MOTHER

I stare at the glorious mountain before me and seek out the words to describe her in true form. I am only human, much younger than she, just a seed in life’s spiraling cycle. And I don’t know if I can hold the wisdom she does, but I know it’s there, waiting to be touched.

Perhaps, some might say, she wants to be left alone. People have come and gone over the years taking way more than they could give. Those whose hands are dirty with spoiled intention come with a ravenous appetite. I can’t help but think that must be so lonely. She is Mother Earth, and she is connected to all that is around her, has more lovers than one could count, but there’s still a part missing.

Humanity’s connection wasn’t severed, just lost. Some thought it was better to live apart, so they conquered land that not one of us own. As “kings of the world”, they fought for power, destroying what’s sacred in their path, despite the absence of its existence in truth. They had forgotten that without her, there would be nothing at all. It can be hard to remember that isn’t all of us humans. I like to think she is still accepting of those who come with the gift of friendship- an offering of understanding as a promise, for we are her reminders that not all have let go.

From afar, I see her strength in clarity. Vast, thick, and bare enough to pick out the veins draping down her vessel. I try to trace the lines, but fade between the forks and lose myself dancing in the curves. I feel affectionate towards her, the affection and curiosity of a fawn, though I am still subject to her unforgiving and unpredictable nature.

I would like to know you. I ask for a story- close my eyes, kneel, and make space for her words to enter.

I hear nothing in return. I suppose I should’ve expected that. I laugh, loud enough that the contagiousness of it catches hold of my allies, the ferns and trillium alike. They laugh too. We speak in energy here. She asks that I listen with my heart.

I touch my palms to the fertile soil. Everything around me stops for a brief second. The trees stop swaying. They are the leaders of the forest, and this is how the ripple effect begins, the creation of a silent space for storytelling. Everyone holds their tongues in allowance for the Great One to speak. A few look to me, awaiting a declaration, but you can’t force it. What must be heard will not push through the ground like a mushroom, nor emerge from the rings of the eldest tree. It will come from the sky instead.

As I look up, my chest opens for reception. It cracks open wide. My spine is the remote control that manages the displacement of my ribs. I bare my heart. Clouds expand and contract as if they were preparing for birth. In the clear blue sky, they spiral- shooting up and striking lightning into me. 

With that, the knowledge from each life I’ve gathered is evoked in me. A rebirth in a way. The story that is told is my own. It was always there, but like most things, forgotten. All the veins that lead back to me are recognized again. I trace the paths along them. There are secrets I can’t tell. And I will be a keeper to that promise. So I preach her beauty instead, so the rest will seek what I have.


Hiking Mount Washington

Each mountain is unique in its own nature, and therefore incomparable to that of others. They all have their own charm and mystery.

The White Mountains are an incredible mountain range in the Northeast and home to Mount Washington, who stands unapologetically confident at 6,288 feet high. Known for fast-changing and harsh weather conditions, Mount Washington has the highest wind speed ever recorded in the world at 231 mph. 

taken at the Summit of Mount Washington

Before I ever summited Mount Washington, I’d heard enough stories to make me not want to go. Many have died over the years there. Because there are no significant mountain ranges between the Rocky Mountains and the whites, there’s pretty much no stopping or slowing down hurricane force winds speeding across the country. Extreme weather is partly what makes Mount Washington a marvel. Weather fronts change quicker than you can blink, and if not properly prepared (gear-wise, but also knowing what to expect for the day), it’s likely it won’t end well. I’ve been at the bottom of the mountain in 80-degree weather, sweating, then trying to summit in 70 mph winds and shivering in the 30-degree wind chill. Many perish from hypothermia. There are also tricky spots throughout the trails, which can make for hard and fast falls down. Other times, people may not make it due to lack of physical preparation or preexisting health conditions.

