For reasons subterranean, I've decided to climb Mount Monadnock in southern New Hampshire every month for a year. (It's no great feat; Larry Davis climbed Monadnock for 2,850 straight days.) I hope you enjoy my trips up and down, across the seasons and on several different trails, and I apologize to Paul LaPage for stealing the line "my great granite friend" from his poem The Roar of the Mountain. The most recent month's ascent sits just below. Or start at the start in November, 2014 by scrolling to the bottom of the page. Each entry can be fully accessed by clicking "read more."
This is about my October hike that took place in November.
Life, and death, conspired to keep me away during Mount Monadnock’s most popular month, as tens of thousands of devotees ascended its well-worn shoulders to witness the colorful glory of peak foliage in New England. The idea was to cap this twelve-month cycle of hikes with a fun romp in mid-October with my wife Elahna and our friends Andy, Leah and Julia, but we postponed due to work demands. Then the rescheduled hike for Saturday, October 24th was shelved when Elahna’s mother, Hadassah, collapsed and was rushed to Massachusetts General Hospital. Diagnosed with colon cancer, her condition deteriorated and she died on October 28th at 12:17 a.m. with Elahna and me at her bedside. We picked out a burial plot that same day, stumbled through the funeral and sat shivah for seven, long days.
All this year, I’d been worried about my mother dying. Not once did I consider that Elahna’s mom, age 80 and beset by chronic health issues but mobile and feisty as ever, could vanish in a blink. It just wasn’t on our radar. No one knew she was this sick. And so we torture ourselves with laments. What, I wonder, might Hadassah say to all this? Der mentsh trakht un got lakht, she’d probably say. That’s Yiddish for “Man plans and G-d laughs.” She’d pronounce the words – how she loved words! – in that thick Israeli accent she harbored since her arrival in the USA in 1961, and then she’d ruefully chuckle. The photo above shows toddler Elahna with her proud mommy. In it, everything seems possible.
I embark for Monadnock on the sixth day of shivah, which is the week-long ritual period of mourning in Judaism. Technically, you’re not supposed to pursue activities beyond receiving guests, reciting the Mourner’s Kaddish and remembering the deceased, but I needed a break from the gloom and didn’t want to risk another tragedy or fluke injury or earthquake pushing this hike into December or 2016. As I approach the mountain, the blaze of orange, red and yellow leaves in the surrounding woods has faded to embers. Peak foliage, the ranger at the gate tells me, passed a week or two ago. But “there are patches,” he asserts hopefully, outlier trees still trumpeting peak beauty. This cheers me, but turns out to be untrue.