I don’t like eclipses. I find it difficult to get anything done during the eclipse, and there are always bumps in the road. The period between a lunar and solar eclipse is especially dicey, and we had a lunar, then a solar, eclipse, and we’re gearing up for another lunar. Penumbral rather than full, to be sure, but still.
Mercury retrograde usually doesn’t bother me as much. It happens three or four times a year, for one thing, so I’d be biting my nails a lot if I got too hung up over it. Things also don’t progress as usual during Mercury retrograde, but I take it as a time to devote energy to neglected areas of life.
This Mercury retrograde, coinciding with eclipse season, has jarred me a bit. I had a serious car breakdown on the road yesterday and the car had to be towed. Something structural went wrong, and I was lucky not to crash or be hurt. I’m biting my nails waiting for the verdict, hoping the car can be repaired, because I don’t think I can afford another one.
I haven’t figured out how to get the car back. The garage is 25 miles away, and normally people are willing to offer rides, but we have a pandemic going on and nobody wants to be close to anyone else. What a bother! There’s a huge mountain between the valley and town, so a bicycle won’t work. We don’t have Uber here. Ugh. County public transportation has been discontinued until further notice, again for the pandemic.
I have been worried about my car for some time. I really need to start making some money. I’ve been stubborn about not giving up my writing, and I don’t have the constitution at this stage of life to work a full day and then come home and write in the evening and weekends. Really, I never did. I’m one of these sorry people, ill equipped for this age, who come home from work tired in mind if not body, and I need eight hours of sleep to function. Getting a job with longer hours to get a car would mean giving up writing and this blog, at least for awhile. That’s provided I could even get a job that would pay enough to buy a car. We’re in a pandemic.
I named the car I have now Greatest Love. I don’t want to part with it yet.
I meant to get this written yesterday, but repairmen scheduled to come Friday showed up Thursday instead. Can’t complain. As things stand during the pandemic, you’re lucky to get someone to come to your house at all.
This week I hiked two lesser mountains called The Crows (Big and Little) and an extended ridge line called the Nun-Da-Ga-O Ridge, all on the same day. Nun-Da-Ga-O sounds like it could be an Iroquois word, or Anglicization thereof, but it’s just a name a local hiker made up.
I’ve hiked pieces of this trail, a few miles outside of Keene, New York, many times, but Wednesday I decided to start on Hurricane Road, summit Little Crow, traverse the coll to Big Crow, and descend a quarter mile to the Ridge Trail, which undulates up and down for several miles in numerous rock scrambles before descending at Weston Mountain to Lost Pond. From there, it’s flat easy trail to Crow Clearing, a parking lot where most people hike to Big Crow or Lost Pond, or hike the Nun-Da-Ga-O loop, bypassing the Crows.
Little Crow isn’t hiked much. There’s no parking lot, the signage is obscure, and Big Crow is a bigger mountain with an easier ascent. I chose a clockwise loop to get Little Crow out of the way early, since it can be difficult for the vertically challenged (a.k.a., short). I carried a heavy day pack , since I knew there would be no water until I got to the Pond, and the Ridge trail is unmarked, so I needed extra gear and clothing in case I lost the trail and spent the whole day wandering around up there.
I find climbing a treacherous trail with a heavy pack disconcerting. Some people find it harder going down, but I think it’s much easier to jump down than scramble up. I only needed to take off the pack to get over one ledge, as it turns out. I’ve climbed Little Crow many times, but this was the first time the trail was dry. I realized that what I interpreted as a difficult hike was mainly my reluctance to get my knees muddy and my bottom wet. Still, I cursed the giants who cut this trail.
I enjoy Little Crow more for the grass, Red Pine, and lichen near the summit than the views. In the twenty years since I moved to the Adirondacks, many of the views I once enjoyed have partially filled in, as the forests continue to recover from the poor forestry and deliberate fire setting of the nineteenth century. At the summit the scent of balsam pine was pungent. The thing that struck me most when I moved to the Adirondacks from Tucson was the many fragrances, not just of balsam but of sweet fern and wet leaves. The desert only smells like dust, except after a rain, and it doesn’t rain often. In the Adirondacks, it rains a lot. I’ve been up on this range in the rain, in the fog, in many feet of snow, in approaching thunder, and on days when the black flies swarmed so heavy that you had to thread your sandwich under your head net. Usually, though, I pick a better day to be up here. On this day, the deep deep blue of the sky conveyed a limitless calm.
There’s long stretches of scrubby Red Oak on The Crows, not seen much in this area. On the descent into the coll, a Hermit Thrush sang buoyantly. Thrushes kept me company throughout the day.
There was one small section of rock on the descent that looked impossibly steep. I could easily have gone around it, but I calculated that the fall would be minor and there was a tree to grab if I slipped, so I went for it.
Success! It’s always gratifying to find a reasonable place to test the tread on your boots. I would need that security traversing the bare rock up to Big Crow.
