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Penobscot Mtn, Acadia Nat'l Park

Updated: Dec 14, 2022

Doug and I start the day around 8:30 am at Jordan Pond House, which is mostly empty now but later will be bustling with tourists. We're headed to Penobscot Trail, a hike I've done before with Sara in fog so thick it drenched us and clouded the panorama with haze. The hike today is already perfect: blue sky, sun, and hardly anyone on the trail.

Hiking this trail in 2021...

The first half mile follows the Spring Trail path and climbs more than 600 feet; within 20 minutes I've already stripped off the first of four layers (tank top, long-sleeve base layer, long t-shirt, Alpaca wool sweater). I lead, Doug follows closely behind, and we move my pace--slowly, step by step. By 9:15, we've reached the trailhead for Penoboscot Mountain, just a mile further and less than a 500-foot climb. Soon we emerge from the tree line and have nothing but gradual rock face spread out in front of us, leading us along the ridge.

The hike to the summit takes some time because it's so impossibly beautiful we have to stop and stay awhile. I strip off another layer but then put it back on as we steady climb up the breezy ridge, dotted with evergreens, autumn-red blueberry bushes, and amber rainwater ponds that collect in crevices of rock. We take photos, then say how photos don't do it justice; we salsa dance and attempt East Coast Swing (me attempting, him leading); we snack on sweet green grapes and absorb the sweeping overviews of Jordan Pond and the ocean in the distance, a deepwater blue that fades into the sky. The panorama unfolds to Eagle Lake, too (where Doug and I kayaked the day before) and more brooks and ponds and lakes, still with the jagged coastline and islands in the distance. I. Don't. Want. To. Leave. My whole body is suspended in silence and awe--against the perfect blue, a bald eagle soars, the first one I've seen in my whole life.

We talk about work, how lucky we are to have jobs that allow us to work remotely from anywhere, the reason we're even able to be here today. There's a part of me that resents how money-obsessed our society is, how corporate ladder climbing is thrust into the spotlight more than climbing in places like this, but right now I don't mind that most other people are working on a Friday--I'm selfish with our solitude, standing there on the slope, watching how the sun and clouds throw new shadows, shapes and colors onto the ridges and ponds. I think so often of mom during times like this, remembering death and everything that isn't, how being alive isn't the same thing as feeling alive. Days like today, when there's no other place I'd rather be than in that present moment, feel like rare and exquisitely wonderful ways to say both thanks mom and I miss you so much.

Eventually we move on from Penobscot; we pass a small little alpine treasure, Sargent Mountain Pond, and then hike another mile and a couple hundred feet elevation gain to the Sargent Mountain summit, which has an even crisper, closer view of Eagle Lake. On the way down from the summit there, we spot our first wildlife all day (other than squirrels): a smooth green snake! I hardly ever see snakes, and I never would have guessed I'd see one this high up.

After Sargent Mountain, we descend via the slick Deer Brook Trail--we don't exactly hike in the creek bed, but close enough to get wet soles and for me to fall twice on mats of yellow leaves. As much as I adored the earlier part of the hike, I curse the descent as an older couple hiking up the path damns the climb. "No one in Canada swears," the man apologies for the uncharacteristic representation of New Brunswick when he realizes Doug and I are in the trees waiting for them to pass. "We only swear when the wife asks if we're done yet..."

I'm relieved to reach the Jordan Pond Path, a cozy, flat loop around the pond, mostly dry, but we still have one summit left: The Bubbles. The climb there is comparatively short and non-eventful; the views at the ~700 feet summit can't compare to Penobscot, and there are plenty of people buzzing around. Doug and I find a sort of out-of-the-way spot to eat lunch, but peoples' voices seem so loud, and I'm missing the silence from earlier. Then again, we overhear one couple in the distance telling others they're getting married the next day; after a round of "congratulations" from strangers, the bride admits she had second thoughts-- about climbing the Beehive (a popular but steep trail with iron rungs and sheer drop-offs) the day before she's supposed to appear flawless, and alive.

Between bites of PB&J, I think about 12 years earlier, before I got married; I was on this exact hike with Sara and two other science writing interns, Pat and Lauren; we'd spent the summer on Schoodic Peninsula, writing for a nonprofit park foundation. I tell Doug about Pat, how he'd made a goal for himself to hand-write a letter a day for a year, and how sometimes the letters Sara and I received would just say This is a good night letter. Sincerely, Pat. Doug asks, "And these were real letters, with stamps and everything?"

I always wonder about perspective shifting with age and time and experience; and I've thought a lot this trip about "getting tired" of views and people and places. Doug asked whether I could see myself tiring of the views if I hiked Penobscot every day. Maybe, but you never actually do anything every day, not really, not things like that. And even if it was a daily ritual, the experience would depend on the time of the day, weather, fellow hikers, outfit, snacks, wildlife, state of mind. Sitting at home offers so few changing variables, and, as someone who spent only two minutes in the sliver of warm October sun today, I have to keep reminding myself of this, over and over: I'm happier out there, out of the haze.

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