A Special Birthday Celebration on North Kinsman

Submitted by Nancy

Mountains: North Kinsman (4,293)
Date: December 31, 2009
Time: 7 hours
Weather: Cloudy and cold, light snow, temps in the 20's
Miles: 8.2
Elevation Gain: 3,208
Steps: 18,885
Trail: Mount Kinsman Trail, Kinsman Ridge Trail, out and back

Picture Gallery

"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others."

          Marianne Williamson

Pat and I spent the last day of 2009, Pat's birthday, on a hike so special that I am sure neither one of us will ever forget it. It wasn't the hike so much as it was the space we created on the trail. It felt sacred, like hallowed ground. So touching that just talking about it in the car on the way home seemed like a violation of what we had created. I knew it would take me a while before I could talk about it comfortably. A day or so later, I asked Pat to write down what she had said; I told her I would do the same.

This report is about what happened while we were doing what we always do, putting one foot in front of the other, climbing up and down mountains. Hiking has a meditative rhythm. Couple that with the physical exertion required to reach the summit, while being in the midst of the beauty and splendor of nature and that leads to states of the heart. Once there, in the midst of a hike, something special almost always happens. It isn't planned. It never is. It just happens.


We have been keeping an eye on the weather, looking for the most favorable window for a hike during the Christmas holiday. Pat is off work, so we have the freedom to choose our hiking day based on weather. Unfortunately, the forecasts have been calling for snow and cold all week. Thursday looks like it will be our best bet - so we are climbing the last day of 2009, a great way to end the year. It is also Pat's birthday, and there is no better way to celebrate than a hike.

As we climb up towards North Kinsman, it feels more like a struggle and less like a celebration. We are climbing up the Mount Kinsman Trail and, although Smith and Dickerman's guidebook says the trail is moderately steep, I am pushing my legs farther than they want to go today.

That's because of what we did this past Monday afternoon. I teach a bi-weekly free weights class but the gym has been closed for the two weeks around the holidays, and both Pat and I wanted to keep training. So I taught a class for just Pat and me. I mixed it up with some high intensity aerobics and free weights. By the time we were finished, we had done 30 lunges on the right, 30 on the left, 30 plie squats and 30 squats using some hefty weights. We did dumbbell press and flies, butt, back and ab exercises...a little of everything. The next day I was a bit sore, but by Wednesday I was walking up the stairs funny, getting out of my car gingerly, and lowering myself gently onto the toilet seat with a groan. Apparently Pat is having similar issues.

Thursday morning Pat drives into my driveway at 5 AM. Dejah, my daughter's five-year-old yellow lab hops in the back of the car and greets Pinta, Pat's roommate's dog. I get into the car with effort and look at Pat who smiles a yeah-my-legs-still-hurt-too smile.

We head off to the White Mountains. It feels good to be traveling on New Hampshire roads going to a familiar mountain. We have been climbing in the Adirondacks since the late fall. But once we hit December 21st, the Winter Solstice, the hikes count as "winter hikes" and we are back working on climbing the 48 4,000-footers in New Hampshire in winter. We are climbing North and South Kinsman.

We are surprised by the lack of snow at the trailhead and start off with our snowshoes on our pack instead of our feet. That, however doesn't last long. We find we need the snowshoes for traction and we put them on about a mile into the hike. The climb starts out with a gentle up, but way before we reach the summit, we are huffing and puffing and our legs are reminding us that they didn't really want to work this hard today. About three quarters of the way up the mountain, I am wondering how I am going to get to the summit of North Kinsman, much less up to South Kinsman; my legs ache with each step up. We reach the top of the first peak, and I say, "How about just one mountain today?" Pat readily agrees.

As we snowshoe down the mountain, I am thinking about it being Pat's birthday.

"I want to celebrate you today, Pat," I say. "How about if you tell me all the ways that you love yourself, as a way to celebrate your birthday?" This is not something that I thought about ahead of time. It just came out of my mouth. I just said it.

There is complete silence as we walk down the trail. I can hear our snowshoes shuffling through the snow, occasionally grazing a rock or some ice. I am aware of the silence, and slightly aware that what I have just suggested might not be easy, but I just let it sit out there among the trees covered with white as our bodies move along the trail.

"I love that," Pat says slowly. "I love that I am loyal."

"Yes, you are." I say.

Long silence. We keep walking. I am in the moment, not thinking about anything, encouraging Pat in my heart.

"I love that...I love adventure," Pat says.

We keep walking. Pat is in front, then Dejah, then me. Pinta is way ahead hoping to catch a squirrel. There is another long pause filled with snowshoe plods and nothing else.

"I love that I laugh," Pat says.

I smile, thinking about the times we have laughed on the trails.

"I love my intelligence and common sense," Pat says. Long pause. "I love that I read," she adds.

