An Open Love Letter to Alpine Summertime
By Grace Pezzella
There is nothing in this world more inexplicably beautiful than steam spiraling upwards from the mouth of a carafe in those last quiet moments before breakfast. Your croo is awake, almost, drinking black coffee and rubbing sleep out of their eyes, praying they pull their own toothbrush out of the communal cup. This scene would perhaps not instill much faith in the casual observer--dirty kids rushing to tray cakers and whip all the lumps out of the moo, pausing only to stop a leaking Sammy or suffocate a minor grease fire. But to be in the throes of it, to wake up with the unfurling plot of each new morning, is an unparalleled privilege. From the inevitable chaos emerges a pattern, a careening ballet, and after a few days of flailing, of burning eggs and slicing fingers, your body simply knows the steps.
It took me approximately thirty seconds to fall irrevocably, tragically in love with life at Lakes. For three brief months in the twilight of my teenage years, the heartbreaking beauty of sunsets made me question the utility of the English language. I saw colors whose names I will never know, ones who share grammar with the very essence of the wild, at once lonely and stunningly familiar. I quickly ran out of synonyms for “incredible.”
The Whites lend themselves to a sort of “pre-nostalgia,” a longing to grasp the soul of each day and keep it in your pocket, paired with the knowledge that the way morning light feels on Monroe, how the air tastes as a storm front rolls in, is inherently gossamer. It’s the kind of place that inspires infinite gratitude, for fear that something might pass without proper praise. We’ve discovered a kingdom, one whose spirit feeds our own, gives us the legs to ramble, the strength to test ourselves, and the introspection necessary to understand the ephemera of a summer afternoon.
In his Maine Woods, Thoreau supposed, “Generally speaking, a howling wilderness does not howl: it it the imagination of the traveler that does the howling.” I’ve have a hard time with this sentiment since my freshman English seminar, and I still haven’t figured it out. On the one hand, I spent many a rainy day curled up safe and warm with a cup of tea, Bob Dylan wailing from our kitchen speakers and a rousing game of “Settlers of Catan” on offer. On the other hand, there’s nothing tame (or imaginary) about hurricane-force winds on a pack day or SARs in June ice storms. The Whites represent this exquisite intersection of the two extremes and, more importantly, create a precious opportunity for all of us--grimy, inquisitive wanderers--to settle, to make something our own.
In other words, I got possessive. Lakes, the Crawford Path, the kitchen spice rack--all mine. I am restless, and the tundra taught me to be still. In turn, I latched on to everything it had to offer. I remember looking through the ’07 croo log and thinking, “Ha! They’re wearing our BFD clothes!” It wasn’t that I didn’t realize that other people had worked in the huts before I stumbled, wide-eyed, over the threshold; everything from raiding to recipes are steeped in tradition. It was more that I didn’t want to acknowledge that legends in the making were roaming around the ridge line before I even knew what a ridge line was. I was jealous.
By July, I was exhilarated by the mania of cook days, obsessed with orchestrating the perfect soundtrack for the best BFD ever performed in a hut, swaddled by a sense of love and purpose; I was where I was supposed to be. Friends from home would visit and shake their heads at the absurdity of a full house on a Saturday night, and all I could say was, “This is my life now.” This season, this croo, was undoubtedly the best thing I have ever been a part of. Maybe the most important, too.
Like everything, however, even the good things, it was impermanent. I realized when friends started to head back to school that the season was drawing to a close. I knew I couldn’t spend the rest of my life sitting on a granite countertop singing poorly as thru-hikers picked out “Angel from Montgomery” on their ukuleles. But it did not hit me until the final mile-marker on the Ammy, when I saw four or five fresh, energetic faces bounding up the trail, that someone else got to play. It hurt, but in the beautiful way that “Stand by Me” makes everyone cry for no reason. And there’s the thing about the huts; no one wants to leave, but sometimes we have to, even if it’s just for a few months. Croos fade in and out, names and events get fuzzy, but the spirit is what matters, and that, thankfully, is a constant.
On one of the middle bunks in the croo room, some mystery person scrawled a lengthy quote in shaky handwriting. It ends, “...but once, we were here.” My first season was staggering on several levels, least of which is not the fact that now I belong to a current, a history. I miss my packboard already.