A Moveable Feast

On August 18, 2010, in Uncategorized, by admin

Ernest Hemingway once said to a friend, “If you were lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.” I feel very much that way about the hiking trails in Waterville Valley.

I’ve been an avid — if sometimes infrequent — hiker since my very first “real” hike up Welch Mountain in the mid-1970s. I was lucky enough to have a high school English teacher, Carol Jensen by name, who became something of a life mentor. Carol liked to hike — so we hiked. Many of the details of that day are lost in the sands of time, but I do remember the great joy of breaking out of the woods and seeing the sweeping views from the first ledge — Acteon Ridge, the Tripyramids, Mount Tecumseh (little did I know the role these mountains would play later in my life!). I also remember how good the squished olive loaf-on-white sandwich tasted, the American cheese melted from hours in my backpack. I remember Carol taking me out to dinner at The William Tell in celebration of our hike — my first real “fine dining” experience. I also remember how good it felt to get back to the car and peel off my boots, establishing a life-long theme: most of the things I love to do are things that feel really good when I stop.

I remember a late fall day a few years later, driving north from Concord with three friends. We diverted up 49 to scramble up to the ledges on Welch as low clouds scudded by and the first snow of the season glazed the low spruces. We built a small snowman and ate gorp in the lee of the trees, catching peeks of the surrounding mountains through wisps of cloud and spattering snow.

I remember a young-adult trip — I was a more serious hiker by then and fitfully working on my 4000 footers — with my buddy Scott. We planned to hike the Tripyramids and camp on the way back out. Saddled with heavy packs and the exuberance of late adolescence, we clawed our way up the North Slide, stunned at how steep it was but moved by the sensational views. That night, we camped not far from the base of the South Slide (this was long before the area was designated as wilderness) and woke to the sound of heavy rains drumming on our tent. The next morning was a long, wet slog back out the Livermore Road — a route that now takes me less than ten minutes on my mountain bike.

More recent years have found me back in the Valley with my family. Welch Mountain was, appropriately enough, my kids’ first “real hike” — stopping at the ledges was plenty for us all, and juice boxes never tasted so good as on that chilly spring day. A couple years later, we found ourselves back on the ledges with friends Lynne and Olivia, who’d been away all summer (and missed very much). A relaxed hour in the sun, watching grasshoppers camouflaged to look just like granite, was just the tonic we all needed, and gave us time to catch up on all the news.

That same fall, a group of parents from the Elementary School celebrated the first day of school with what we dubbed “Freedom Hike” — up Mount Osceola on a gorgeous sunny day, leapfrogging each other up the trail and laughing. From the summit, we looked back down at the Valley floor and thought about our children, nestled safely back in school, and thought for a few moments about how quickly they were growing up.

While many of my happiest memories are of hiking trails with friends and family, I have also been known to slip away for a little “me time” in the woods. Solo hikes to Noon Peak, Greeley Ponds, Snows Mountain, and my first climb of Tecumseh stand out as some of my very best days. Hiking with others is a great shared experience; hiking alone is to some extent a journey into one’s self.

Most recently, my brother came to town for a visit. We had a lot to talk about, as our father had passed away a month before. Matt, like me, is an avid hiker, but ten years of living in Wisconsin mean he seldom has to climb anything steeper or longer than a flight of stairs. We decided to start out easy, wandering up Livermore Road to the Kettles Path, then shooting up the last, steep yards to the Scaur.

On the way, Matt joked about a scene from the movie The Eiger Sanction, in which Clint Eastwood pulls out cold beer on the summit after an arduous climb. Clint’s partner, incredulous, says “I can’t believe you carried beer all the way up here.” Clint squints and says, “I didn’t, you did.” The joke was on Matt, though, as I pulled out two icy cold Tuckerman IPAs when we sat down on the top of the Scaur (at least I carried them, Matt). We had a toast to our Dad and quietly soaked in the timeless view.

The next day, having survived the Scaur, we went a little further afield and hiked Tecumseh to the base of the Northside chair. Cold water, a Clif bar, and quiet conversation were our reward before we humped it back down (the surprisingly steep in hiking boots!) Lower Tippecanoe to the base, stopping occasionally to sample the sweetest wild blueberries I have ever eaten. Matt had atoned for his flatlander ways and acquitted himself well.

In times when I have to be away for days or longer, I often think back to the hours of my life spent on the trails of Waterville Valley. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that these memories sustain me. A moveable feast indeed.

