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A Walk above the Clouds

The (Cyber) Bag of Weasels

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"About as much fun as a bag of weasels"...when I first saw this Irish adage, it made me think of the life of a writer: sometimes perilous, sometimes painful, certainly interesting. My paper journal has always been called "The Bag of Weasels." This is the Bag of Weasels' online home.

A Walk above the Clouds

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yavanna earth
Earlier this week, we took a walk down my road, in the valley along the Barton River. These pictures, which we taken the day after the walk down my road, couldn't be more different. Instead of the valley, this walk was along the ridgeline of Mount Mansfield, Vermont's highest mountain. Instead of soft meadows, a gently coursing river, and a palette of colored trees in the distance, the landscape here is ragged rock and plants tough and strange enough to survive in such an unforgiving climate.

The only similarity was the weather: It was borderline unpleasant on both days. This was the weather on the drive down to Stowe. It was supposed to clear up but really didn't.

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(As always, click for full-size!)

We ostensibly opted to do the Mansfield hike because of the views, but there weren't many views to be had: We were above the clouds for most of the walk, which only added to the strangeness of the scenery. The temperature on the ridgeline hovered right around freezing with wind chills dipping to the mid-20s F when the wind would kick up. Those were moments of ambivalence: They often swept away enough of the clouds to get a glimpse of the view, but they also tended to occur at moments when I was making crossings on rocks where I was not fully comfortable. I felt like the Fellowship on Caradhras, with the sense that the mountain was mocking me!

The ecosystem is alpine tundra, which exists in isolated pockets atop the highest peaks in New England. The linked Times article describes the alpine tundra as such:

Such is the weird world of alpine tundra, where life adapts to cold stone and thin soil, and snow, ice, wind, water and sunlight mix in rare and intense proportions to mimic conditions not widely seen since the end of the last ice age. Hike uphill high enough in parts of New England and you might as well be trekking in far northern Canada. Save for polar bears and permafrost, the look and feel of places like Mount Mansfield’s summit — a bald schist knob at 4,393 feet — mimic the arctic no-man’s land east of Hudson Bay.

We had originally planned to take the gondola from the resort and hike the Cliff Trail to the summit (called the Chin because the profile of Mansfield looks like a face in repose), but the poor weather made this unwise, so we took the Auto Toll Road to the end and hiked out from there instead. This was a good choice. Especially after my fall this summer and in dire need of new boots, climbing--especially descending--on rocks is anxiety-inducing for me. This walk was bad enough in places, owing to the wind that kicked up whenever I had to cross a fissure or skirt near a cliff.

And walking on the rocks is a requirement here. In places, there were low plants growing, but walking on the vegetation is prohibited, as it is extremely fragile. (Who wouldn't be, living up here?)

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The lower sections of the trail progressed along boardwalks, again to keep feet and paws from damaging the plant life.

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When we first arose into the alpine tundra, we were still low enough to have some patchy views.

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The strings visible in this picture mark the trail, again to keep people from treading off the trail and damaging the delicate ecosystem. This is one of Vermont's most popular hikes, and unfortunately that means that you see irresponsible people who walk off the trail despite the warnings and the trail markers. Before you ascend the Toll Road, you are given a CD that explains the protections needed to preserve the trail, yet we still saw people crossing boundaries, allowing their dogs off-lead, etc. Boo.

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The plant life here is unusual. The trees are stunted--few were taller than Bobby--and tiny plants huddle in cracks and crevices away from the unabating wind.

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This guy.

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Looking west toward Lake Champlain, New York, and the Adirondacks. Lake Champlain was visible, but I don't think it's all that identifiable in the pictures unfortunately. But if you see something that makes you think you're looking at a big body of water ... well, you probably just found Lake Champlain!

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I have no idea what this cairn marks. Probably nothing! Vermonters like to make cairns.

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Now we've begun to climb into the clouds. It's an unusual sensation, if you've never had the experience of walking in a high place above the clouds. It's very isolating, yet the sense of your elevation never fully dissipates. It's almost a mild form of sensory deprivation, and I find my thoughts collapsing in on themselves. (Unfortunately on this particular day that interiority took the form of negative self-talk patterns that were very hard to shake.

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We reached a point near the summit where the clouds cleared a little. This is looking east, down at Stowe. Those patches of open land are a golf course. I love Stowe--it was the first place in Vermont we visited and it made us realize we wanted to live here--but I am glad to go home to the Northeast Kingdom!

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But the clouds closed just as quickly again, and the rest of our walk was shrouded in fog.

This tree had grown entirely in the direction the wind swept it.

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And this one is a good example of the tiny trees that grow at this elevation.

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I have mixed feelings about this walk. It was beautiful and strange. It really was NOT a difficult hike but was emotionally difficult that day for many reasons, and it reminds me that no matter how well I feel, there are certain self-perceptions that are lodged deep about my (lack of) self-worth, and I don't know that I'll ever be rid of them. At the time, my thought about the hike was, "I've done that and won't have to do it ever again now," but with some distance, I think I do want to do it again, maybe on a clear day or maybe not (definitely with better boots!), and I suppose that resilience is the more important thing.