Mount Washington attracts people from everywhere. If you looked up Northeast attractions, I can guarantee Mount Washington is one of them. There are plenty who take the Mount Washington Auto Road or the Cog Railway, but it’s undoubtedly a shame that a part of the beauty was stripped away for yet another road. Others who come in unadulterated appreciation are hikers, climbers, and skiers. 

There are five main hiking trails to the summit- Tuckerman Ravine, Jewell, Lion Head, Ammonoosuc, and Boott Spur. Huntington Ravine is another trail, but also the most challenging and dangerous. It’s not recommended for beginners and/or those who don’t know exactly what they’re getting themselves into. Do your research. It’s also not recommended to descend on either ravine, so in the case you wanted to ascend that way, you’d have to find an alternate trail to come down. 

I’ve summited Mount Washington only three times so far. Two of those times were through Tuckerman Ravine (descent on Lion’s Head) and once through the Ammonoosuc (descent on the Jewell Trail). 

The climbs came with butterflies and excitement for what the adventure would bring, especially the first few times. It’s like when you’re going to meet a new person. She’s intimidating, towering over the valley in such fierce stance and should in no way be treated lightly. 


August 2020
Tuckerman Ravine/Lion Head
Distance: 8 miles
Elevation Gain: 4,169 ft

Ascent: Tuckerman Ravine

I opened my eyes to a gray sky just before dawn. I made my way up slowly, whipped up a nice cup of ginger tea and a breakfast sandwich, then headed out the door. We arrived at Pinkham Notch around 6:15am. Although it was still very early, the parking lot had many cars. Other hikers stood at their trunks in puffy, down jackets, eating hard-boiled eggs. I threw my pack over my shoulders and clipped its buckles around my hips and chest. My nerves slipped away to my feet, and I stomped them out as I walked past the visitor center.

I dragged my still very much drowsy legs up the first .2 miles of slight incline. The waterfalls were in my favor though, requiring stillness to appreciate. I perched myself over a heavily flowing fall that gifted me a cool breeze. It was stationed among the trees, who doused themselves in fresh mountain water. I admired the way the water threw itself over the staggered rocks- no thought involved. I imagine that the water doesn’t get scared. It’s purpose in those moments is to flow and fall. No hesitation. No effort. That’s what letting go must look like. 

A well-built bridge followed this, then the trail tilted itself vertical. The path is relatively wide compared to the average hiking trail, and rocks are scattered everywhere. I kept a steady pace. I didn’t want to go too fast- that’s like opening the faucet to let all your energy run out before you actually need it. Eager to get ahead though, I kept looking up to see what was in front of me, but then I’d trip! So I focused my attention back to each step, carefully placing my feet on the flattest part of the rocks. One who does not care about their feet positioning now will regret it later when their ankles are sensitive and aching for rest. 

I crossed a few more bridges, maybe two or three, and as I did, the trees grew closer together, flushing into the most splendid perylene green. My favorite part about the higher you go is the less bare the rocks are. Verdant moss dresses them like a warm sweater. The magic of moss is too often overlooked- the resilience and fluid nature of it. 

At the two-mile mark, I met with Hermit Lake and the Hermit Lake Shelter. There were a few small shelters and tent platforms throughout. There were also some picnic tables, which made it a solid place to sit down for a second before we began the true ascent. I love it there, and the reason for that is because it has the grandest view of the ravine. The ravine is just… magnificent.

Tuckerman Ravine in autumn

The east side of the mountain has two ravines- Huntington and Tuckerman. The lateral side of the mountain caves in and juts out. Normally, a mountain side would slope down, but glacial erosion caused the side to form a bowl shape, so technically, they’re both technically ‘glacial cirques’. Standing in front of the ravine, you’re basically in a massive stadium, and the pines are your audience. You’re unable to see over either side, which made me feel like I was being protected behind a shield. From a good position in center stadium, you can view the collection of massive boulders. Although the sky was tragically covered in a thick bed of clouds that laid low, I could still see the face of the wall.

