Reese and the Franconia Ridge

Submitted by Nancy

Mountains: Lincoln & Lafayette
Date: October 17, 2012
Time: 9 hours
Weather: Mostly sunny, breezy, 50s
Miles: 8.9
Trails: Falling Waters Trail to Old Bridle Path

Pat and I start out on the Old Bridle Path, with plans to climb Mt. Lafayette. It is our first mountain since we finished climbing our 100 Highest Mountains in New England this summer and I am thinking that one 5,000-foot mountain will be enough of a test. We get to the intersection of the Falling Waters Trail and I look up. Through the tree branches and gently fluttering fall leaves, I see nothing but blue sky. It is going to be an absolutely gorgeous day so we decide to do the whole Franconia Ridge going up Falling Waters and down the Old Bridle Path, hiking over Little Haystack, Mt. Lincoln and Mt. Lafayette; three mountains instead of one. I don't know if we are ready for the challenge, but our anticipation of being on the most beautiful ridge in the Whites on a blue-sky day obliterates any cautionary concerns and we are off.

This is my very favorite hike. We've done it many times before but today it feels different.

Since we haven't hiked in a while, I focus on the "doing," putting one foot in front of the other, up and up. I am afraid it is going to feel really hard. Not only have I not hiked in a while, but I've gained weight, which just adds to my load. I'm surprised that it feels the way it always feels. I can hear myself breathe, I'm sweating, I can feel my leg muscles working hard and I am okay.

It is not long before we reach the falling waters that the trail is named after. The waterfalls bring me out of "doing" mode and into the I-can't-believe-how-beautiful-this-is mode. There is water falling the full length of the trail from way up above me to below me, in some places sparkling in the sunlight as it glides over flat granite, in others places dropping tens of feet, splashing into crystal clear pools. The white of the water contrasts with the dark rock that it bubbles over and the roar and splash sounds soothe me. I've seen these falls many times before, but today the experience feels more intimate.

As we work our way up the trail, I sink into the sounds of the falls, immediately feeling less nervous about early morning ice as we carefully cross one waterfall after another. We encounter no problems and leave the beautiful falls behind us as we gain altitude, getting closer and closer to the summit of Little Haystack.

There is a spot on the Falling Waters Trail where it seems to open up and it feels like we are about to break out above tree-line. Pat and I get hopeful at that spot every time. And then the trail turns back into the woods, toward the mountain, into the darker, thicker forest. We do not emerge above tree-line for what feels like forever, my anticipation growing with every step up. Finally, my favorite thing starts to happen. I notice I am surrounded by more sky and less vegetation. The trees get shorter and turn to shrubs. The wind picks up and the sky gets bigger. And then we are out of the trees and in the open-air magnificence of above tree-line, the summit of Little Haystack only a few feet away.

Arriving at the 4,800 foot summit, I am thrilled that I can still climb a 4,000-footer. Phew! I stuff that reassurance in my back pocket and let myself come fully into the glory of this spot that I love so much. The air around us is warmed by the bright sun and the Franconia Ridge stretches out before me with the trail visibly winding its way to the summit of Mt. Lincoln. This view acts as a balm for anything I have in me that needs healing. It soothes the still sore spots and the broken places and works a kind of numbing relief on everything that remains painful. Here I know all is as it should be. My life is a tiny dot on this glorious expanse and it gives me perspective. I am here, a witness to this incredible beauty, and as I stand in it, it is in me. That is the gift. My life feels full of possibilities and even though I can't fathom what those possibilities are, the knowledge that they exist anchors me in my life with a deep sense of calm and trust. This is how I feel every time I am up here, but today the feelings inside are subtlety different. They feel wider yet softer, deeper and calmer. Less exclamation point and more ellipse...

I think that is because of Reese.

I flew out to Denver a week before my daughter, Kelly's, due date. In the ensuing weeks I did everything I could to help her and her husband, Justin, as they readied themselves to welcome their baby into the world. I am not the domestic type. But I cooked and cleaned and did laundry and errands, driving all over Denver on 5 lane crowded highways, following my GPS. I enjoyed every moment of it. It wasn't about me; I was in it, part of the miracle that was happening around me. I was calm and life flowed, day-to-day. Each night I went to bed and prayed, like I used to pray when I was a little girl, that Kelly would deliver a healthy baby girl and that she and the baby would be fine. And then I would fall asleep. I'd wake up the next morning and meet Kelly in the kitchen for breakfast, Kelly's tummy stretched to absolute capacity. She'd stand there, one hand on her hip, the other pointing to her stomach and say, "Yup, still pregnant."

