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When I introduced my 47 year old friend to the great outdoors this summer kicking and screaming I had no idea that I was creating a monster. In this case it isn't the kind of monster who has a Neanderthal forehead, wears platform shoes, and has a zipper in his neck, it's Big Foot or Sasquatch or whatever the name is of the one who hangs out in the woods looking for obnoxious people eating beef jerky.
Having created a nature loving junkie so late in life is hardly a bad thing. It's not like I led her into a life of crime, drugs, or alcohol. But it is kind of different and an infinitely fascinating metamorphosis to observe taking place.
My friend, though an incredibly hard working person on the job, was in all other respects the consummate couch potato. All her energy was allocated to her job, which requires quite a bit of it, and the only other thing she could rouse herself to do with any equivalent enthusiasm was shop. This presents somewhat of a dilemma for me since I despise shopping with the power of a thousand white, hot suns and she likes me to come along with her. As a dutiful and loving friend, I did so, but not happily by any means. The things I like to do best involve nature and the outdoors but I never asked her to accompany me into the wild because whenever I told her about my excursions she would look at me as if I were probably just a little crazy and not pay a lot of attention. When I told her she should go hiking too, she would list the many ailments which prevented her from doing so; a bad knee, arthritis, back problems, a swelling ankle, etc, etc. Consequently, she went shopping and I went hiking and never the twain were likely to meet.
Then something remarkable happened. One day in August my son and I were having dinner with my friend and her husband and she asked me what I wanted for my birthday. I can never answer this question because I am not the kind of person who likes asking anyone for anything so I usually say something totally outrageous like, “I want a new detailed Italian sports car”, or “I want an all expense paid trip to New Zealand”, stuff that no one would ever give me or even be able to. This time I went for something equally impossible. I said, “I want you to go hiking with me”. I figured this was just as much an impossibility as the car or the trip. To my utter astonishment, she agreed. After I told my son to close his mouth, which was hanging open in shock, we agreed to go hiking at the place of my choice on my birthday. My place of choice was Baxter State Park and the easiest trail I could think of. So we went and the rest, as they say, has been history.
My friend fell in love. She fell in love with the trees, the wildflowers, and the running water. She fell in love with the smell and the silence of the woods. She fell in love with the regal beauty of the mountain. She must have taken a thousand pictures that day of all the things which had been in her backyard that she had never really seen. Mostly, she took pictures of mushrooms. She fell madly in love with mushrooms, their shapes, their colors, and their proclivity to grow like works of art. She became a mushroom fanatic, mushroom obsessed, the empress of mushrooms.
At the time I assumed that this would be our one shared trip into the wild and that it was a thing that would never be repeated. I was wrong. When she fell in love she fell hard. The next thing I knew we were out buying her hiking boots, socks, and a backpack. I gave her a telescoping hiking stick as a gift, which thrilled her. Every day off we could manage that wasn't miserable she wanted to go hiking. She even went once despite the rain. We have gone different places since that first time, but Baxter is her first love and we have returned many times so she can explore as much of it as possible. Even more amazing, this person who detests cold and hates the winter, wants to go snowshoeing with Chuck and myself this winter. She has bought herself and her husband snowshoes and is currently acquiring all the right winter gear. Her newfound love of the outdoors has absolutely shocked her family, who would never have associated her with nature in any manner previously. The choice to go snowshoeing has probably put them in a coma of disbelief. She tells me that her physical ailments don't bother her at all and that in fact, the hiking has helped them. For the first time in her life she is looking forward to snow. The change in her has been extraordinary to watch happen, like watching someone who has never tasted chocolate before in their lives eating a candy bar for the first time.
The other day we were taking a late autumn hike in Baxter and she stopped and pointed at Katahdin in the distance.
“Next year I'm going to climb it,” she stated with absolute conviction.
Cripes, that means I have to go with her. I better start working out. The last time I climbed that mountain I was much younger. Well, I created the monster...now I have to climb a mountain with it.
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