12 You will go out in joy
and be led forth in peace;
the mountains and hills
will burst into song before you,
and all the trees of the field
will clap their hands.
There’s something strange about mountains in New England, and I don’t mean that tall ones are 2,000 feet high. It’s taken me a while to assimilate the weirdness, but the
walk hike Ian and I took around Mt. Wachusett today solidified it in my mind. The weirdness is this: Parking lots and crowds of people fresh from their cars swarming around the top of a mountain that you reached by honestly hiking up it. Not only does this seem like cheating, but to me it almost feels sacrilegious, like setting up a fast food court in St. Paul’s Cathedral.
Here’s what got me thinking about this. Today after church we went for a nice 4-ish mile hike around Mt. Wachusett. Here Ian looks perky (as perky as Ian ever looks) before the hike:
We wore hiking shoes and they got muddy on our way up. We appreciated the autumn colors, the few remaining leaves on trees, the nice ponds and panoramic views, the sound of wind rustling through the leaves (when we could hear that over our labored breathing!). We worked hard clambering over boulders, rocks, and roots in the path and we focused on not hurting ourselves in slippery, wet leaves. We followed poorly-blazed, leaf-obscured quasi-paths. We sweated. For proof, here’s Ian looking grumpy as we took a rest partway up Mt. Wachusett:
In fact, it felt very much like a real hike the entire way up. We saw people, but mainly hiking-boot-wearing people carrying day packs. Lots of dogs accompanying hikers.
As we drew near the summit, we started hearing lots of people. We crossed a car road. Then we encountered a quartet of motorcycle bikers in leather, sitting on a rocky promontory eating fast food and talking about chicken wings. We took this as a sign we had neared the top, which proved true, as fewer than 5 more minutes of walking brought us to the summit.
Now a note here. When I think of summit, I think of being alone atop a high, craggy mountain peak, surrounded by vast wilderness, overwhelmed by gorgeous sweeping views of more wilderness. This is one way I perceive God in a small way. Like this:
OK. So now imagine my feelings when I reached the top of Mt. Wachusett and saw:
A driving road led to the top of the mountain (it’s somewhat legendary among cyclists around here), and the entire top was covered with gravel and parked cars and motorcycles. Two other towers — four total — I didn’t feel needed photographing also graced the top of the tallest promontory in middle Massachusetts. Crowds of people swarmed around, looking out at Boston, which you could see hazily in the distance. They sat munching fast food from bags, dropping trash and smashing the few plants that somehow eked out a living between the cement and gravel. They milled about, snapping photos and chattering away excitedly, admiring the pretty views of leaves and bodies of water down below. It was pretty…but at the same time, I felt disappointed, let down. What should have been a climactic moment of awe at God’s creation was pummeled, inundated, swept away by the mass of humanity that saw this as just another tourist attraction, much like the Davis’ Farmland Mega Maze. It’s as if I opened my Bible and instead found a slasher novel. Or if you went on a date expecting your lover, and instead found your least-favorite cousin. I know worshipfulness is in your head and heart, but surroundings help. When you seek God and instead find his fallen creation… well, it just isn’t the same.
We saw this same effect when we climbed Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park, only to find a parking lot stuffed to the gills with cars and hordes of people. Similarly, we climbed up Mt. Greylock and found a parking lot — blessedly empty, thanks to the road construction that closed the easy way up. Although I have never hiked Mt. Washington, I know you can easily drive to the top. I know plenty of people would miss out on enjoying the mountain if you have no car access. But I still miss the cathedral-like attitude of worship I find at the top of a pinnacle, alone with my Creator in the silence.