Where do you find wonder?

I’ve been a bad arts person lately. I haven’t been to see a lot of live shows. A few years back, I lived for going to theater and dance and music. These days I’m lucky if I go to one show every couple of months.

There are reasons for this. One is that TV is so good these days and my couch is so comfy. Another is that I now live in one of the most expensive cities in America, I no longer get all my tickets for free, and I simply can’t afford to go very often.

But there’s a more disturbing reason that I’ve been pondering. Am I outgrowing “the arts” as I knew them in my 20s and 30s? It used to be that I’d go to a show to fill up something in my soul that needed filling. I don’t do that anymore. I wish I knew why.

These days, when my soul needs filling, I go outside. I go to my neighborhood Arboretum, or a hike in the woods, or, when I can swing it, to one of our glorious national parks/monuments.  It’s become a physical and mental necessity, actually; if I don’t get my outside time, I become a version of myself that I don’t like much: puffy, sluggish, grumpy, and convinced that the world is really as bad as it seems sometimes.

Recently, I attended a concert at the Boston Symphony Orchestra. I admit it – it still gives me a little thrill to think that one of the best orchestras in the world is my hometown band, as they say. We were going to hear Mahler’s 3rd Symphony, which, I confess, meant nothing to me other than I’ve heard of Mahler and people seem to think he’s pretty good. On the way, I asked my musician friend why she liked this work, and she said, “Well, because it’s big and loud and interesting…it’s just one of my favorites.” She also mentioned that Mahler is a more programmatic composer, often trying to tell stories with his music, which is speaking my language. It was enough for me to get excited to hear the piece.

The first movement of the work was marvelous. I don’t know what story Mahler was telling, but it didn’t matter; I was along for the ride as the music changed and chased itself and contradicted itself and resolved and made me smile on more than one occasion. I kept trying to remember specific musical moments so I could tell my friend about how they’d resonated with me.

And then, something happened. As the musicians shuffled their music between the 2nd and 3rd movements, I happened to notice a trumpet player, with his instrument, get up and leave the stage. I figured this part of the score required one less trumpet, so that’s was why he was leaving. An idle thought.

The movement began and I don’t remember much about it until suddenly, a trumpet sounded in a clear and poignant solo…in a tone I’d never heard. It was slightly muffled, coming from far away, like an echo of itself, so soft and pure and lovely that it made me sit up in my seat. It wasn’t coming from the stage. My eyes darted around while my brain tried to catch up with my ears, and I looked at my friend in delight and like a little kid whispered, “It’s coming from outside in the hallway!” She just smiled (we’re not supposed to talk at concerts, after all).

The first refrain of the post-horn (that’s what my music friends tell me it’s called) solo seemed to go on forever, and when it was over, I heard the entire Symphony Hall release a collective breath. As the musicians shuffled their music again, I whispered to myself: “Come back, trumpet player, that was amazing,” and the stranger sitting next to me agreed, adding his own whisper: “That was extraordinary.” This was a case where it was just WRONG that we couldn’t clap between movements.

It was a moment of wonder. Complete, unexpected, delightful, awe-inducing, and I realized I have never experienced that in a concert hall during a symphonic concert. Ever. As I took the bus home that night, I ran over the memories of comparable gasp-worthy moments:

  • A certain moment in the Broadway show Next to Normal when the audience realizes a character that we thought was there, wasn’t;
  • The first time I saw Elphaba fly in Wicked
  • The first time I finished the Hamilton soundtrack
  • When I watched Sutton Foster tapdance as Reno Sweeney in Anything Goes
  • The first time I saw the work of choreographers Ohad Naharin and Jyri Killian

Now I can add “The first time I heard the post-horn solo in Mahler’s 3rd” to that list.

Wonder, as defined by Google:

a feeling of surprise mingled with admiration, caused by something beautiful, unexpected, unfamiliar, or inexplicable.

Just a few days after this musical moment, I found myself in Joshua Tree National Park. A whole weekend of wonder-full moments, and I realized at least one reason why I’ve been trading my concert/theater time for outdoor time.

See, when you can see stuff like this at every turn:

26850140_10155795195151900_5686580668452138059_o

It’s easy to get your hit of wonder. Since I started getting obsessed with parks and hiking and being outside, I’ve seen hundreds of these wonder moments and they never bore me. They are always a surprise even though I know they are coming. They always make it hard for me to believe that the bad guys will win.

26910914_10155795193761900_6026263000615485069_o26850222_10155795191131900_806822925293822555_o26850084_10155795192941900_9059329034980671756_o

I’ve had to look harder for them in the arts lately, and I don’t know if that’s about me or the art. But it’s been easier to find them outside, so I’ll keep going there. But I’ll hold out hope for another post-horn solo moment, because it was really, really wonderful.

Advertisements

Great day hikes near Boston: Hiking Mt. Wachusett

Today, for the first time in a while, I feel a literal spring in my step. Also a metaphorical one. For weeks now, I have felt strangely weighed down, either by my actual body feeling stiff and creaky, or my head feeling clouded into inertia. I’m not a fan of this feeling, which is why it feels good to write this post.

19800921_10155267384366900_301138668355281219_o

The literal spring comes from my legs feeling like they finally got some use as I hiked up, down, and around Mt. Wachusett in Central Massachusetts this past weekend. More on the details of that hike can be found below, if you just came here for the hiking details and have no need to hear my philosophizing about life.