 

A Midsummer Night’s Dream

On August 8, 2010, in Uncategorized, by admin

(Disclosure:  in addition to being an ardent supporter of the Shakespeare in the Valley program through my association with the Waterville Valley Foundation, both my children are in their third year with the Young People’s Player summer camp program, and in their third season acting with the Theater Under the Stars troupe.   That, and I am a poor excuse for a theater critic.  I tell you, though, that everything that follows is reasonably objective and absolutely from the heart.)

I had the perfect summer night tonight.  Nancy and I packed our all-purpose picnic of RyKrisp crackers and a variety of cheeses, some exotic and some impressively local (Tip: check out the whole-milk cheeses at the Plymouth farmer’s market, held Thursday afternoons in the summer just off Highland Avenue between Hannaford’s and the high school — wonderful local farm produce, served up with a spirit of pride and Yankee independence).  While I was a relatively poor Boy Scout, I do believe in being prepared, and I tucked a couple of good screw-top bottles of red wine in our picnic satchel as well.  Properly provisioned, we set off for Town Square and the Shakespeare in the Valley production of “Twelfth Night”.

I was thrilled to see the crowds in the Square for Chocolate and Jazz — in its eleventh year, and now an institution, there were dozens of people at each station waiting to sample the treats.  Chocolate is good, but Shakespeare is better, and we pushed through the crowd and down the stairs to the river.  We picked up our tickets (free this year in honor of Marc Paul Decoteau, one of the first YPP campers and an great supporter of Shakespeare in the Valley) and were seated by the indefatigable Madame Claudine Gall, who managed to find our friends (and fellow WVF board members) in the substantial crowd.

Timing is everything in life, and we had no sooner unfolded our camp chairs when the emcee came on stage to warm up the crowd and remind us that in Shakespeare’s time, the audience was expected to participate, urging on heros and roundly booing villains.  Nancy and I are old hands at this by now, and can “Huzzah!” with the very best of them.  We don’t even need a reason.

In a matter of moments, the actors took the stage.  Over the years, I have noticed that watching the first few minutes of a Shakespeare drama are very much like the first few minutes of listening to a foreign language one knows, but not terribly well.  Your ears are pricked for every nuance, and you perennially feel like you’re half a stanza behind at very best, processing, listening intently, barely hanging on.  I have to say, tonight, the transition was so easy, I barely noticed.  It may well have been the familiar tones of “My Bonny Lies Over the Ocean”, soulfully rendered by Chiara Klein, but there was none of the turbulence I usually encounter shifting from 2010 to 1600.

I have never seen a performance of Twelfth Night before — and now I realize how impoverished I have been.  I certainly knew a few of the key lines… who doesn’t know “Shall I compare you to a summer’s day”?  But I never had the context, the feeling, for the words before.  I loved every minute of the show, and I only felt a little the bumpkin when I confessed as much to Shakespeare in the Valley artistic director Donna Devlin.  I was greatly comforted when she reassured me that Twelfth Night is one of her favorites, too, and that she’d been waiting years to produce it for our local stage.

I cannot adequately convey to you how perfect the scene is:  a small open-air theater, down by the gently burbling Snow’s Brook; the cool evening air kissed by the last of the day’s sun setting behind Mount Tecumseh, and a professional theater troupe performing a gently modernized version of the Bard’s classics.  I am not exaggerating when I say many of my happiest (and proudest — remember, my kids are in the Kids’ Corp) moments have been spent by this very stage.  Tonight ninety other people shared this pleasure with me.  I sincerely hope that you’ll be able to catch one of the few remaining performances this month, and that you’ll continue to support Shakespeare in the Valley, because it is truly one of the things that makes Waterville Valley unique.

Had my evening ended there, it would have been a memorable and satisfying night.  However, to exit this summer’s Theatre Under the Stars, one must make one’s way back through Town Square, which can be a gauntlet if you’re blessed with a great many friends in a few square miles.  The folding chairs came back out, and soon we were arranged in a horseshoe with many of the people we care about most, sipping the second bottle of red wine.  We were all enjoying the sounds of the Tom Robinson Trio (imagine if you will a smooth segue between Winter Wonderland and the theme from the Flintstones — can’t?  It worked, trust me) and chatting while our kids ran happy circles around the Square.  Chocolate and Jazz has been growing each year, and tonight was a huge — but very relaxed — success.  And through it all, across Corcoran’s Pond, Bill and Jane  Cantlin were celebrating the nuptials of their daughter (Maseltov!).  There was a certain electricity in the air that made us all very glad to be alive and in a special place.

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The Waterville Valley Foundation is proud to support Shakespeare in the Valley.