Giant Mountain from Owl Head lookout near Elizabethtown.
It only took 10 minutes for the view to disappear, 10 minutes for the bright autumn leaves decorating Giant Mountain to be enveloped in a cloud of mist. I witnessed the spectacle from the rocks of Owl Head lookout, and eagerly watched as the sunlight became a filtered haze of its former self and the wind picked up, causing glistening, mote-sized droplets of water to dance before me.
“This is why I do this,” I thought as the mist continued along the range, consuming Rocky Peak Ridge. “This is something worth beholding.”
For me, a nice view is simply a destination, a milestone along a trip through the woods. The 2.5 mile trail to Owl Head lookout is interesting in its own right. With its little waterfalls, wooden bridges, open hemlock-dominated forests and mossy ravine, it is about as scenic as anyone could ask for. But, as much as I enjoyed the journey, it is that one moment, when everything changed, that stands out to me the most.
I have been asked what it is about nature that appeals to me, why I would rather take to a trail than a shopping mall, especially on a rainy day, and the answer is never a simple one. It is a fair question, for sure, but an honest response is multi-tiered—I go into the forest to learn, to challenge myself, to gain perspective and to relax. But there was something that came before all of that, something the mist-shrouded mountains reminded me of—a sense of discovery.
From my first memories of the outdoors to my latest outing, I have found that there is always a feeling of exploration and adventure in the forest, even on some of our most well-worn paths. It is why, I think, so many people are drawn to nature, and why some of us feel the need to return to it as often as possible.
It is true that people enter the woods for different reasons—scientists seek to study it, climbers to scale it, hunters to stalk it and artists to emulate it. Regardless of the activity, that thing that keeps a person busy, the goal remains the same—to experience that one moment in time when something extraordinary occurs. It could be spotting a rare Bicknell’s thrush in the krummholz on Algonquin or being the first to climb the new slide on Upper Wolf Jaw. It might be taking down a buck after tracking it for hours through the Saranac Lakes Wild Forest or finally getting the colors right in that painting of a perfect mountain sunset over Osgood Pond.
I think about all of this as I watch the mist travel through the valley toward Lake Champlain. I think about how fortunate I feel to be the only one on Owl Head this day, and then I think about how important it is to have this land available for everyone to enjoy. It enriches lives, it calms nerves, and it’s great exercise. Yes, we might think differently about the activities we pursue, but in the end we are all seeking, and fighting to protect, the same thing.
As I left the trailhead and came around a bend on Route 9N, what I saw compelled me to pull over—a rainbow was straddling the road in a great, prismatic arch. As I admired it a man came out of a nearby house and stood in his front lawn, head tilted toward the sky, and a rider on a motorcycle soon stopped and joined me on the shoulder of the road. No one spoke, for we had each found the natural wonder on our own, and even though we shared that moment, that feeling of discovery still belonged to each one of us.
Shaun Kittle can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.