The views on Big Crow are impressive. You can see the Dix Range and the Great Range of the High Peaks. You can also see the weather coming in for quite a ways on this isolated and exposed peak. I was up here once with a very spiritual woman who was praying and praying and praying as the thunder clouds rolled in. Can she hear that or is she deaf, I wondered, cognizant of the quarter hour scramble, at least, to get down into the canopy. When she finally opened her eyes, she said that of course she heard the thunderstorm coming, but she wasn’t finished with her prayer. That’s one tarry at the summit I’ll never forget.
The wider loop I chose was about nine miles and some change, but mileage and net elevation gain doesn’t tell the story of an Adirondack hike. I hiked the same distance, on the Tongue Range over Lake George, two days earlier. That hike took four hours, including stops. This one took seven-and-a-half hours. Nun-Da-Ga-O is a continual up-and-down into depressions of hemlock, beech, and Yellow Birch, then along shallow brush and balsam, with exciting stretches of bare rock and exhilarating climbs. Though this is not an official trail, someone has been maintaining it, sawing through the downed Paper Birch trees that are yielding to maturing forest.
At one point I left the main trail and hobbled up a spur path to a wide cliff ledge for a rest. I’m a steady plodder, not a race-and-rester, on the trail. Even at a summit, I only stop long enough to rehydrate, snap a few pictures, and refresh bug spray. Partly it’s because I’m out for the journey, not the destination. I’m not much of a peak bagger. Also, I usually gauge my abilities against the trail accurately, and I don’t need to rest. There are people, almost invariably young men, who try to race to the summit and brag about their “time,” and I don’t know how to express the derision I feel for this approach to wilderness. Nun-Da-Ga-O is not a scary-steep enterprise, but there is a long way to fall in places if you trip while you’re rushing to “beat your time.”
The main reason I spend less time drinking in the view is probably because I live here. Not that I’m inured to the beauty–how can you be? But I’m not indulging in a few days or a few weeks away from it all. My life is here. I have chores before I leave in the morning and my own dinner to cook when I return, possibly with a few have-to’s yet in the day. The next day will probably involve errands or work, even if it’s only writing a blog post, so I’ll need to get to bed early. When you live here, you fit your hiking into your life. I often wonder what it would be like to be on vacation in the Adirondacks; I started a new job the day after I arrived here. Not that I’m complaining. I know I’m incredibly lucky. I also know that when you move to an idyllic spot, you take your life with you.
Stepping onto that ledge off the unofficial trail, I stepped between worlds. I reapplied bug repellent, poured some electrolyte replacement powder into my water, snapped some pictures, then just sat. I studied the peaks in the distance and named them. I listened to a Winter Wren singing exuberantly on and on and on. I entered a feeling of aloneness that’s difficult to describe because I don’t understand it myself. I know how to avoid crowds in the Adirondacks and I’m often alone on the trails, sometimes for a full day. I don’t think twice about it. I wasn’t totally alone on this hike. I believe I saw a total of seven people. I don’t like meeting people now that we have COVID-19, but prior to the pandemic I smiled and greeted a fellow traveler as a kindred spirit. With the exception of those beating their time, I like other hikers.
But in that place I felt isolated and alone, in a way that connected me to the rocks and the leafy forest below me, to the blue sky and the Winter Wren singing his complex joyful song. I haven’t felt that far away from other people and their bullshit for a long time. It was like a big bag of other people’s stuff dropped off my shoulders, over the cliff. I felt no pressure, no reason even, to move. I had miles yet to walk, but I knew the trail had no unfair demands to make of me. I don’t even remember if I prayed; the space itself was like a prayer, the heart singing gratitude without reflection.
Hiking is not really about geographical space. It’s about a meeting of trees, rocks, animals, and human. Also sky and wind. It’s different every time, and the difference itself is a gift. I’ve hiked Nun-Da-Ga-O as a bug-bitten endurance event. I’ve been disoriented up there, wandering around and around trying to find the cairn. I’m not trying to convince anyone to hike The Crows or Lost Pond or the ridge between, necessarily. It’s not about where you go, it’s where you are when you get there.
I hit the trail again when I felt myself becoming sleepy. The day was far from over, and there were challenges still ahead. An even bigger cliff loomed ahead of me further on, and I hoped the path would lead up there. It did! There was a rocky scramble to view of Lost Pond below. Above, a pair of Golden Eagles circled.
Golden Eagles are rare in the Adirondacks. They like the high cliffs and open spaces that are more common out West. I’ve been on hikes where others pointed to Golden Eagles in the distance, too far for me to distinguish from any other large bird, but this was the first time a pair circled close enough for me to identify. This time, I remembered to pray.