The snow was gone, with the snow arch collapsing back in June, but what remained underneath were the impressive boulders carving into the mountain body like scars. Maples, oaks, and pines complimented them, and a meager waterfall ran along the rocks. I remember what this all looked like last September. The leaves had already changed and created a beautiful mix of colors- burnt orange, auburn, butterscotch, and lime. And the sweet smell of an autumn breeze in the mountains invigorated my whole being.

taken somewhere near Hermit Lake Shelter in autumn

The trail’s alpine flowers grew boldly at its edges. They have a rough life, but are made for it. Imagine being this seemingly delicate flower, but having the ability to withstand freezing temperatures. So wonderfully smart they are. Experts of mountain life!

taken in August

It wasn’t a long climb up the ravine (about one mile), but it was exposed. The rocks can be slippery because of general moisture or from running water flowing down the rocks. There were also sections where the mud has slid. I carefully weighed myself out on my thighs and got my hands ready to brace in case of impact. Climbing the ravine was one of the best parts of this trail. I looked down and I was suddenly above it all. I could see both sides of the stadium walls, but still not past them. And in the distance, the sky began to open back up into the valley.

taken in August
climbing on Tucks trail in August

The boulder field opened up into an alien land. A thick fog covered the landscape, and without the sun, the temperature began to drop. I couldn’t see too far in front of me. The people passing by faded into shadows. The wind added to an extra chill and if it was iffy here, I imagined the top wasn’t ideal. I came prepared though, with a pack that has pretty much everything (I hoped). I took out my gloves, down coat, and hat, and put them on as if my life depended on it. .8 miles to the summit. 

taken in September 2019 (autumn)

Being tired, sore, and a little slow makes .8 miles feel longer than it is. Still, I moved my feet with determination. As I inched closer to the peak, I began to notice these peculiar formations in the rocks. White and pink, some with black speckles. Some were sharp, others a bit dull, but all with the same basic structure. Some rested with a pile of other rocks as trail markers, but the bigger ones were locked into the rigid rock. Crystals. 

There are many reasons Mount Washington is magical. And when I say magical, I mean this mountain reaches into the heavens or maybe just close enough that heaven’s remains fall right onto Earth. I didn’t expect this even though I’ve seen quartz on mountain tops before, just never in this size. They are incredibly beautiful, untouched and naturally there. I wonder if those being there, peculiarly placed, is the reason why Mount Washington Valley is swelling with energy. But anyway, I’ve never seen anyone stop to take a minute with them. I placed my hand on the white crystal bed, paid my respects and thanks, and kept moving.

As soon as I could just barely pick out the edge of the auto road, the motivation to hurry up kicked it. And before I knew it, I was at the top and met with more steps up to the summit building. It was even colder and windier than before, so I hurried in where it was warm to properly prepare for the descent.

Descent: Lion’s Head

taken in August 🙂

In order to transition to the Lion Head trail, we had to walk back down the way we came for about .4 or .6 miles to another sign for the Alpine Garden trail. Trekking through the fog again, I made my way over bigger boulders. Most of this was me sliding on my bum to avoid falling or out of laziness because it’s a quick chance to sit. You’re still scrambling here, except it flattens out a bit. There was a short section of pines before entering a meadow.

Here, I watched the clouds peel off the mountain. It wasn’t the luckiest day atop the mountain, but from a bit lower you could begin to see the view of the world around you. Even the rocks begin to flatten out, so your feet get a quick break. Lion Head drops off its edge, plummeting down into the path we walked before. I laid on a rock at the very edge, taking in the mountain wrapping around, the sun’s sparkling light, and the clouds moving quickly over me. A few droplets of rain came through, but nothing serious. It was peaceful laying at the edge of the world.

When I first came here, I remember seeing other people walking on Lion Head and wondering how they’d get down because it looks like a straight path with a quick drop off. I just couldn’t fathom it, and still can’t whenever I’m the one walking down. All I know is that there are lovely alpine plants covering either side and guiding me toward the treeline.

