Two Saturdays ago was our very first wedding anniversary – one whole year to the day since we got married – and I am finally getting around to sharing some photos of what my main squeeze and I did to mark the day. We spent most of it at Hawk Mountain, a raptor sanctuary in Kempton, Pennsylvania. Despite not living that far away, neither of us had ever been there. But it seemed like a good day for an adventure. After all, we were celebrating the beginning of our favorite one.
We had a pretty sure feeling that we would enjoy it; we love being together, we love early morning drives, we love being outside, we love breaking a sweat, and we love to turn boulders into picnic tables. Most of all, we love doing all of those things at the same time.
It’s worth noting that the weather on January 2 of 2016 mimicked that of the previous year almost exactly, with a high temperature in the low forties (cold but not unbearable) and a soft, cloudy sunlight illuminating everything. In the morning, the sky looked like the inside of a snow globe’s glass that was slightly fogged over. Just like last year. It added another layer of familiarity to the day, like we had stepped back in time but decided to do something different other than attending our wedding. It felt escapist to bundle up, pack up, get into the car, and drive out into the early morning to someplace unknown, even if it is just an hour away.
When we got to Hawk Mountain, the parking area at the base of the Lookout Trail was still mostly empty. The Lookout Trail, which at a steady but gradual incline leads up – not surprisingly – to the sanctuary’s North Lookout, acts as a dirt river, with several trails or paths splitting off from it like tributaries. About halfway up to the lookout, we broke off of it to take the Escarpment Trail, a rocky detour that adds another half mile or so of scrambling to the trip to the top. Only about a half an hour into our day, we were already outside, red-faced, joints warm, eyeing up potential boulders for the afternoon’s lunch break.
We reached the North Lookout quickly. It’s difficult for me to describe lookouts or natural vistas or scenic overlooks – or hiking trails for that matter – these days without being unfair. We have done a lot of hiking in the last couple of years, and we have also been fortunate to hike a few of the most beautiful trails in the United States. Once you’ve covered a trail with thousands of feet of elevation gain, the reward for which is being quite literally eye-to-eye with the mountains, your perspective shifts dramatically. It can make you feel as though you’ve suddenly seen it all. It can make where you come from – the familiar topography of your everyday life – seem ordinary. Most of the time these days, the mountains of New Jersey and Pennsylvania – of my childhood – seem to me like small folds in a bed sheet that just need a quick smoothing-over from our hiking boots. Quick and easy.
Sitting up at the North Lookout was a good reminder for me of our real, actual limits. Feeling like you’ve seen it all doesn’t mean you have. The familiar topography of where I live is far from ordinary when I take it in at a different angle.
The view from the lookout is long and wide and detailed. It felt fitting to look out over the Lehigh Valley, the setting for such a large part of our lives, separate and together, and for our wedding a year ago.
We quickly wound our way back down and decided to hike another of Hawk Mountain’s trails. The River of Rocks is a 4-mile loop with little in the way of elevation loss or gain but much in the way of careful footwork. It is exactly what it says it is – a river of rocks, an offshoot of the dirt river of the Lookout Trail. The trail winds it way slowly around a boulder field, another wonder of nature that was new to us and so exciting to take in. We had lunch looking out onto it – sandwiches we had stowed away in our trusty feather-light Marmot. What a strange feeling it is to sit on the shore of what could be a small lake but not feel the wetness of water.
The actual water runs underneath the boulder field and its surrounding rock path. Perhaps the most beautiful thing about the River of Rocks trail was not what we saw but what we heard: the faint gurgling current that runs underneath it all. I kept thinking about what it means to bridge something. Though the water flows underneath the trail, it felt more like the water itself was the bridge, filling in the gaps beneath the bottoms of boulders.
I like hiking with Brian because the distance he keeps from me is just perfect. He is far enough away that I can be alone with my thoughts for a good long while, but close enough that it feels right to verbalize them when I want to. He will stop if I trip stupidly, and I will stop if he wants to adjust his socks but neither of us likes to stop and we both know how the other one feels about it and so stops are usually quick and rarely wear on the patience. When I want to use my camera he will just take the opportunity to adjust his socks (again) or maybe take a few photographs himself or just grumble in a way that is all bark and no bite. On occasion, if the trail is wide enough, we will hold hands. Sometimes I am in front, and sometimes he will lead the way.
I am so grateful that the pace we keep together is such a natural one.