We continue snowshoeing down the trail, letting gravity help us as the snow cushions our steps. The world around me is black and white. Tree trunks and snow, as far as I can see. Pat is in a bright salmon pink top that shines on the monochrome trail. She seems to get brighter as she opens herself up from within.

We pass a heart that someone has drawn in the snow, and I stop to take a picture. Maybe it's the trail that brings out the love in those who walk its distance.

"You can join me, Nancy. Tell me what you love about yourself," Pat says, leaving the heart behind on the trail to inspire others.

I let her invitation sink in and stay inside and see what comes. Wow...this is not an easy thing to do. I flash back to a time years ago. I am sitting on my therapist's couch and she has asks me to tell her things I like about myself. I am silent, tears running down my cheeks. I keep thinking, working, trying to find something that I like about myself. I say nothing.

We keep moving down the mountain in the snow-covered silence, in our own spaces, open to what might come into our hearts.

"I love that I find meaning in everything," I say, slowly. As I say this, the emotion behind the words fills me, tears come to my eyes and I struggle to get the words out through the emotion. Not only am I saying what I love about myself, but I really mean it.

After another long silence I say, "I love that meaning matters so much to me." More tears.

Silence, snowshoes scraping along the trail.

"I love my kindness, my tenderness," Pat says.

I am cold and so I have a hat and my parka hood on, so it is hard to hear. I push my hood off, disregarding the cold, and concentrate, wanting to make sure I don't miss anything Pat says.

"I love that I am capable and can do many things," Pat says.

"I love cheering for others and being cheered," I say.

"I love that I see the glass half full," I add.

Each time I say something I love about myself it is an experience. It is not just words that come out my mouth. I am walking in the snow, and then a thought pops into my heart. I hear it, think about it and can feel the emotion building within me. I start to say it aloud and find a gob of something stuck in my throat. Maybe it is fear. I keep talking, tears streaming down my cheeks, emotion choking my voice and airway. As I say the words aloud to Pat, I hear them in a different way than I heard them inside of me, where they were private and secret. When I put them out into the world, it is like a litmus test of authenticity. I hear them and know them to be true. And that makes me cry. I have never been able to say something true and meaningful to me without tears.

"I love that I get excited about stuff," I say.

"I love the mother in me," I add.

"I love that I have learned to trust people... and I love that I have the fortitude and resilience to keep going when I am outside of my comfort zone," I say.

I have never said these words together like this before. Never. And in saying the words, it feels like I am actually knowing, at a very deep level, that they are true about me. I own them. I own that I am a loving mother, a cheerleader, an optimist, a meaning-maker; that I am enthusiastic, resilient and trusting. Yes, I know these things about me and I love these things about me.

"I love that in spite of the depression that I suffered for most of my life, I never gave up and committed suicide," Pat says

I honor the hugeness of this statement in silence, first. Then say, "Oh my God Pat - that is so big."

Time goes by, the trail moves under our snowshoes, the affirmations of who we are coming sporadically, blessing the space, our relationship, and ourselves.

"I love that I went through trauma in my childhood, raised by parents who could not see me, because that experience made me who I am today." The sentence drops like a loaded bomb out of my mouth, and rises like fairy dust into the woods.

"I know my mother missed something awesome when she chose not to know me," I add slowly, filled with the emotion of lost chances.

"Wow, Nancy," Pat says.

We keep going, each statement a revelation to the sayer, a deeper owning of who we are. I realize that we have created sacred space here, in the woods on the Kinsman Trail. The trust, acceptance and vulnerability that surround us as we do this exercise turned celebration is nothing short of miraculous. It is beautiful.

"I love my eyes," Pat says. Tears run down my cheeks when I hear her say this. They keep flowing as we walk. My mittens have become my Kleenex. I wonder if my tears will freeze on my face; it is cold.

"I love that I know what I want, that I know who I am," I say.

"I love that giving up is not something I easily do," Pat says.

"I love that I inspire others," I say

I think back to the heart we saw drawn in the snow. Simple. Beautiful. A message to everyone hiking by that there is love everywhere, always. We just have to open ourselves up to it. Pat and I find it here today. I am in awe of the bigness of the space we create by doing this. We are different now. I own more of who I am and that is contagious. The next time someone tells me I am inspiring, I might be able to really let it in, maybe even rejoice in it. And when I do that, I give the other person the space to find where they also inspire others. Once we own it, we don't have to hide it or deny it - we can live it. And the world becomes more inspiring.

"I love that I can say what I love about me," I say, remembering the day in the therapist's office when this space was unavailable to me.

"And I love that there is always more," I say.

Yes. There is always more -- more that I will love about myself, more life possibilities, more sacred spaces, more meaningful celebrations and more incredible hikes. Always more.

19 out of the Winter 48