In late July the crickets start chirping again, announcing the height of summer in New Hampshire. Early mornings just feel different month-to-month. Sure, temperatures and the progress of the garden are a consideration, but beyond that the soundtrack at 5:30 is completely different in late July than it was in May or June. Its all different really, beginning with those crickets. But I’ve been here before, and know the seasons and the changes that will come over the next few months. Changes come, but its all familiar change.
Saturday, as I began my ascent above treeline, I took a few breaths of Balsam Fir-scented air and thought of Christmas. When you get up in between the boreal and alpine zones where the 4000 footers dance in the windblown snow and ice, the trees are stunted and twisted and tough as nails. Trees in this zone are called Krummholz, regardless of the species, and sometimes the term Krummholz describes this in-between zone too. At treeline they’re typically Black Spruce and Balsam Firs and a few adventurous others like an occasional birch looking for a way out of the madness it rooted itself to. Spruce are stoic but don’t flavor the air with aroma. Firs make you feel like its Christmas in July. Both struggle for footing and survival in the acidic, hard ground. I’m a guest in their home, and silently offer gratitude for allowing me a visit.
Hiking reinforces for me what I don’t know. I can sit in my backyard in New Hampshire and pick out different trees and birds and bugs and generally know what they are because I live with them every day. I can feel or hear the changes in seasons just by hearing some crickets announcing they’re back. But my visits to the mountains are infrequent in comparison, and I’m less familiar with the migration patterns of birds and the trees themselves across the northern forest. I heard a few bird calls on my last few hikes that are unfamiliar. I looked at the forest and sedges and rushes and Mountain Cranberries and recognize that I don’t really know them all that well and couldn’t tell you one from the other. I scanned the peaks on a clear day and recognize the famous Presidents, but not many of the others. I was in the same state (New Hampshire), but in a completely different state (uncertainty).
I’m feeling restless in the familiar lately – a sure sign that I need to get out and see more. A few hours in a different zone reminded me that the unfamiliar isn’t all that far away. And I’m reminded again of something Pico Iyer wrote that I quoted a few posts ago: “ecstasy” (“ex-stasis”) tells us that our highest moments come when we’re not stationary”. To honor the restless spirit inside of us and just get out there to find our highest moments. It seems a noble pursuit on this random Monday. The crickets have announced that time is indeed moving along, and the Krummholz remind us that life isn’t always easy but if you hold on you might just survive long enough to see a few things. Surely a good reminder for this crazy year when the familiar isn’t all that familiar and we’re all a bit restless.