My legs worked to lower me down, deeper into the mountainside. The White Mountains are known for their rocks. If you come here, you’re probably not looking for easy and you shouldn’t expect it either. Even past the treeline, the rocks didn’t stop, but there were more exposed roots and dirt. This makes it slippery. I had to maneuver down rocks that my dad calls “Mountain Marble” and trust my feet that I wouldn’t slide down. These parts are the hardest because there aren’t any holds for your pants (sometimes squatting is required). On occasion, there were fallen trees, so I’d find myself climbing over or crawling under.

Lion Head opened back up onto the Tuckerman Ravine trail a bit before the Hermit Lake Shelter. The rest of the way down was exactly the same as the way I came up- just plain walking down them rocks again. This is the part where all your thoughts leave because you’re trying to make it out. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy it, just that my body had had enough already.

And right back to the visitor center I went, arriving to a parkling lot overflowing with cars.


The toughest part of this trail is…every second of the ascent. The Tuckerman Ravine trail gains 1,000 feet in elevation per mile. It’s only four miles to the summit, but it’s a long four miles, as is every mile in the White Mountains. Your body works hard. Your movements are calculated. I felt the muscles that hadn’t been worked in a long time being used. The trail tore at my flesh and weaknesses, but in a way, left me completed different than the way I started. Amazed and captivated with the art of the mountain.

With Love,

LA

Why I Hike

I’m sitting in the car, watching the trees blend together like a bunch of blurry pixels as the speed increases. The soft light of dawn is spilling in, stealing the remainder of the night, and coating everything in its golden hue. This is the only time you can look right at the sun and not get blinded. Mornings have stolen my heart. Everything has such beauty before the sun rises to the center of the sky, acquiring the ability to turn my skin bright red like a geranium (the color before it cools to a tan). And how everything is quiet and all the bodies that rush past me on the sidewalk in the afternoon are still asleep. And all the streets and valleys are stained grey and blue.

My father is driving, blasting his sometimes strange, alternative music right through the windows and letting the wind blow around the overgrown locks that he’s very proud of. It’s early, maybe around five-thirty or six in the morning. And I’m still sleepy, struggling to keep my eyes open after a late night, but I won’t give in- I have my headphones on the amp me up. He insists we be up super early so we can make it to the trailhead before it fills up. Ever since COVID, they’ve been blocking the streets from parking to limit the amount of people entering. We won’t miss our chance to be there on time and grab a spot.

My boots are tied on tight, as tight as I could get them. If they aren’t snug enough, your ankle will be more unstable. I can tell, he’s excited, but I’m still a little anxious as always. We arrive at the trailhead at seven a.m. sharp, and I hop out of the car to prepare my trekking poles for impact. My boots touch the soil, and the energy surges through my body, marking every cell until it lights up my brain. The nerves are gone- it’s time to get moving.


The outdoors haven’t always been my “thing.” Even growing up on the shore, and making any place by the ocean, my home, I didn’t have that connection to nature. I was never good at sports, and I definitely didn’t enjoy anything we did in gym. I sat out a lot. And the friends I had usually did some kind of activity. Or had a club to go to. I always wanted some kind of hobby to call my own. Perhaps it was because I longed to have a team, but maybe not- I don’t exactly enjoy being watched by a crowd and I never felt comfortable speaking out loud at club meetings. I’d rather just be alone.

My dad, on the other hand, has been doing some kind of outdoor activity since forever. I wouldn’t exactly call him a “team player” either, but he eats, sleeps, and breathes the outdoors. Mountain biking, road cycling, hiking, climbing- you name it. We didn’t have many shared interests. I was kind of artsy, and he’s more techy- me, more easygoing, and he, more rigid. He pushes himself to the absolute limit and that’s always been a bit much for me. I like the safe side.