This post was originally posted on Dreamwidth and, using my Felagundish Elf magic, crossposted to LiveJournal. You can comment here or there!

  • The temperature on the ridgeline hovered right around freezing with wind chills dipping to the mid-20s F when the wind would kick up.

    We live on different planets! It was 98F here yesterday, with humidity in the single digits.

    Your hikes are beautiful. I would definitely have to buy hiking boots if I lived there.
    • It's in the mid-40s right now, pouring rain--VERY autumnal! And ... we could get our first snowfall tonight! It's a different world from what I'm used to; Maryland was still getting into the mid-80s this past week (although it was warm in Vermont too: the upper 60s).

      The temperatures on this hike were mostly due to the elevation, although Bobby and I giggled at the tourists in Stowe in their winter coats. (It was 50ish that day and overcast.) We hiked in sweatshirts and fingerless gloves for me, and if anything, I was too warm.
  • Get those boots, girl! You really could fall or twist an ankle or pull something! (I can hear a voice in my head that sounds disturbingly like Laura calling me an obnoxious helicopter mom!)

    I felt like the Fellowship on Caradhras, with the sense that the mountain was mocking me!

    I used to love/hate that feeling! I could make an impressive list of mountains I've hiked up not realizing how difficult they were. Generally, it was easier if I did it again knowing what to expect--in your case, knowing you want better weather and new boots.

    That first photo is my favorite. Although the closeups of plants and rocks are very nice also.

    I saw some water, but more like a series of little lakes? Not the big one. (pics 4 and 5 counting up from the bottom) But my eyes are bad even on my giant screen blown up to maximum resolution.

    Sorry you have been feeling blue. I hope it passes. Me too and do not like it one little bit! I read an article this week, I think in The New York Times, that said a number of therapists have been encountering women who are feeling low and/or anxious due to the election news! Oh my fucking god! I am NOT ruling that out in my case. The writer said the collective advice is stay off news feeds until it's over or allow yourself only very limited time each day to glance at them! I almost fell out of my chair laughing. The great pumpkin with the cotton-candy hair still makes me feel ill.

    I only feel better when my niece make me laugh about the election. She and her husband claim they are dressing up for Halloween as 'Nasty Woman' and 'Bad Hombre.' It has been floated by family members that she would make a better 'Bad Hombre' and he could be the 'Nasty Woman.'
    • Helicopter away! I concur on the boots! My current ones were $40 jobs from the Shoe Dept. They don't have the best grip and they hurt my feet.

      Part of it's the boots; part of it's the hiker. This was not a hard hike. Children do it. But I am extremely skittish after my fall on Bald Mountain this summer. Both arms are still scarred from that, and the scar on my elbow is going to probably be around for years. I was beginning to build my confidence, but that fall deflated it.

      The series on little lakes in those pictures are the Stowe golf course! :)

      I read an article this week, I think in The New York Times, that said a number of therapists have been encountering women who are feeling low and/or anxious due to the election news!

      I've heard that too. And in ed circles, the buzzword is the Trump effect: the fear that children are experiencing, increases in bullying, and difficulty maintaining civil discourse in the classroom.

      That particular day, I was extremely self-conscious because I was so nervous on those rocks and slow as a result. It felt like everyone was passing me, and I had to cross a fissure that put me on the verge of a panic attack. Those kinds of experiences bring back memories of being singled out by my PE teacher in elementary school and made fun of by my peers because I was less athletically capable than pretty much everyone in my class. I've accomplished so much in the years since then, becoming an accomplished skater, decent Oriental dancer, and above-average in strength and endurance, but it's amazing how those decades of hard work and accomplishment can still feel dwarfed next to those formative feelings of being stared at, mocked, and judged.

      Re: the election, I have to admit that I more or less forced myself to watch this week's debate, mostly because I wanted to feel informed about the post-debate news coverage. I was pretty excited about the first two because I enjoy hearing Hillary speak. (I might be one of the only people who likes how she speaks, but I do. She exudes competence and poise.) That excitement is gone and not because of her. I still love hearing her speak. But watching the Great Pumpkin (love that!) on a national stage, belittling her, interrupting her, lying about her, bloviating, pumping up himself and his accomplishments, looming over her in the background, especially in the wake of the hot-mic tape ... I don't know. It makes me sick in a way that I've never really felt before.

      I LOVE your niece's costume idea! OMG, if she goes through with it, please post pictures?!
      • OMG! I love hearing her speak also. Because she sounds fluent, prepared and in command of the facts, professional, and thinks on her feet. She is waaay to the right of what I would prefer, but I feel like I know what I am getting. And she is competent and aware of reality, whether it is my reality or not. Trump is just a big scary clown whose politics we do not even know--the tip of iceberg is terrifying though.

