(HOST) A recent hike up Mount Abraham in Lincoln prompted commentator Caleb Daniloff to think about what one can find on a mountaintop.
(DANILOFF) I watch my father scramble up the sheer stoneface, grabbing onto a thin tree branch at the edge of the trail. The legs
of his white pants are muddied almost to the knee, and his stiff, clunky boots won’t bend to the contours of the rocky pitch. It’s
late morning and we’re a half mile below the peak of Mount Abe. He asks to rest a moment. We both turn to take in the sweeping views behind us: the orange and brown carpet of forest, the dragon spine of mountains, the grey flourish of Lake Champlain.
My father is seventy years old, exactly twice my age. He’s in great shape, runs every day and rows the Charles River in a single-man scull. He still works full-time and travels extensively, mostly in former Soviet republics, trying to foster an independent press.
Yet here I find myself worrying over his every foothold, whether he’s cold in that button-down shirt, whether his hands might grip better without the winter gloves, whether I could carry him if he falls.
The higher we climb, the more my imagination runs. Barriers calcified in my youth are crumbling. In a way, he is no longer
my father and I no longer his son. We are just two men climb-
ing to the top of a mountain, one younger, one older, but get-
ting harder to tell the difference.
As I stand on the peak, surveying the panoramic view, the borderless spill of earth reinforces this notion. I can see New Hampshire and Massachusetts in the distance. But where they end and Vermont begins I can’t tell. Up here, boundaries exist
only on maps. The mountaintop blurs the lines between past
and present, between man and nature, between man and spirit.
As if in punctuation, the sounds of honking geese and rifle shot drift up.
Followed by the electronic tones of my dad’s cell phone tinkling to life. I can’t bear to look at the other hikers. Suddenly, I’m thirteen again, plunging down an elevator shaft of embarrassment as my dad shouts to my mom that we’re at the top. I busy myself with the snacks.
After eating, we leave our packs and head off to explore a plane wreck a couple hundred feet below the summit: a single-engine Cessna that crashed in the early eighties. On the way, we pass
a fallen tree, a thin patch of snow coating the bark, so light I can make out the individual flakes. It’s my first snow of the season, and my heart droops a bit at the sight – the mountain always
first to break the news.
At the crash site, a decapitated steering column sticks from the control panel and foam bursts from the faded vinyl seats. Tree branches poke through the windows and moss grows in the crumpled tail, Mount Abe claiming its prize. Overhead, the drone of a plane engine penetrates the trees, sounding less like flight and more like the persistence of man.
We collect our gear from the summit and head back down the trail. After a while, my father says his boots are giving him trouble on the rocky, snaking paths. Again, he asks to stop. He sits on a large root and rubs the side of his foot. Before I know it, I’m unty-
ing my lightweight Gore-Tex boots. My father accepts them with-
out protest, and I strap on his. For the rest of the hike, I walk in my father’s hard, heavy shoes – feeling not different, not the same, but somewhere in between.
This is Caleb Daniloff of Middlebury.
Caleb Daniloff is a freelance writer and recipient of the 2005 Ralph Nading Hill Jr. Literary Prize.