Kelly finally delivered her baby on September 2 at 12:50 in the morning, 15 days after her due date. It was a hard labor. Giving birth is raw and painful and intense. I am so proud of Kelly and of Justin. And I was there, every minute of those 16 hours, as a loving witness. I took each new moment, each contraction, each decision as it came, and stayed anchored in my love for Kelly and Justin. And it was easy. Something happened to me in Denver and in that delivery room that I never expected. I was different. I was clam, I didn't plan, didn't try to control or suggest anything. I just did the next thing, lovingly. Nothing frustrated me or angered me. I let Kelly and Justin ready themselves as they wanted. I was there, loving them while they loved and cared for each other, which was beautiful to watch.

Seeing my granddaughter born changed my life. The most obvious revelation came as a surprise to me. I have always wanted to know that I matter, because I grew up believing that I didn't. When I saw her there, her tiny pink body swaddled in a blanket, eyes wide open, hair peeking out from beneath her knit pink and blue striped hat, being handed to Kelly for the very first time, I realized that she would not be here if it were not for me. Had I not fallen in love with my husband, Don, and had he and I not stayed in love and worked through the tough periods of our marriage, then our daughters, Kelly and Jess, would never have been born. And there would be no beautiful baby girl named Reese Alyson Ritter.

When Kelly and Justin and Reese came home from the hospital we developed a routine for my last week in Denver. Kelly would nurse Reese in the early morning and then she would wake me up. I would carefully take Reese from Kelly's loving arms and Kelly and Justin would go back to bed.

I would lie down on the couch in the living room, cover Reese and I with a soft bright pink fleece blanket and hold Reese on my chest, her tiny head covered with silky-soft brown hair, tucked under my chin. Her feet and hands curled up under her, for she has not yet realized she's no longer confined to the womb. I have a hand around her bottom and the other lying gently on her back. I can remember sleeping like this with both Kelly and Jess when they were newborns and I loved it then, as I do now. Reese's warmth soothes me. Her smell is pure. Her little squeaks of settling into me so adoringly sweet they almost break my heart. Her innocence and vulnerability fill me and once in me, they head to my heart and work their magic, melting away old scar tissue and the scabs of historic pain that have built up over the years. Reese is pure love. I can't hold her without being in that state myself.

You know, I thought I was going to Denver to help Kelly and Justin. But that's not it. I was there to be changed by the beautiful innocence of baby Reese. I was there to be opened and laid vulnerable, to be transported into my own innocence and beauty through hers. I was there to feel how indescribably wondrous it is to have my granddaughter on my chest, loving her, holding the infinite possibilities of her life in my heart, wondering who she will become. After sharing Reese's first week of life, I left Denver to come home to Keene more open, more vulnerable, more love. And I feel that shift as I hike.

Pat and I make our way over Mts. Lincoln and then Lafayette. We are coming down the Old Bridle Path when I finally find words to describe what feels different. I am more a part of what is around me than I've been before. Before the beauty of this hike felt too big to contain and I would take the energy from the mountains and send it back out to them, exclaiming over and over, "Oh my God, this is so beautiful!" Today, I have more room in my heart to contain the beauty. I am the experience; it is "in" me, not "outside" of me.

The Franconia Ridge on a beautiful day and cuddling my new granddaughter -- both experiences sooth the painful places and massage love into my heart while old pain seeps out unnoticed, giving way to more room for love. Healing doesn't have to be traumatic or huge or unbearably painful, or even the result of years of therapy, rivers of tears and excruciatingly hard work processing old patterns. It can be beautiful. And it doesn't have to hurt. It can feel like love all around you, possibility filling you, peace surrounding you.

One day I want to be with Reese as she hikes up the Falling Waters Trail, over Little Haystack, Lincoln and Lafayette and down the Old Bridle Path. I want to be a loving witness, watching Reese's heart open when she arrives above tree-line for the very first time and sees the Franconia Ridge stretch out before her on a blue-sky day. That's when I will tell her how her love opened my heart when she was three days old, sleeping on my chest under a soft fleece pink blanket.