For several years in the late 80s and early 90s, I was a fairly serious recreational runner. (By serious, I mean I ran a lot. By recreational I mean I wasn’t very fast.)
Many of my favorite runs during that period came on holidays. The streets were all but empty, the stores were closed and everything was just quiet. Alone with my thoughts, I found it easier to get in touch with the feeling of the holiday — be it Thanksgiving, Christmas or Easter — during those runs.
Over the years, as college, work and family responsibilities grew, I ran less often and for fewer miles, falling more out of shape. But I never gave up my Easter run; for years it was the last thin, hopeful thread connecting me to my healthier self. No matter the weather, no matter how badly conditioned I was, I forced myself out the door and run at least two or three painful, knee-grinding miles. As long as I was running on Easter, I wasn’t giving up on the idea of a healthier life.
This Easter was different.
On Sunday the boy and I hit the woods of central Massachusetts, climbing Mt. Wachusett on a blustery but sunny day. Wachusett, at a modest 2,006 feet, is gentle when compared to the 4,000-foot-plus hikes we have planned for this summer in the White Mountains.
That doesn’t mean Wachusett doesn’t have anything to offer. Unlike the Whites, it is all but clear of snow and ice; there’s no need for snowshoes or extra traction. It’s thick with trails, offering dozens of different routes to the summit. It’s one of the best places in New England to watch hawks. And there are a few decent pitches as you climb through old-growth-forest to granite ledges to the exposed summit, which offers a 360 degree view that includes the Boston skyline and Mt. Monadnock.
There are revelations in every hike, and this one was no different. We had a chance to see close up the devastation caused by this winter’s ice storm. I’ve walked through woods devastated by loggers and contractors. This looked just as bad, except the clear cutting started 10 to 15 feet up. It was as if the wind came along and snapped off the top of every other tree; others were knocked over completely (as an aside, here’s a thank you from two hikers to the crews who have the trails 90 percent clear of blowdowns. Given how the rest of the woods look, we can’t figure out how you did it so fast).
It was a cold, windy day, so we didn’t spend long at the top, stopping only to talk to a hiker who lived nearby and lost power for eight days after last winter’s storm. Looking back, he said, it was a blessing of sorts to learn he could still be surprised by nature (He did note, however, that he managed to keep his septic system working. If that hadn’t happened, he said, he might not have reacted as stoically.
Luke and I took the long way back, circling down the back of the mountain, looking for hawks, taking pictures and talking about our hiking plans for the summer.
All in all, an excellent start to what will hopefully become another decades-long tradition.