Isolation Adventures: Sun on Bald Pate

My day job is on hold for a couple days for Passover, and we thought perhaps at midday on a weekday, Loon Echo Land Trust trails might be less crowded and better suited to social distancing. I took two hiking buddies with me today — call them Mom and Dad — and we took a short drive up the hill to the Bald Pate Mountain Preserve network of hiking trails. There were about half a dozen cars in the parking lot, and after a moment’s hesitation, we decided it would be safe to hit the trail.

My parents and the Back Forty are effectively at the foot of Bald Pate Mountain, but I was struck by how dramatically different the landscape was just a few hundred feet higher. In addition to the ground being dramatically drier, the flora was almost entirely different. Where the Back Forty was a varied collection of pines and hardwoods — some beech and birch, but also oak, maple, and other species I wouldn’t recognize at the end of the winter. Here, however, it was almost exclusively beeches and birches. And while there were younger trees and saplings down on the Back Forty, especially once we came out on the logging road, up on the mountainside, everything was younger, with just a few fat stumps among the trees.

As we headed farther up the Bob Chase Trail, though, the beeches and birches began to give way to more pines, older trees, more variety.

When we came to the second fork in the path, where Mom and Dad would usually go right on the more direct route to the summit, we could still see ahead of us on the trail a family with three elementary-aged children, seemingly on a scavenger hunt from the papers in their hands and their looking right and left. Knowing that we can be fast walkers, and not wanting to make the mother nervous about the virus we all have to assume we’re unknowingly shedding, I suggested that we should take the somewhat longer left-hand side of the loop.

This is a short hike, and while we were ridiculously out of shape and winded, we still came quickly to the bare rock faces near the summit, and some pretty spectacular views.

That’s Long Lake well to the back, and Peabody Pond closer to the front.

When we came out on the lower of two summits, the air was clear, the sun bright, and Mount Washington and a couple other snowy White Mountain peaks were visible on the horizon.

Some of next group of photos were taken while we were waiting about six feet to one side of the trail for another family with three kids and a dog to pass at a safe distance. “I remember hiking up here when I was their age,” I said. Was I referring to the, by my estimation, 2-year-old, 4-year-old or 7-year-old? Yes. This was one of my grandmother’s preferred hikes for small children, close as it was to the house, and not too much of a climb for small legs, like the 2-year-old who, in her mother’s words, “insists on doing it all by herself!” Yeah, we remember that, too.

A few rough granite steps later we emerged on the full summit, 1,150 feet with clear views in almost every direction.

And throughout our little trek, I had also decided I would indulge more fully a fascination that has been tugging at me throughout these Isolation Adventures. The sun today was particularly compelling on the mosses and lichens, especially as we traversed the broad, rocky summit of Bald Pate, but also on the logs and stumps scattered throughout the woods.

It was on the way back down the mountain that I finally hit on the comparison that had been eluding me for those wide-reaching stands of tall young beeches and birches.

It felt like walking through a bamboo forest straight out of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.

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