Wheeler Mountain

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(Host) Recently, a difficult hike had a sweeter ending than commentator Alan Boye expected.

(Boye) It’s been over 12 years since I climbed Vermont’s Wheeler Mountain. The trail goes to the top of a blunt, tall peak at the southern end of Lake Willoughby. The path begins at a meadow that has turned pale with the season’s first snow. I cross it and walk through a small grove of tall Aspen trees. The gray branches of the trees arch above my head. They are bare except for a few yellow leaves that twirl faintly in the cold air.

I cross a small, frozen creek. Five nights of deep cold has turned the earth as hard as steel. Everything but the evergreens has died. I walk past some old, rusting machinery and then the trail begins to climb in earnest.

I stop again to catch my breath. The climb isn’t as easy as I remember it being. The last time I came to Wheeler Mountain, my two children were young boys. Now…hiking with young ones is always a hit or miss proposition, but on that day the boys scrambled up the trail without a word of complaint. That was long ago, and now they are young men, living far from here, learning how to make their own way in the world.

And me? Well, I can feel winter closing in. For the last month or so I’ve been eating like a pig, and now, I ache with nearly every step.

When I finally scramble out onto a smooth, stone ledge, I have to stop just to catch my breath. The old ticker is thumping like a broken alarm clock in my chest.

Thank goodness the trail gets easier. I follow a series of red blazes painted on gray granite. Soon I’m walking across a narrow ridge of stone. Just to my right, the granite ends at a sheer cliff. Five hundred feet below me a few small fields hug the shores of Lake Willoughby. The slate-colored waters seem impossibly far below; the gigantic lake seems as small as a pond.

I shudder in the still air, to think what one false step might mean. Carefully, I climb to the top of the ridge and rest. I sit for a long while, just staring out into the emptiness of the world around me. A somber quiet has fallen over everything.

Then suddenly I remember how long ago, I used to stand in the doorway of the bedroom to listen for the sound of my two son’s youthful breathing as they slept. Like a gift, the memory begins to rekindle the embers of this dark heart.

This is Alan Boye just walking the hills of Vermont.

Alan Boye teaches at Lyndon State College. He spoke from our studio at the Fairbanks Museum in Saint Johnsbury. His latest book is titled, “Just Walking the Hills of Vermont.”

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