Ascent

Written by Tim Heffernan

Published: Northwoodsman, August 1999

10:30 A.M., hot and sticky, awkwardly foot stubbing on
hurricane flattened, criss crossed, ashen white tree logs,
One eyeing the sallow, swampy, still water ground six feet
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxbelow.
We eager, adolescent, wannabee, hiker campers deep inside the
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxSandwich range,
Hit a rude, no trail pass following the first adventure rush
on Mount Chocorua, with its spear headed peak and Indian
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxrock daring
and that stodgy, steep, "low but rugged" follow up ...
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxMt. Paugus.
A patchy lean-to at the top, scant space to host the ritual
xxxxxxxxxxxfour man, after supper, bridge game.
Looking back now, they were the dessert courses. This,
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxthe raw turnip.
Hibbid, Hubbard and Hedgehog.. pretender mountains,
leaf divested humpbacks, hunkered down or is it up?
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxmean and nasty.
We try to dodge but big, hungry mosquitoes, swarming black
flies, and other non erring mingesm, long deprived by the
formidable terrain from feasting on slow moving targets,
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxhum and strike at will.
In ragtag chorus, we curse and whine into the still morning
xxxxxxxxxxxxair ... our noisy displeasure.

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx*****

But not for long. Working its way down from the head
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxof the pack,
there is that unmistakable energy charging up his voice
the rhythmic cadence, very clear and unique in the manner
of how he persuades, observes, invites, and extorts from us
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxprogress
His voice sounds upbeat, exhilarated, and even ... mirabile dictu,
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxjoyful?
"Oh, this is interesting" he says, surveying the devastation,
the questioning scientist in him living on the tester edge of
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxplayful wonder.
We do not need to see his face to know that that extra
long shock of dark hair is sweat plastered clear across
his forehead at that precise, one of a kind, geometric
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxHomer angle.
His well worn, muted forest green, service station without
the label, pipe in pocket, clothing ensemble is set off by his
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxcap,
familiar and faded to a vintage red, as it ages comfortably
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxin the wood.
Up and down the line of hikers, there is rumbling suspicion
That we have lost the AMC trail, and he makes no attempt
xxxxxxxxxto hide the truth of this predicament.
He too is hot, sweaty, dirty and bug bedeviled. but ... unabashed,
and right now ever so warming to the task of the next discovery.
Suddenly, no imperceptibly, the sun seems brighter, the sky bluer
the feet faster. We inhale its confidence.

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx*****

Two weeks prior, at a pre-trip planning session in the trailer lodge,
I recall how it felt. How like a well crafted fishing lure, the
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxbait was laid.
Just the right timing to build excitement, anticipation, desire.
No paper shuffling, nor harping long and tedious litany of rules,
But Charlie's presence, his love of life, of mountains, talking
to the group, yes, but he'd a way of singling us out, individually,
xxxxxxxxxxxxmaking us feel charged up,
His eyes smiling assurance, smack in the middle of a verbal
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxtease.
He would invite Mac, the other mountain sage, to join in, to play
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxdevil's advocate.
They'd go at each other, strategy defending, criticizing, but play
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxtoo, it was
Their distinctive voices, rising and falling like well honed musical
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxinstruments.
Charlie the brass tuba, nothing to hide, the underlying rhythmic
Beat holding steady, periodic change of pitch, the breaks well timed;
And Mac, the wood wind, moving down the register, arresting the
tone, painting colors for the rise. and that poet's pause to linger
xxxxxxxxxxxxover a singular melodic phrase.
For the two of them, it was conscious teaching strategy. For us,
xxxxxxxxxxxxxit was ... well ...... riveting!

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx******

Fortuitous encounter it was, fifty three years ago, give or take.
It can't surprise that such a life unfolded since, as it surely did,
through all his exemplary pursuits and endeavors ... an ever widening,
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxdeepening gift of self:
Charles Horner, himself big space, toothy smile, unvarnished, unadorned,
xxxxxxxxsharing his multitudinous gifts with others,
revealed in retrospect, more clearly, and now, ever gratefully, in the
xxxxxxxxxxxfull light and truth of his passing.