Just a few years ago, he asked me to come hiking for the first time. I agreed. Near where I live, there are a lot of brisk hikes and walking trails, but there isn’t anything within an hour radius that’s too long and/or challenging (I know this is my opinion). So there aren’t a ton of places to get decent practice and work your way up, unless you’re trail running for endurance or training at the gym. Both of which I had/have trouble being consistent with.

We started in Bear Mountain, New York, working our way up from four to seven to ten to thirteen-mile hikes, routinely getting Mexican food afterward- I suppose that’s what reeled me in. Months and months passed. I hiked on again, off again- mostly staying in New York, but touching Vermont, New Hampshire, and some parts of North Jersey. We would rise early and throw on our packs. Or we’d camp- falling asleep to the smell of a dying fire, the fireflies acting as a string of lights hanging outside the tent and the crickets chirping away.

After I proved myself to be worthy and committed, I acquired hiking gear and was very excited about it. I had my own stuff finally…and a few more pounds to carry on my back. I became an adventurer who was ready to set foot on land I’d never seen before. I may have looked and acted absolutely miserable in the moment. But I seldom came off the trail feeling unaccomplished and weak. It wasn’t until recently that I started feeling ready for the challenges thrown at me- eager to do it again.

Of course, everyone hikes for the views: the breathtaking peaks and the valleys below them. You’re on top of the world. Pine trees tower over you as you watch the beetles and daddy long legs crawl over the rocks. You have the opportunity to see all the lakes, ponds, and waterfalls the world as the offer- you might even run into some wildlife. You observe how each ecosystem thrives. You feel freedom. And your heart starts to grow bigger for the wild. Each inhale is an opportunity to receive, and each exhale, an opportunity to give.

I was in a lost place in my life when I started, and hiking/nature gave me a sense of belonging. I struggled a lot and held it in because, perhaps, I have too much pride to speak about when I’m in pain. Mentally, I was struggling to keep myself all the way there and to talk myself through it. Eventually, hiking becomes less about the physical and more if you’re mentally able to handle it. Your body is on autopilot, but can you get yourself to keep moving? Emotionally, I felt many feelings coming up I had to deal with and sort through. And I wasn’t in proper physical shape, but nothing my young body couldn’t get used to. I just kept pushing myself. All the way through those swollen feet, blisters, and achy joints.

The more experience I gained, the more I began to realize what this activity really meant- that it isn’t just an “activity.” It is a practice. A ritual.


My feet touch the ground. I feel it pumping beneath me as if it’s propelling me. Each step is an exploration of the floor and what’s underneath it. Every joint in my body lifts and extends. It becomes a gentle flow of movement. And suddenly I’m not trying, my body knows exactly what to do, and my brain is the commander in chief. My thoughts come in and out at their own will. I’m in a meditative state. I release my soul while my body is treading forward. It dances freely in the space around me- jumping from tree to tree, kissing me on the forehead, then returning to the heavens before it has to come back to its temporary home. Happy.

While the above is taking place, this is also- the droplets of sweat running down my cheeks transform into waterfalls. The villages built over my skin are being flooded over. I’m struggling now, but I can’t turn back, especially after I’ve walked a few miles already. You got this- nothing you haven’t done before. I ate breakfast, a hearty bowl of oatmeal, but my stomach has emptied itself again. My belly is grumbling. I long for my bed. My knees and hips ache. Mosquitos are sucking all my blood out and leaving me dry. Weird insects are getting lodged in my ear, even as I swat at the air. But I tame myself, learn to be content and accept discomfort. Let it be. No, I’m not always the most graceful hiker (if that even exists). I’ve fallen hard and eaten shit a few times (not literally, if I must say).

