The Groom of Frankenstein
The road is very straightforward, though it winds through some of the most challenging curves in New England. I start at 9 in the morning on Thursday, heading out after dropping in to wave at C. and give her greyhound, Chief the Wonder Dog, a quick scratch.
I have three days off. They'll be spent at Butternut Farms, with my friends Chuck and Nancy.
The day is warm enough so that I can't describe it with the cliché of "crisp. It is pleasantly cool and I drive with Ianto's windows open just a bit, enough for a breeze but not enough to drown out "RadioLab" issuing from the speakers.
I pass a lot of road work - the sudden clarity of Fall and the rapid onset of changing color serving to encourage road crews to get things done just a bit faster - there are only so many days left until more time is spent plowing and sanding than paving and grading.
Moose Lake is passed, electric blue besides Shawnee Peak. The colors are just starting to overtake Summer's green. I make a mental note to try to climb up there before much longer. I'm not a skier but hills and trees have taken over my imagination lately.
"I'm going to be up there in a little bit. I'm going to be amongst those clouds".
Eventually I arrive at the parking lot which served at the base camp for my climb of the Arethusa Falls some weeks ago. Today I am taking the other path from the parking lot - a base trail that fronts the massive Frankenstein Cliffs that beetle far over my head. Eventually, in a mile or less, it will climb under the Crawford Notch Scenic Railway and lead right up to the base of the cliffs themselves, far above me.
The trail will then wind along the front and then ascend above the escarpment to merge with the Arethusa trail far overhead and return by the trail I took earlier, returning me to the park.
I am aware that I promised I'd be at Butternut Farm in East Burke, VT, in time for tea so I feel a bit rushed.
Footing is risky. You have to think ahead on every step, planning sequences of 3-4 steps ahead so you don't get tangled. A slip will plunge you down the slope and the rocks are very large and would very unforgiving in the state of a fall.
Still, the light is beautiful, fungii, mushrooms and real fairy circles can be seen almost every 10 feet. Nature runs riot against the mountain.
The Crawford Notch Scenic Railway train passes just above my head - if I crash straight up I can almost touch the cars - if I do so to get a good picture I might well pop out of the woods with my head under the wheels - I'm that close.
But I cross under the Frankenstein Trestle and arrive at the final push that takes me up the steep, rocky and root tangled trail up to the base of the cliffs. The trail blazes, yellow paint patches on trees, are hard to see and I have to trust to my observations of where the trail is worn down before I see the next blaze.
My treasured walking sticks confirm their identity - they are walking sticks, not climbing sticks and they become sudden nuisances. I'm carrying only a fanny pack for the camera and realize I have the wrong shoes, the wrong tools and the wrong storage system. No first aid kit and the cell signal was gone before I left the parking lot.
I take a few seconds to decide on how I'll take a fall: posture, arm position. A mistake now could be genuinely dangerous.
But now I'm at the cliff face, a powerful wall of stone rises above me for almost 150 feet. I'm acutely aware of the power of the mountain, the slow roar of it's energy, the water rushing down from inside the stones, carving out the stones littering the trail, washing down the gravel making my footing so treacherous.
And now, pictures taken, apple eaten, water drunk, I lean back against the 45º incline and begin to work my way down. Legs are sore, balance is risky and for the first time I realize how ill-prepared I am, technically and physically.
Then it happens. I try to shift my poles to balance my next step through a set of rocks leading back to gravel path and I find myself pitching. My core muscles are too tired to hold my weight back and I'm falling forward to crash into the face of a stone and then slam into the gravel between two heavy rocks.
The pain is explosive in both my forearms, stars burst into my vision. I can only lie there, slowly moving fingers, toes, then wrists and ankles, arms and legs, then carefully lever myself up a bit.
I'm facing down hill at an angle and I decide to move my legs down rather than try standing up against the hill. Everything seems to be working and though my arms are bleeding from substantial scrapes nothing is broken or paralyzed.
So the journey continues down the trail. One of the poles is bent, I try to fix it and shorten both to give me a more centered leverage. Should have done that at first - better still, should have brought a climbing axe.
Eventually I reach the train track and risk getting hit by the train so I can make my way back to the car.
The beauty and danger of this raw, unprocessed look at nature are real. I keep wanting to shoot pictures of everything - and I do, but not continuously.
I prefer, now, to keep these images locked inside me, to share the lessons I've learned and visions I've seen by being the kind of person who has experienced them rather than just passively recording them.
How this will turn out I do not know. I could have been seriously injured, easily killed. I only know I have something inside me to bring back and share and in the coming days I'll give it a name and local habitation.
I hope the Autumn is as lovely for you. The Fall definitely has been for me.