A lot of folks out there talk about the power of a detox – and I sort of feel like that’s what yesterday’s 4-hour hike was for me. It was a chance to worry about nothing more than a few immediate, real-time things:

Sucking in enough oxygen to keep climbing up;

Placing my shaky feet to avoid breaking an ankle on the way down;

Watching (and occasionally helping) my dog navigate her way down some pretty steep rocks;

Oh, and of course, letting the gorgeous blue/green colors of summer in New England wash over my pale, office-bound, city dweller’s body.

I didn’t take a lot of pictures, and failed at taking a panoramic photo (see the really long and skinny photo I posted here), proof that I probably shouldn’t even have taken out my phone as I enjoyed a nearly perfect summer New England Day.

We talk of hiking as therapy, and I guess, in my case, it’s true. I definitely felt like I’d hit the reset button on my soul this time around.

Now, for those who are interested, here are details of this hike.

Mt. Wachusett is the tallest mountain (just over 2000 feet) within a relatively short (just over an hour) drive from Boston. I have a hard time making the trip to NH (for Mt. Monadnock or the White Mountains) in a day, mostly because of how much my dog hates being in the car (plus I am SO BAD at getting up before the sun when I’m hiking solo), so finding something with a bit of elevation a little closer to home is always a bonus. I hiked this hill last year but took a relatively short route that left me feeling less than challenged. So this year I scoured the interwebs for other hikes and found a good one. Here’s an abbreviated description – I recommend getting a map of the Mt. Wachusett State Park so you can either follow this or find your own route. There was a whole box of them at the trailhead, or you can download it here.

From Boston, take Exit 25 (140 South) off of Route 2. Follow the signs to the Mt. Wachusett Ski Area. Avoid the first parking lot you see and turn right onto Bolton Road to the main Ski Area parking lot. Look for a light brown warehouse to the right of the main lodge. The trailhead is right next to it.

Your first leg is on Balance Rock Trail (yellow blazes). You will, after a relatively short and mild uphill hike, realize why it’s called Balance Rock trail.

19989307_10155267384456900_7323618517923795632_n

There are lots of rocks and roots on this entire hike, FYI, so be prepared.

A little way beyond Balance Rock you’ll come to an intersection – take the Old Indian Trail. This trail will cross a few other trails, and also a few (4) ski slopes, and one summit road, but basically, just stay on this trail as it’ll take you to the summit. It’s about 1.2 miles long. There are a few places that are fairly steep, but nothing truly difficult, although if it’s rained recently, there will be mud and the rocks could be slippery, so it’s worth proceeding carefully. This was my first real uphill in quite a while, so I stopped several times to…ahem…catch my breath, but the good news about this hike is that it’s never the same challenge for very long. If it gets steep, it’ll flatten out pretty soon. Unlike a hike into the Whites, for example, you’re not facing 3 miles of steady uphill until you get to the good stuff.

Right before you hit the summit you’ll come upon a ski lift platform with a lovely view of a lake – if one of the gondolas is open for lounging, take it, and remember that these summer days are what make the long, snowy winter bearable.

19748558_10155267384356900_1812068209957077918_n

Anyway, the good stuff on this hike is 360-degree summit views that on a clear day, will show you the Boston skyline, the Berkshires, and Mt. Monadnock. The summit is likely to be crowded unless you’re hiking really early, but the views are worth it. Definitely make sure you climb up to the viewing platform and snap some pictures of the prettiness. There are plenty of warm rocks to grab a snack and a drink on as you soak in the views.

19905176_10155267384421900_5369218534670045051_n

There are several options to get down from the summit. You could turn around and go back the way you came, but I’m a loop person, so I chose a different way down.

Harrington Trail, my way down, gets pretty steep and rocky. It reminded me a lot of coming down East Oceola in the White Mountains. There were a few times when my pooch watched me slide down a big rock on my butt and gave me a look as if to say “I’m not jumping that.” Dogs should be on leash in the park, but on the hike down, I did let Sadie off occasionally because it was simply safer for her and me to let her find her own way.

This trail heading down was significantly less crowded than the Indian Trail heading up, but it was also later in the day so that probably contributed to the relative peace and quiet. Anyway, Harrington Trail will cross two “roads” as it descends, and you want to take the 2nd one and head right. This is West Road, and it’s flat and goes on for a while. I was getting pretty zen at this point, so I don’t know the mileage, but I’d say it’s at least a mile or a mile and half before you reach the gate marking the end of the road.

There, you’ll turn right onto West Princeton Road, which is open to traffic, so be careful. You’ll stroll along here for a bit, and then you’ll want to take a right onto North Road, also marked by a gate. This road climbs a bit, but it’s gentle.

There will be an intersection relatively soon, and you want to take a left onto it. This is Balance Rock Road, and soon you will find yourself back at the intersection of Balance Rock Trail. Take a left onto the trail and head back past Balance Rock to the parking lot.

I read that this hike should take 5-6 hours and is rated moderate/difficult. I would say that, unless you are with kids, stopping frequently, and/or having a several course meal on the summit, it’s more like 4+ hours. The total mileage was about 6.25 miles. There are only two parts I would call “difficult”: one stretch of Indian Trail near the summit, and coming down Harrington Trail. Otherwise, this is a pretty easy/moderate hike, with the benefit of a lot of different terrains so you never get bored, and plenty of flat strolling that allows you to just zone out and enjoy being in the woods.

So if you can’t make it up to the White Mountains, this is a nice alternative. It’s not a 4,000 footer, but it’ll get your heart pumping and give your legs a little challenge.

If you do this hike, let me know what you think in the comments! Have a great day, everyone.