Yesterday’s after school activity was to accompany my pal Mia and her stepson Oakley on a jaunt up Robert Frost Mountain. They were on a mission to deliver what is known in the hiking world as Trail Magic to the cabin at Skylight Pond off the Long Trail. The idea here is that we folks who spent the previous night in our warm beds and had a hot shower and were able to brush our teeth with running water this morning get ourselves deep into the woods and then leave delicious goodies for tired, grubby, gaunt, and hangry hikers who’ve been on the trail for 3 weeks (or in this case a group of middle schoolers who’ve been on the trail for about half a day, but still.) It’s like doing a few extra pushups or crunches for your karma — a not too painful fun little workout that you get to feel good about later. It’s like paying the toll for the guy in the car behind you who you will never see again. For those of us who tend to think and re-think and chew on and overanalyze, stumbling upon opportunities for random acts of kindness is like a way to rub out a few of the black marks on the soul. It's possible I'm being dramatic. I probably don’t really have black marks on my soul. I’ve never murdered anyone or beaten a child or committed a felony. I suppose I probably just have a few brown spots — like when I have a mean thought about someone I figure that leaves a maybe raisin or date-sized nugget I need to do a few good deeds to remove.
I tend to think it’s at this point if you are still reading you are cleanly standing in one of two camps: some of you are thinking whoa, she’s bat shit bonkers and needs to calm the fuck down about stuff and probably do more therapy while those of you in the other camp are thinking yep, inner karmic tally sheets tracking every almost not nice thing I almost did once — totally get it.
So up the mountain we went, traipsing through trout lilies and trillium and what Mia called “spring beauties” which I’m pretty sure she made up the name for on the spot. It’s spring. They’re beautiful. I buy it. Mia and Oakley carried packs full of chocolate bars and bottles of wine and fresh bread and other goodies. I showed up empty-handed. Not exactly a great start to my karmic workout. But, I was full of good cheer and ready for a good run. Because they were carrying packs and I wasn’t, I found myself pulling ahead and was soon alone with my thoughts, preoccupied with figuring out where to put my feet and noticing how the trail was gradually changing from dry to damp to wet to soggy to slushy to snowy as we climbed. Oakley worked a conservative pace from the back playing it safe and, in his words, making sure not to “fall and hurt myself.” If you know Oakley, you can appreciate the hilarity of this comment because for the past couple of decades, Oakley has been basically hurling himself off cliffs for a living. (Google or youtube him and see for yourself: Oakley White Allen. Yes, do it right now. You’re welcome.)
Years ago Mia and I did this same hike as an overnight with our pre-teen daughters. It’s cushy camping in a primitive well-built lodge so no need to carry a tent or tarp or other stuff. It’s practically car camping. Just whatever you’re willing to carry up a mountain for a couple of miles on your back: sleeping bags and pads and decks of cards and headlamps and good snacks. But it’s also off the Long Trail, so you have to assume you’re going to share the cabin with through hikers. Mia was prepared. We got ourselves settled with headlamps and started dealing cards. Who knows whatever the hell I brought. None of us will ever remember because Mia had fresh strawberries and whipped cream — the real, homemade kind — which survived the hike just fine. A few feet away were a couple of through hikers who hadn’t seen running water or a fresh vegetable in a few weeks. Mia and I were passing a bottle of wine back and forth and offered to share. Their eyes lit up. Mia reached in her bag and pulled out chocolate. Their eyes grew very wide and they practically wept. Wine and fresh fruit and chocolate. Simple treats anywhere else, but miles from home in the woods it is good, simple, karma building Trail Magic.