        Edited at 2016-10-23 03:31 am (UTC)
  • What a view!!! It feels so very October...not sure how else to describe it but there you have it.
    • It totally does! It's been unseasonably warm here in Vermont (and everywhere--yay global warming! :^|), but right now, it's in the mid-40s and pouring rain that will probably become our first snowfall overnight. We went to a Vermont Vaudeville show this afternoon, and I complained, "It's a RAW day today!" (walking to the town hall in the rain), and Bobby replied, "Late October has come!" We've been spoiled.
  • Beautiful.
  • Ooh, those are gorgeous pics that are telling me I need to get out for more weekends. I'm kind of thinking from the comfort of my home on a clear day that I'd love to have that experience of walking above the clouds, but I don't know. I have to admit that fog in my own neighborhood can create some really weird mixed feelings and stir up an insecure mood despite me loving the sight of it, so I can only imagine what it would be like on a strange new mountain with a different ecosystem.

    For some reason, I'm constantly surprised by what you can see (or what signs say you can see) in the distance from the top of a mountain. Kind of makes the world feel both bigger and smaller at the same time!

    we still saw people crossing boundaries, allowing their dogs off-lead

    *blood pressure rises* At a local game refuge I used to love hiking at, I would often see people with their dogs off leash right in front of a sign forbidding it. My "favorite" moment was when some women were coming out of the refuge as I was heading in and informed me a bear had been stalking and charging them, and I saw at least one of their dogs was off leash. Eep. (Though to my embarrassment, a family member of mine is guilty of letting our dogs off leash there and elsewhere and wouldn't listen to "everyone thinks their dog is special, but the rules are for everyone" or "disaster only takes a single moment of panic or misbehavior" *sigh*)
    • Walking above the clouds is interesting but also gets a little boring pretty fast! :) We made this particular hike in hopes of getting nice views on peak leaf weekend. Ha! That didn't happen. When we go back, I'd like it to be on a clear day. It will not be as atmospheric, but the views will be worth it, I think.

      Kind of makes the world feel both bigger and smaller at the same time!

      You're so right! From the top of Bald Mountain and Jay Peak, we can see Mount Washington, for instance, as well as Mount Mansfield. It's an unusual feeling that something that would take an hour or two in the car is suddenly *right there*, or seemingly so.

      Off-lead dogs ... *sigh*

      This is a particular pet peeve of mine. There are trails in Vermont where it is allowable (we even have Dog Mountain!) and I'm 100% perfectly fine with people and their dogs taking advantage of that freedom.

      But when there are leash laws, I appreciate if people follow them. Lancelot is aggressive with other dogs, so he is always on-lead and with a head collar handy so that he's easy to control, and we only walk him in places where there is a leash law so that any dogs we meet are also on-lead, at least in theory. But what often happens is that people will not follow the leash law, and their dog (which they can very rarely control appropriately to be off-lead in the first place) will bound over to him to play, and he'll attack the other dog. This happened constantly in Maryland at the nature center. He hurt another (off-lead) dog one time, and the owner was giving Bobby dirty looks, but we always have our dog in control. There would have been no problem if the other dog was wearing a leash in accordance with nature center rules.

      There are trails that would be great for him but where we won't take him because so many people have their dogs off-lead against the rules. (Mount Hor is one of them.)

      I understand being embarrassed by the bad choices of family members (oh do I, who has at least one Trump supporter in the immediate family), but I don't think you need to be! :)
  • EVERYBODY loves to make cairns, especially in the face of cliffs, abysses, waterfalls or the ocean! I've been assuming that whenever nature makes humans feel small, they need to do something with their hands - like put a couple of rocks on top of each other - to assert themselves. But when my parents were in Norway, they learned that actually, you make these stone heaps in order to pacify the trolls. I suppose it amounts to the same thing.

    What an uncomfortable hike that must have been, but it looks very scenic and atmospheric on my computer screen! I can imagine that it's going to be completely different when you try it again in summer (and in proper boots). Hope you'll be feeling better about yourself soon!
    • I never saw cairns in Maryland, but Marylanders don't do much outdoorsy stuff as a general rule. When we vacationed in Maine this summer, there was a "Leave only footprints, take only pictures" sign on one of the trails with a photo of cairn beneath it with a red slash through it! I felt like that was probably aimed at the Vermonters. :D We'll sometimes drive along a low river here, and there will be dozens of cairns in the river, not to mention the obligatory cairns on trails. (There is one on Haystack Mountain that is taller than me!)

      I'm just really not comfortable on rocks at the moment. I had a pretty bad fall on some muddy rocks this summer and landed backward on my forearms, which I tore up quite badly. I do need new boots. If I had better boots and my previous state of confidence, it would have been a lovely hike!
      • It probably depends on the place (and its policies)! As I said, in Norway (as well as Iceland) it appears to be an honoured tradition. I also saw cairns in Namibia (probably no troll tradition), Britanny and, rarely, in Germany (but then, I rarely go hiking here). That is why I assumed it was a typically Noldorin human reaction to awe-inspiring scenery. Of course, the place also needs some handy rocks that can be stacked in this manner.

        Ouch! That would be enough to make anyone feel insecure on rock, especially in wet weather!
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