• Lucy

1: Mountaintop Secrets

Updated: Apr 19

Mom and I hiked a lot, just the two of us, when I was younger and she was alive. Every sunny weekend we made sandwiches, consulted maps, and drove to one of the many trailheads scattered through the mountains that encircled our tiny riverside town. We’d start early Sunday morning, sometimes leaving in darkness so we could initiate our hike with the sunrise. We’d bounce along a gravel road for several miles in our battered Subaru, between skyscraping fir trees, until we reached the dirt turnout full of muddy puddles that would be our parking lot.

The mountaintop hikes were our favorite. Starting at low elevation, we passed through dense forests of ancient trees, lush with ferns and moss. The trail twisted along the side of the mountain, always rising, and zigzagging up the steeper slopes. Often we would cross a clear, cold stream on a bridge of rough-cut logs. Mom had a filter so we could drink the water safely; there’s not much more refreshing than sweet mountain spring water on a warm summer morning.

As we ascended the ferns would give way to berry bushes and open forest floors with the trunks of evergreen trees like living pillars. Colorful mushrooms and waxy white ghost plants could be found there, if you were lucky enough to catch their rare and fleeting appearance above ground. And then after hours of struggle and aching feet, we would reach the summit and enter a new reality. Everything is different from the top of a mountain, the world feels vaster and more intimate at the same time, the noises of civilization muted or absent entirely.

During the week, Mom worked for the local Fish and Wildlife department as a biologist. She told me the name of every species we saw, so many times they became our shared knowledge. Whenever she forgot something I remembered it, and when I forgot she remembered. We knew what was edible, what would kill you, and what would cause a minor stomachache. We learned their phylogenetic relationships, their places in the ecosystem, their importance to our indigenous friends and neighbors.

We watched our favorite locations change, as invasive species and increasingly dry and hot summers strained the adaptivity of the native life. One year an enormous wildfire raged down the river and there was no hiking for several months. We sat on our lawn under a sepia-toned sky and watched whol