Epiphanies, Exultations and Other Eureka Moments

While backpacking alone in the Swiss Alps years ago I spent a night at Hörnli Hut, a tiny cabin perched at 10,600 feet at the foot of the fabled Matterhorn.

Lacking technical climbing experience I had no intention of joining an expedition to ascend with ropes the remaining 4,090 feet to the near-vertical summit, but I did plan to rise early to watch climbers set out on the final leg up the mountain.

A guide rousted us about 2 a.m., shouting and repeatedly banging a pot with a spoon, and while team members strapped on crampons and grabbed ice axes I donned my parka and ventured into the frosty air.

Thick clouds blanketed the valley below, with only the mountain’s silhouetted spire poking through.

A crescent moon bathed just enough light to imbue the tops of the clouds with a shimmering glow, and I stood like a sentinel for more than an hour, enveloped in Stygian blackness and shrouded in silence.

Shivering, I prepared to return to my bunk, but a distant pinpoint of light locked me in place.

Other illuminated dots appeared, moving in procession.

These were the headlamps of climbers inching their way up the mountain.

I watched the undulating line slowly ascend, grateful I had waited another moment to witness the magical spectacle.

Whenever I’m tempted to pass up or curtail an experience, I think of that potential missed opportunity. Who knows how many other phenomena I’ve missed by cutting a moment short?

On another occasion, while climbing in dense fog up the Lion Head promontory en route to the summit of New Hampshire’s Mount Washington I took heart in a brightening sky. It wasn’t that the fog was lifting but that I was rising.

Upon reaching the mile-high pinnacle of Lion Head I poked through the fog as if through a layer of cotton.

Far-off peaks jutted in a cerulean sky, and a gusty breeze swept fog wisps like plumes of smoke. Sunlight filtering through those wisps formed a rainbow over Huntington Ravine, and a giant shadow materialized in the middle of an arched prism.

As I clambered upward I saw the shadow shift, and realized it was mine.

The sun had dipped precisely between the distant ravine and me. I was alone and could only say, “Wow!”

On still another mountaineering outing a setting sun created a perihelion, a meteorological phenomenon also called a sun dog that glowed for only an instant as I descended a frozen Mount Adams. If my head had been turned, or if I hadn’t taken off my goggles to wipe away frost, I would have missed it.

Timing is everything.

On that note, I shift to a less-elevated but no less-elevating experience that took place just last Saturday during my annual maple syrup bacchanal. All right, it didn’t exactly constitute inebriated revelry, but was nonetheless intoxicating.

As I had recounted the week before, I had tapped my maple trees, lit a wood fire in a makeshift stone pit and boiled the sap to produce syrup.

Because of the mild winter I had collected only about 15 gallons of sap that would yield less than a quart of syrup. No matter – I spent eight hours tending the flames and chatting with friends who had stopped by.

As darkness approached I sampled the syrup and decided it needed only a few more minutes.

Sandy Van Zandt of Noank, whom I’ve known for years, is perhaps one of the world’s greatest raconteurs, and he and his wife, Sidney, were recounting one of their sailing adventures – they’ve circumnavigated the globe in a boat that Sandy designed and built.

Another friend, Bob Graham, and I listened raptly.

Suddenly, an acrid aroma penetrated the air.

“The syrup!” I cried.

I raced over to the pot and snatched it from the grill. Sidney grabbed an empty container and shouted, “Pour it in here!”

My heart sank as I watched a viscous sludge ooze from the pot.

“It’s ruined!” I wailed.

But then I dipped a spoon into the thick, dark liquid, and brought it to my lips.

Sacre bleu! C’est magnifique!

Instead of thin syrup I had inadvertently created a hearty, crème brulee confection enhanced with the most delicate caramelized tinge of burnt sugar.

An instant later the concoction would have incinerated to inedible ash.

“The best ever,” I declared, spooning my creation over servings of vanilla bean ice cream.

The others were too busy slurping it down to reply.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reader Comments

MORE BLOGS

Tom And Steve’s Excellent Adventures In The Northwest Part III: Kayaking Off The Oregon Coast And Columbia River Gorge; Hiking On Mount Saint Helens

Propelled by the sound of crashing surf, my son Tom and I scrambled over a low dune and then gazed in awe.

A Connecticut Yankee In The Northwest Part II: A Cross-Country Ski Adventure, Of Sorts, At Oregon's Crater Lake

Lugging back-country skis and poles on our shoulders, my son Tom and I trudged along the Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway at Oregon’s Crater Lake National Park, searching for a section of road that had not been plowed.

A Connecticut Yankee In The Northwest: Stunning Views, Adventures On Land And Water (Part I)

As I clambered toward the crest of the Mist Trail in California’s Yosemite National Park a couple weeks ago, spray from the thunderous Nevada Fall washed over me, but I was already soaked, with sweat, after gaining nearly 2,000 feet of...

Vacations From Hell: At Least They’re Memorable

Just between us, don’t you hate it when friends or coworkers post photos on Facebook of awesome journeys to exotic destinations – or if they’re really old-school, send postcards depicting glorious sunsets, sparkling lakes,...

In Stride With Women Runners: Amby Burfoot Celebrates Their History In A New Book

Back in the Dark Ages when I was growing up, one of the worst insults an adolescent male could hurl at one of his buddies was, "You run like a girl!"

Danger, Swan Attack! Quick, Wring Its Neck!

It’s difficult to imagine a more outrageous example of idiotic government overreaction than this week’s incident involving a mute swan on Five Mile Pond in Danielson, which would almost be laughable if the outcome weren’t so...

The Parable Of The Rope: An Icy Mountain Drama In New Hampshire's Carter Notch

With a blustery breeze making the 8-degree temperature feel as if were a few notches below zero, our group didn’t intend to dawdle while scrambling back to civilization. The mountain hut where we spent the night had been so frigid my boots...

Over The Falls! A Salmon River Adventure

You know that feeling when you’re about to attempt something adventurous that at first seemed it would be fun, but then doubts about your safety and sanity crept in? Oh no! Too late!

There's No Such Thing As Too Much Garlic

A few years ago, while visiting relatives in Canada, I noticed a giant basket of produce in a corner of the kitchen. "Wow! Where’d you get all that garlic?" I asked.

Plenty Of Mudslinging On The Trail

Well, we’ve made it through another winter, though for snow and ice fans it was pretty pitiful – but we’re not quite out of the woods when it comes to challenging hiking conditions.

Hey, Shaddup Out There! At Least Can You Tone Down All That Screeching, Snorting, Squawking, Croaking, Buzzing And Howling?

OK, I get it. It’s mating season, when all the furry, feathered and slimy critters are desperate for a little action, using the only pickup technique they know: make loud noises.

'Life Is Full of Roadblocks, But You Have to Drive Through Them' – Dirk Vlieks' Inspiring Recovery

After having swum the 1.2-mile leg of Hawaii’s Rohto Half-Ironman triathlon Dirk Vlieks of Mystic was 22 miles into the 56-mile bike section, already thinking ahead to the 13.1-mile run to the finish line, when he began to feel...

My Acute Case of OCWD (Obsessive Compulsive Wood Disorder)

You’d think that those of us who heat with wood can relax this time of year when we no longer must make 10 trips a day to the woodshed, stumble out of bed at 3 a.m. to stoke the stove, continuously shovel ashes and forage the forest for...