This past Tuesday, I found myself sleeping on a picnic table in the parking area of Cardigan Mountain State Park. How this happened is a bit of a tale.
It started a year ago, when I thought it might be a curious experiment to climb a favorite little peak nestled neatly in New Hampshire’s Upper Valley every month for an entire year (On Climbing Cardigan: August). What might be gleaned from 12 visits to the same peak?
What might one learn?
I wanted to make the last in this series unique, epic even – or as epic as 3,155 feet can be. I wanted to take the long way up, sleep on top, travel miles around and over, walk a series of backroads to return to my car.
A full day’s “work” splashing around our school’s own sweet lake with boys and canoes in our wilderness program precluded an early departure, so I arrived at what was described to me as the way to the trailhead sometime after 7 PM.
This back side of Cardigan can be reached by an asphalt-flaking, gloomy thoroughfare called New Colony Road, which turns into a deep mudfest about a mile and half in. I thought it wise to park while the parking was good.
There had been talk about a gate and an overgrown thicket disguised as the trailhead, so I ran up the dirt road, sinking in the mire, but nothing up there looked like a way to climb my mountain. Puzzled, I returned to my car to find, in absurdly perfect timing, another summer school teacher also looking for the same elusive trailhead.
We decided on a united search.
Almost two miles passed before a cairn was discovered in the weeds with what might generously be deemed an opening to a path beyond. A few yards in, an understated sign nailed to a tree announced that we were in business.
Most of said “trail” – called Mowgli’s Trail – was swamped due to recent rains, so I surrendered my dry feet to the journey and just squashed on through.
It was delightful.
Why had I never taken this way before?!
My new friend and I chatted about NESCAC schools, long distance trails, and a supposed Civil War deserter’s cave hidden somewhere nearby as the scenery became more and more glorious.
It was getting dark when we reached a small, dirty shelter slouching in the woods (not staying here, I thought); he needed to get back to his car, so we parted ways and I continued on up Firescrew Mountain, Cardigan’s baby brother.
Mists whipped across a sky above granite bare and steep.
I followed the blazes up and over Firescrew to the familiar flank of Cardigan.
Somehow, God never exhausts the ways He is able to display his grandeur. It was as if He had saved the proverbial best for last; moonrise, ripple, vapor, expanse.
Psalm 8 welled up from the depth of my very bones:
Lord, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory
in the heavens.
When I consider your heavens,
the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
which you have set in place,
what is mankind that you are mindful of them,
human beings that you care for them?
I felt so small.
Was that it?
All those trips, step upon step upon step upon step?
The absolute vastness of an uncontainable God.
And yet, in all that bigness, that unfathomable huge, He still cares for us.
Jesus told it this way: …the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost (Luke 19:10).
And aren’t we all lost?
Broken, hurting, misdirected, wandering, searching, desperate lost?
And that’s where He meets us.
In all of our mess, in all of our failings and stumblings and stubbornness and pain.
He fills us up with what He is full of: compassion and goodness, mercy and power.
O, Lord, what am I that You are mindful of me?
So the story ends, for now.
It was too wet and windy to sleep comfortably on top of Cardigan, under the firetower, as I had hoped.
Instead, by headlamp, I wove my way down to the parking area, slipped on a rock and impaled myself on a trekking pole, possibly breaking a rib.
The picnic table was as good a surface as any, so, sore but dry, I passed the night contemplating the next.
In an irony totally reserved for God, I found myself the next day hiking the same exact route with our wilderness kids.
Dangerous weather on the high ridgeline we had planned to hike caused us to change plans at last minute, but isn’t that also how He sometimes likes to surprise us?
It was okay, though.
He had already shown me the way.