Clippings: After hitting No. 47, it’s all downhill

Oh, I had a great birthday, thank you for asking. I got to enjoy almost everything I like, and I don’t just mean chocolate cake with chocolate frosting.
My 47th birthday was a couple Sundays ago. I didn’t have particularly high expectations for a grand day; after a certain age one never does. Sure, I’d get to spend quality time with my family, in particular my sister-in-law during her once-a-year visit from far away. She and her kids were renting a place on Lake Dunmore, which would be a nice place to pass a hot day.
But there was no particular gift I wanted for my birthday and I was even at a loss when my wife asked what I wanted for my birthday dinner.
Like much of this past July, the sun rose hot that Sunday, and a listless torpor sank upon the house that morning. My wife, two girls and I all bided our time until early afternoon, when we were expected at Lake Dunmore. I had no real plan for the day other than cake with a candle in it at some point.
Sarah insisted on our drive to Salisbury that I should do whatever I wanted to do. I took that as a cue to act spontaneously. So after I checked in with the in-laws I excused myself for a quick hike; figured I’d get nice and warm before I jumped into the cool lake.
I’d seen a photo of Keewaydin campers on a rock on the mountain overlooking the lake. I liked the image and decided I would climb up above Keewaydin and find the rock and the view. Figured it would take about an hour.
Up, up, up I climbed, recalling how good it feels to exercise. I came to a rock outcropping that overlooked the lake. It was a nice view, but not the dramatic prospect for which I had hoped. So I continued up, steeper and steeper, until I was holding onto roots of trees above so I wouldn’t fall backward.
I noted that my shirt was soaked through with sweat and realized I hadn’t brought any water even though the temperature was headed toward 90. I hadn’t brought anything but a fishing hat (which I didn’t need in the woods) and a caramel candy that my older daughter had bestowed upon me earlier that day and I’d left in my breast pocket. Sizing up the situation, recalling my wife’s insistence that this was my day, and knowing that I surely had at least half of my allotted hour’s woodland reverie left (I have a not-so-exact sense of time, ask anyone who knows me) I decided that today was the day to climb Mount Moosalamoo. I never had, I was at least half way, and a cool dip in the lake awaited me at the bottom. So I picked up the pace.
The hike was delightful. In addition to the pure exhilaration of the physical exercise, I enjoyed the unique beauties of nature that fire one’s imagination: an unusual orange butterfly, a pile of moose scat, a lovely panorama of the Green Mountain peaks. Plus, there were some delicious blueberries, small and sweet, waiting for me near the summit.
It wasn’t a long hike — 84 minutes. Even though I was still less than half an hour late, I decided that I should try to get to the bottom in half the time it took to get to the top — 42 minutes, which would get be back 126 minute after I had started, barely two hours, which, for me, is pretty much right on time for an hour hike.
I started running. It was slow and measured and with the help of gravity it was ever so easy. It felt so easy that, when I got to a fork in the trail where I had to decide between the steep descent, which would mean no running, and a slightly longer trail that promised to arc slowly around and get me back to my starting point, I chose the latter, thinking either would take about the same amount of time.
I was wrong.
I jogged down, down, down; hopping rock to rock and over little streams. It was tiring, but it felt great to breathe deeply and really work all of the kinks out of my muscles. But it seemed that the twists and turns were netting more of a straight line south than the arc back north that I expected. Then at one point the streams, instead of flowing from left to right, started flowing right to left. I knew I was sunk when I saw a trail sign for Silver Lake, which was a couple miles south of where I wanted to be.
Eventually I limped out onto Route 53 at the trailhead south of Branbury State Park; it had taken me more than 84 minutes to make it to the bottom of the hill.
Glass half full: I had actually covered many miles to get there so it was a pretty good workout.
Glass half empty: I was still a mile and a half from the cottage, my clothes were sweat caked, I was dirty and dehydrated, and I was late for my own birthday party.
So I started to jog up Route 53 and put my thumb out, pointing toward North Cove. Several cars sped passed as I shuffled along. But then a car pulled up before I even had a chance to make eye contact with the driver. The guy behind the wheel told me that he was following a car driven by his daughter, who had recognized me, called her dad and directed him to pick me up. “She said you have little kids and you looked like you were late for something,” he told me.
How in the world did I know this angel? I meet a fair number of people in my line of work, but that wasn’t it. Dad told me that she works at a local pizza place and she sees me come in with my kids. I was pretty surprised. I love their pizza, but honestly I don’t eat there that often. You just never know…
Almost exactly three hours after I’d left for my one-hour hike I appeared on the deck where all the adults in my family had congregated. My wife said, sincerely, that she was just about ready to go look for me. My 8- and 10-year-old daughters yelled for me to join them in the water, and I happily obliged.
After the cooling dip and an oven-fried chicken dinner, Sarah and the girls brought out a double-layer, chocolate-chocolate cake with a couple candles, hand-decorated by my daughters with green and yellow sprinkles arrayed, if you squinted, into a smiley face.
And, right on time, they each gave me a homemade birthday card. They were beautiful cards, the kind you keep on the fridge for a year and then put way in drawer to pull out in years to come to remind you of a great birthday.

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