We drive down snow-covered roads past farmhouses, stone walls, winter camps, and trailers. Past stately pines, their highest branches pushed and pulled by the March wind. Snow wisps are freed from their little pine needle prisons, released back into the winter world. Twisting roads carry us past open pastures, snow-covered ponds, long driveways, and dark woods. Goats chew their hay, contentedly clumped together under a lean-to. Maples are claimed by sap lines and No Trespassing signs. Dirt turns to pavement and the road begins to climb. We come upon a doe, crumpled in the opposite lane, glassy-eyed, unmoving. Her neck is broken, twisted at a grotesque angle. The driver, her fate-maker, sits helpless but unharmed, awaiting the police. He says he is fine and waves us on. There is nothing we can do. And so we go. Slowly, wordlessly, a little sad now. We climb into a low hanging snow dumping cloud. It drops an inch in an hour.
Mia and I stretch skins onto our skis, slap packs on our backs, and slide onto well-traveled tracks. My four legged pal Lewie takes point and is soon racing ahead, up the Long Trail. Up and up and up. We climb through enormous birches and ancient maples. They are beautifully grotesque giants from another time. We spook a massive pileated woodpecker, red and black and white flashing up the trail, quickly out of sight. The sun is nowhere. Our hoods collect with snow. Our bodies power us forward. Sweat lays against my skin, untouched by the 16 degree air which cannot find its way through my five layers on top. Our hearts siphon relentlessly and our lungs are on the job like fireplace bellows, begging for oxygen as we climb up and up and up.
Goshen Mountain rises up before us, all curvy and ivory and gorgeous. She is tempting us, offering herself to us like a winter goddess, quietly daring us to ascend her three thousand voluptuous vertical feet. We put our heads down and go, dutifully onward, and the soft and perfect snow cajoles us along. Fifty two minutes tick by as we breathe and sweat and move arms and legs until we arrive.
In the woods, in winter, we are mountaining. It is not to conquer, but to join this warrior tribe of ancient rock, stooping trees, graceful pine boughs, and wind. The summit is a snow globe of white and grey and cold fine feathery snow. The stunning view hides behind an ashen curtain of modesty. She will not show herself — not today, not for us, no matter how hard we worked to get here.
We change quickly, pulling skins from our skis, finding dry mittens, business-like and swift as the sweat dries and the cold gusts swirl around. Winter and this mountain have no concern for two women and a small dog, shivering on top of a peak. We know our place. And so, with little pause and no ceremony, we leave her, this Goshen Mountain goddess. We leave her as we found her — standing in the wind, alone, mighty, hauntingly beautiful and wordlessly awaiting her next callers.
Like puppies, full of foolish glee, we descend. Down and down and down, through her fluffy white contours, freeing ourselves. We leave tracks behind and push heaps to the sides, dodging trees and boulders. This mountain goddess harbors a seen and unseen bounty and we feast greedily all the way down the hillside. Our shins graze the arms and fingers of Buck Brush as it reaches up from its white winter blanket, patiently waiting for the warmth of some other day to birth its bat shaped buds.
At the end, we startle four does, scraping and nibbling on what they can scavenge beneath the cover of a behemoth hemlock. They gaze at us, nostrils flaring, ears twitching, curious and still. They are brown-eyed, straight-necked, alive.