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I have a friend who has been, over the years, the best and truest friend anyone could ever hope for despite the fact that we have very different tastes in many things. One of the ways in which we are completely difference is our ideas about what constitutes a good time. While she is a nurse and has a job that requires being on her feet all day and a degree of physicality, outside of her job her preferences run to anything that requires as little activity as possible. I am completely the opposite. My idea of a good time generally involves being outdoors and in motion. Her appreciation of nature is mostly restricted to whatever she can experience from a prone position on a beach. For me, lying on a beach is pretty much terminally boring. Over the years I have gone with her to the shore or a lake because I know that is what she likes to do, but I always bring a book and a chair. I have never asked her to accompany me on hikes, climbs, or nature walks in return because the thought of that much physical activity usually makes her eyes roll up in her head. Until now.
The weather has been so gorgeous lately that I decided that Chuck and I should go on a hike to one of our favorite places in Baxter State Park as a last outing before he starts school. My friend and her husband, who also works hard but shuns vigorous leisure activity, happened to be on the end of their vacations, which they had spent in full vegetation mode. She asked me what we were doing so I told her, and on pure impulse invited them to join us. In the course of 20 years I have never considered inviting her on one of our outings, not because I didn't want her company, but because I was certain that she would probably prefer chewing glass to going with us. I have no idea what made me suggest it after all these years. It may have been because her reaction to our outings is usually pretty humorous. To my utter surprise, she didn't moan or even offer a sardonic snort at the thought of herself on a woodland trail – she actually agreed to go and wonders never cease, so did her husband. I was gobsmacked.
My first reaction was disbelief. In my experience, middle aged people who have never done it before generally don't up and decide to spend a day hiking. When I realized that they were serious, Chuck and I had to dig around in our brains to come up with a day hike in Baxter that was easy and civilized enough for the older and uninitiated, which wasn't easy since Baxter is anything but civilized. To my friend, hiking is what you do around a mall and the outdoors is pretty much whatever you happen to see flash by your car window. I knew that her husband had spent time in his youth hunting and fishing, but to my utter surprise, despite living in Maine their entire lives, neither one of them had ever set one foot in Baxter State Park. Chuck and I finally decided upon one of our favorite trails, which compared to most of Baxter, is something of a stroll. We went over the trail in our minds trying to anticipate any sections which might be somewhat dicey. For us, the trail is easy-peasy, but we tried to imagine how it would seem to someone for whom walking from the living room to the kitchen is a hike.
We did all we could to prepare them, suggesting the proper footwear, backpacks, and providing them with walking sticks. We quickly nixed my friend's idea to drag a wheeled cooler into the woods as impractical and convinced her that white sneakers were probably not a good plan. When the day came we drove up to Baxter and headed out with our fingers crossed.
When you have spent a lot of time in nature it is always interesting to observe someone who has not being confronted with it for the first time. Everything amazed and fascinated my friend, from the utter silence to the giant boulders flung down when Mt Katahdin was formed. She had to take a picture of every odd mushroom and delicate wildflower. And the mountain itself, which neither of them had ever seen except from a car on the Interstate, blew them away. It was a perfectly clear day and Katahdin loomed above them with all the beauty and glory that mountains have when you get close enough to them. They were stunned by how magnificent it was. There is no photograph that does it justice.
All in all it was a very successful day. No one turned an ankle, fell in a mud puddle, or slid down a granite ledge. Everyone made it there and back again without incident or complaint and miraculously, we may have even gained some converts to our nature club, since they both expressed a desire to see more of the park. It amazes me that people can live in Maine all their lives and never experience Baxter close up. In my mind, it is the jewel of the entire state, a place preserved as closely as possible to the natural condition it has maintained over millions of years. My friend plans to get some good hiking boots and a proper backpack, which is a good sign. I don't hold out hope that she will go camping with us there, however. To her, camping is still a good motel with cable and Wifi. We'll take what we can get.
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