By Ira Smith
While looking out Mother’s kitchen picture window, I am eating breakfast of eggs-over-light and toasted English muffins with pockets of real butter and spread with Mom’s homemade raspberry jam. The sun is rising on this early November day casting an aura over everything. Our distant neighbors’ house across the street glistens like hard-packed snow framed with fiery red maples against a clear blue sky. For the first time in 40 years I notice the simple beauty of their modest home.
Last night I came home from a solo, two-day, 25-mile, four-mountain trek over Colvin, Blake, Grey and Marcy - one step closer in my quest to be an Adirondack 46er, that is, one who has climbed all 46 peaks over 4000 feet. After my mother’s pot roast supper and a hot soak in the tub, my legs still ached and I was having chills from being wet with perspiration during the last two miles at dusk. I crawled into bed, closed my eyes and saw endless miles of rocky, root-filled, muddy, monotonous trails, anticipating my destination around the next bend which never materialized. My mind would not let go! When I finally dosed off, one leg would suddenly twitch, followed by a whole-body lurch. After this cycle repeated a couple of times, I fell into fitful sleep filled with a hodge-podge of dreams.
When I awoke this morning, I felt like I had partied too much. I couldn’t stand the thought of breakfast, much less, the thought of ever climbing another mountain. Setting the table, brewing coffee, getting milk and eggs out of the fridge and frying the eggs was a chore, every movement hurt. This hangover subsided as I sat in the padded kitchen chair and sank my teeth into a muffin. I felt something sweeping through me, a surge of warm blood coursing through my veins. No words can capture this being-filled-with-the-spirit feeling. I was “basking in the afterglow!”
In the afterglow, all discomfort is filtered out: stiff knees and sore ankles, stabbing pain
between the shoulder blades from heavy pack, and dull headache from not drinking enough water and not getting enough sleep.
In the afterglow, I forget my dirty skin, my scraggly beard, my scratched and bug-bitten legs and blisters on my feet. I forget the crass taste of canteen water, the indignities of making toilet, the soggy trail meals and the feel of cold, damp boots in the morning.
In the afterglow, there are no thoughts of cripple brush ripping my poncho and exposing me to chilling rainwater captured in its needles. Vanished, are memories of standing on a barren summit shaking uncontrollably as the wind sweeps across my sweat-soaked shirt sucking the heat out of my body.
In the afterglow there is a healing of the memories. The trails have dried up and leveled out, the slopes are gentle and inviting, there are no rocks and tangled roots to trip on, and the paths are carpeted with sweet-smelling needles of balsam.
In the afterglow, I marvel at the sundown display. The glorious panorama from the summit is mine. I own it! Later, down at the lean-to, the evening wind has subsided, the campfire is cheery and warm, and the supper is tasty. The gurgling brook sings an evening lullaby and I drift off to restful sleep on my bed of hemlock.
I am on my second cup of coffee now, perfectly content to sit and gaze out the window and write in my journal, to jot down every thought before it evaporates. I reread the trail guide and study the trail map to review where I have been, examining each graceful contour line for they symbolize the harmony and flow of the peace that dwells within me.
That’s how it is, basking in the afterglow! My mind is clear and perceptive. I see beauty in everything – the eggs-over-light beside the English muffins, the mug of cream-tinged coffee, the goldfinch on the bird bath beneath the white birches, Mother’s geraniums beside the loose-brick fireplace, and my neighbors modest white house up across the street.