I used to be afraid of what was hidden behind the trees and under rocks. But hiking taught me to just let go of the fear. How will I ever learn, or see, if something is in the way? All those bears and snakes, that you fear crossing paths with, want to protect themselves just as you do. They are living their own lives, basking in their beautiful homes. There’s no reason to afraid, just be smart and respectful- this goes for the plants too. Nature is unpredictable and can be as harsh as it is beautiful. I began to connect with the world around me and ground myself. Then I learned how to do it over and over each time I returned. The fleshy barrier separating the two of us disintegrates. I am the air and the dirt and the sky. I am the light on every passing stranger’s face and they are the light on mine. I am infinite in my movement and space.

And although it has made me feel eternal, it has also shown me my humanness. I’m not invincible. I’m in no control of boulders slipping out from under me, or a sudden thunderstorm coming over in the alpine zone, or a rattlesnake that I didn’t hear warning me. I have to be careful. I have to focus. I can’t be in la la land all the time, floating through this emerald dream. I’m not the only one on the planet and I am not immortal. I’ve been shown my time here is fleeting, going by just about as fast as my car passing the street signs, scenic views, and ambitious bikers.

Hiking is how I passionately explore myself. It has allowed me to connect to myself in a way I never even knew existed- who I am really, beyond my barriers, why I do the things I do and think the ways I do. I don’t know if I was taking care of myself properly before, but it taught me how to do that too- how to fully rely on myself, especially for protection. It taught me how to push myself without hurting myself. It gave me no choice but to nurture myself when I needed it and to love myself as if no one else in the world exists or has the capability to do so. I have everything I need inside, and it unlocks and explodes with the simple caress of my own fingertips. Sometimes the person I need a hug from most is me.

And it has gifted me the chance to connect with my father. It has become a place where there is neutral ground, where it’s safe. I speak and communicate the best when I’m there. I’ve gotten to learn about him and his life, and he to learn about mine. And even though, it is my father with whom I share this with, I feel my mother’s spirit running through me so strongly. It is her fortitude that I bear with me. And her heart that I hold. When I’m having a difficult time, it is her courage and his security surrounding me. I feel like I can consciously heal both of them through my movement.

My experiences have let in new ideas and showed me that a lot of what I think matters in my life, actually doesn’t. Everything I learned from the “civilized” world and media is minuscule and superficial and unimportant (mostly). It doesn’t matter what I look like. It doesn’t matter if my legs are shaved, or if my armpit hair is so long I could probably tie it, or if I smell like I’ve slept in a garbage can for the past week and made friends with all the creatures that come out after dark. Who cares if I’m skinny if I am strong? And the length of my hair doesn’t measure my femininity in the woods. My skincare products and hairbrush and outfits are just material items that can be taken away at any moment. What do I need all of it for anyway?

There is nothing in this entire world more comforting than the thought and the embrace of the wilderness. As UNCOMFORTABLE, as UNHAPPY, as BREATHLESS, as FRUSTRATED, as SCARED as I have been, I would return over and over. I would give it all up to go be an untraceable, insignificant speck in the forest. There are no walls there. The Earth, and the privilege of hiking, have torn down every wall I had, then made me look me right in the face. Naked and bare and raw I am in the face of mother- there is nothing she cannot see past. And still in that state of unadulterated vulnerability, I have felt more whole and accepted than I ever have in my life. Braver. And more connected to all that is. And all I had to do was walk. I didn’t have to be a writer or a daughter or a student. I didn’t have to be happy or sad or angry. I was just me and that was enough.

The physical pain I’ve experienced, although I have a limit, is no match for the gift I’ve received of being mentally determined. I have been given a strength that no one can ever take away from me because it burns so brilliantly inside me. That same strength has faded every scar and cured every sickness plaguing my heart. Birds whistling and the clicking of cicadas are the sweetest sounds. And I know that if I ever feel lost, I have somewhere I can return to. A home. And this home I will righteously protect until the day I am no longer here. I have learned to let in something so much greater than myself and then love it unconditionally. To give back the same it has given me.

This is what my soul yearns for.

With Love,

Lia Aspen.