When We Look Inside Ourselves, we sometimes see the stars

By Will Baker

 

Some time ago I found myself in central Vermont, deep in the forest rounding a bend on a trail to the top of Camel’s Hump Mountain. Since I had taken this walk before, I knew that in a short while, the thick, old growth trees would yield to stunted conifers. But for the time being, although it was a hot summer day, the overhead canopy of trees allowed me to walk in the shade. As I walked along, the path mottled with sunlight, I passed a man and what looked to be his young daughter coming down the trail. "I hope you brought a jacket, he said." It’s raining up there," she added.

I told them I was all set and walked on. Their point was well taken. I have walked these trails before, and more times than not have found the weather at the top of the mountain to be quite different than at the bottom. Therefore, I was dressed in layers, and had a "powder jacket" in my backpack in case of rain. To pass the time I had been engaged in an activity that absorbs my attention every now and then. I was thinking about "my story." Everyone has a story, and from time to time, once every few years, I replay mine, noting the inevitable revisions that the passage of time demands. My soundtrack was the steady rhythm of my breathing and my foot falls. When I passed the man and his daughter, I was at the part in the story where my wife and I moved to Vermont. We purposefully waited to have children, hoping that we, I, actually, would develop a sufficient reserve of responsibility so as to enable good parenting. Anyway, after encountering the man and his daughter, I remember thinking how nice it would be to some day share things like a walk in the woods with my child.

The path rose steeply over rocky outcroppings, and the vegetation began to change. I scrambled over some ledge, and the path opened into a pretty glade. Years ago, overnight camping was allowed in this glade, which is no more than a quarter of a mile from the top of the mountain, however with the increase in hikers that the mountain has seen since then, camping is now forbidden. But it is still a nice spot to picnic or to catch one’s breath before the walk to the top. I put down my pack and sat in the sun. The turf was fragrant and springy. I looked up over the shoulder of the mountain and could see that the top was indeed obscured by mist. I was sweating, so I opened my shirt and had a drink. Birds were singing, and water was bubbling in a near by brook. It was a perfect moment.

This was my recollection as I looked at Camel’s Hump Mountain from my vantagepoint on the water, sailing across Lake Champlain to the entrance of Converse Bay. It had been a vigorous day. The wind was blowing at about eighteen knots, more than enough to propel my little craft like lightening through the water. I was nearing the end of a long, broad reach across the lake from the New York side, and when I looked at the "hump" I immediately flashed on that perfect moment that I had enjoyed years ago. My crew and I had been sailing for hours, and the combination of sun, and the motion of the boat had comfortably sedated us. I knew my sailing-buddy was as blissed-out by the sail as I was, so, since my recollection was of the, "you had to be there" variety, I did not want to spoil the moment by discussing it with him. The wind had been steady and the sky blue all day. That day probably provided the best sailing conditions that I had enjoyed in at least two or three seasons.

As an aside, when I think back on that sail I realize that my memory has created a moment within a moment. When I think about sailing, of course I flash on the best sail in recent memory, which then triggers my recollection of that moment on the mountain glade years ago. But it seems to be a one way recollection. I have a small collection of perfect moments, with the mountain glade memory being one of them. But when I think of that moment on the mountain, I do not think about that sail, how curious.

My collection of perfect moments is a curious thing also. With the exception of the birth of my daughter, which was charged with drama and excitement, these recollections all seem quite ordinary, almost mundane in fact. But there is a unifying theme. In each of these moments I was as "centered" as I believe that I am capable of being. In each of these moments I was truly present in the moment, I was keenly aware of my existence, and felt truly blessed  to be a player. There is a sense of clarity associated with each of these experiences. And it seems to me that these moments of clarity came upon me, each in an entirely unexpected fashion. This leads me to the personal belief that moments such as these, no matter how desperately sought, must be allowed to come as they please. But we can build the proper environment for them to occur. And if we do, it seems to me that the possibilities might be almost limitless: so that when we look inside ourselves we can sometimes see the stars. In other words, "build it and they will come."

I sat in the shade thinking about all this as I pushed my little girl on her toddler swing. She was softly singing a tune: "clean up, clean up, everybody do their share, clean up, clean up, everybody everywhere..." I tried to recall details of that hike after I left the mountain glade, but the recollection was all fuzzy. I remember eventually making it to the top of the mountain and standing on the bare rock. I remember that the wind was blowing hard up there that day, and that I did indeed have to put on my jacket or risk getting chilled to the bone by the wind-blown mist. But I don’t remember much more than that. And I have no memory of the descent.

"Build it, and they will come." When we look inside ourselves we sometimes see the stars. "Clean up, clean up, everybody do their share…" It was getting late. Looking up from the seat of her swing my daughter asked, "Is it dark yet." "What do you think," I asked in reply. "I think it’s dark out Daddy." Then she added, "today was a very good day." I suggested that we go inside to get ready for bed, and as I tucked her in I asked her if she would like to go on a hike sometime. Of course she said yes.

 

(Essay Collection)