let me know you care.

Love to all! Norm.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Random Thoughts on Government

These are too good and true to my heart not to share.....Norm

I contend that for a nation to try to tax itself into prosperity is like a man standing in a bucket and trying to lift himself up by the handle.
...........Winston Churchill

A government which robs Peter to pay Paul can always depend on the support of Paul.
............George Bernard Shaw

Democracy must be something more than two wolves and a sheep voting on what to have for dinner.
..........James Bovard, Civil Libertarian (1994)

Foreign aid might be defined as a transfer of money from poor people in rich countries to rich people in poor countries.
............Douglas Casey, Classmate of Bill Clinton at Georgetown Univ

Giving money and power to government is like giving whiskey and car keys to teenage boys.
.............P.J. O'Rourke, Civil Libertarian

Government is the great fiction, through which everybody endeavors to live at the expense of everybody else.
.........Frederic Bastiat, French Economist (1801-1850)

Government's view of the economy could be summed up in a few short phrases:
If it moves, tax it. If it keeps moving, regulate it. And if it stops moving, subsidize it.
.............Ronald Reagan (1986)

I don't make jokes. I just watch the government and report the facts.
.............Will Rogers

If you think health care is expensive now, wait until you see what it costs when it's free.
............P.J. O'Rourke

In general, the art of government consists of taking as much money as possible from one party of the citizens to give to the other.
.............Voltaire (1764)

Just because you do not take an interest in politics doesn't mean politics won't take an interest in you.
..........Pericles (430 B.C.)

No man's life, liberty, or property is safe while the legislature is in session.
............Mark Twain (1866)

Talk is cheap ... except when Congress does it.

The government is like a baby's alimentary canal, with a happy appetite at one end and no responsibility at the other.
...........Ronald Reagan

The inherent vice of capitalism is the unequal sharing of the blessings. The inherent blessing of socialism is the equal sharing of misery.
...........Winston Churchill

The only difference between a tax man and a taxidermist is that the taxidermist leaves the skin.
........Mark Twain

The ultimate result of shielding men from the effects of folly is to fill the world with fools.
.........Herbert Spencer, English Philosopher (1820-1903)

There is no distinctly native American criminal class... save Congress.
..........Mark Twain

What this country needs are more unemployed politicians.
..........Edward Langley, Artist (1928 - 1995)

A government big enough to give you everything you want, is strong enough to take everything you have.
..........Thomas Jefferson

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

This World has Teeth

I am reminded of a wonderful book by Stephen King about a 9 year old girl who gets lost in the woods of Maine. King states that the experience showed the girl that, "this world had teeth and that it would bite you"...

A most of you have, I have been watching the devastation in New Orleans. I have seen the lives ripped apart by the disaster and the extent to which society in that city has collapsed. I always loved New Orleans. I used to go there on weekends when I was in college in Florida. It was always a good trip and a great time! I don't know what New Orleans will be after this disaster, but it can never go home again...any more than we can in this world.

We hear a lot at these times about could God let this happen!...God is punishing us for this or that!...Where is God for these people?

There are so many people that view God as some kind of crutch...a benevolent parent that should protect and care for us... God is in your heart (if he isn't, then you are part of the problem). The God that exists for those in the disaster is the God that comes to them in the hands of those who help. WE are the only God in this world.

The God of light and truth is not physical or material. This world is a lie that we must overcome to rejoin with God and ourselves. The love that exists here is brought by us. The world itself is has teeth and it will bite you. It is easy to look for something outside ourselves to come to the save us. How much harder to understand that we have only each other, especially when you realize that there are also people that have teeth and will bite you. Those of us who are of-the-light, who have the spark of love within us, must let it shine here to ease the pain of those who are wounded in this world.

There was an old Doobie Brothers song where Michael McDonald took the role of God and the Chorus represented us here on earth. McDonald states, "they have to find their way from here..." We are on a path home, but no one will show us the way. If we sit and wait for help, we are lost. Please get up and walk with me. If you see someone lost beside the trail, offer a hand and we'll all walk together. No one else will help us, but we can help each other. We are all of the same soul and we belong to each other...

If you don't believe any of that, just do it for the good Karma.

Love! Norm.