By the time I got to the last view, Weston Mountain, I was ready to go home, and I even wondered if I was walking in circles, as every rocky outcrop was beginning to look the same. I actually got out my topographical map, a thing I mostly seem to carry around for luck. The Pond was directly below me, so I was on the right path. I was sure of it as I descended Weston, which was the unrelentingly steep sonofabitch I remembered. Yes, I can pray to a mountain and call it a sonofabitch on the same hike. Those who have done a grueling all-day traverse can understand.
I did not stop at Lost Pond, as planned, because a trio of juvenile ravens had already claimed the space. Raven fledglings scream incredibly loud, and you would think something bizarre and terrible was going on if you didn’t know better. They like to hear their own voices. Some people mistake these cries, which can go on for hours, for a person screaming. Fortunately I knew what was going on, so I didn’t panic, but I took the jarring noise as a sign that it was time to make my way home. I still had three miles to go, on the flat. The beautiful, haunting notes of the Wood Thrush punctuated the late afternoon, as I headed for the car.
This is a sweet mystery published in Britain shortly after the second world war. The moon creates an emotional backdrop as a serial killer claims young female victims under its surreal brightness.
The full moon is celebrated by lovers, poets, and Witches for its divine beneficence, but in folklore it is known as a maleficence, inciting violence, insanity, disturbing dreams, emotional disturbance, and general bad luck. The novel captures the contradictory nature of lunar energy by telling the story through the eyes of two boys, juxtaposing the innocence of childhood with the evil nature of the killings.
Simon and Keith are orphans living with a married brother, and their life circumstances make them closer than most brothers, while ensuring they are less closely supervised than most boys their age. Brother Jack and his wife are viewed by the boys as interfering, authoritarian, and No Fun, though the couple are young themselves to be saddled with responsibility for boys of this age in addition to their new baby. Probably Simon and Keith’s own parents would have paid closer attention to their activities, but the story also evokes a bygone age that emerged around World War II and continued until the nineties, when most children spent large amounts of time outdoors unsupervised, unshackled by extra-curricular activities scheduled by conscientious parents or onerous duties in farms, households, or industries. The imaginative, marginally acceptable, and faintly dangerous escapades of the boys are charming. Seen from their perspective, a dirty canal becomes a mystical landscape; a jumble of rejected items becomes a treasure trove. While adults in the story are sickened and horrified by the murders, the boys see them as high adventure. They do much of their sleuthing in the daytime after school and on holidays, when no one seems to be keeping track of their whereabouts, but they also sneak outside under the full moon to frighten themselves with dangers real and imagined. Childhood cannot discriminate.
The narrator Simon is the older brother, and at thirteen (the lunar number!) he is on the cusp of adulthood. We can expect that solving this mystery will pull him to the other side and make him an adult. The loss of childhood is something that is universally mourned, despite its near-inevitability, but most of us either grow up or die young. The moon emerges out of fantasy and horror as catalyst of maturity.
Full moon eclipse in Gemini this week, and while a partial eclipse in this sign isn’t necessarily the most powerful, other astrological features are intensifying things. The longer-term square between Saturn and Uranus is magnified by retrograde Venus squaring Mars, inching up to a Venus-in-retrograde conjunction with the Sun.
The dominant social feature of the moment is protests against police homicides of Black people, sparked by the murder of George Floyd. Law enforcement has remained stuck in its abysmal patterns, racism being the pattern highlighted by the protests, and people of all races are sick of the willful refusal of this segment of society to change. This is a widespread issue, social in nature, not really about any one person (although it’s important that certain high profile people in the incendiary event be held accountable).
The trouble is that eclipses, even though wide ranging in effect, are personally felt. The moon is the quintessential personal planet, ruling and fueling emotions, and detachment in favor of the greater good is almost impossible. I have felt myself being drawn into my frustration with White people on the Left, particularly the “Right-on Lefty Dudes,” for the self-aggrandizing way they capitalize on other people’s pain. I’ve seen others become distracted over the stupidity of Trump’s comments in response to the protests or the clueless-as-usual way the elite journalist class tries to interpret the situation for us. Trump’s decision to involve the military should be roundly criticized, but the heart of the protests can be whitewashed by focusing on tangential issues. Troublesome moon energy demands attention to personal feelings, however inappropriate or inconvenient they appear to the intellect. I believe the best way to handle this is to recognize the myriad of personal issues surfacing and prioritize what belongs where and what is important now. The personal is political, but not every personal issue belongs in every political response.
Of course, other important things besides the demonstrations are happening on the planet. There’s still COVID-19. I’ve seen people complain that Americans can’t think about more than one issue at a time because the attention of the moment in the US has moved from the pandemic to homicidal racist police. Well, we get to decide where we put our attention. At the same time, a popular medical vlogger in England got pulled up by Americans for ignoring police brutality on his vlog about COVID-19! Did I mention this is a self-centered transit? Me-me-me. With a solar eclipse at the Solstice, and another lunar eclipse on July 5th, expect the emotionally intense self-absorbed energy to last until at least the July new Moon on the 20th. Remember: your emotions are valid; you only need to be mindful of how they’re directed.