Saturday, April 09, 2011

"I can't get no..."

"When I'm ridin' round the world
and I'm doin this and I'm signin' that....
I can't get no satisfaction."
The Rolling Stones

I love mountains, and have from an early age. For my seventh birthday, I asked my parents to take me to climb Mt. Marcy, the tallest peak in New York. I loved it. When we moved closer to the Adirondacks when I was a teen, I plotted how to climb the 46 "High Peaks." Too young to drive, this often involved convincing at least one of my parents to go climbing. Some days, we would "knock off" a single peak, other times we would get on a ridge trail, and "bag" several peaks.

To me, it was all about the destination. Satisfaction lay in achieving the goal. I remember one summer day at the top of Algonquin Peak, my mother saying "Paul, let's just sit and enjoy the view." As I suspected throughout my youth, she was a crazy woman. We had two more peaks to climb that day. Summits were for eating your sandwich, cramming in a small box of Sun-maid raisins and a square of Hershey's bar, and moving on down the trail to whatever came next. "Sit and enjoy?"

Now, 40 years later, I realize that for my parents it was not about the destination, and all about the satisfaction of hiking through the woods with their excited son. For my Mom, it was much more about watching the cloud shadows race across the cliff streaked nearby peaks, seeing how far she could see, and chatting with other hikers. For my Dad it was identifying birds by their songs, making a walking stick with his jack knife, or speculating on whether there might be "good-sized trout" in an unmarked clump of beaver ponds that he'd spotted from the ridge.

"Life is a journey, not a destination." Wise words attributed to Emerson (as well as Aerosmith), but ones I question still. Doesn't the destination direct and shape the journey? Isn't the destination enriched by the journey? And, anyway, isn't life composed of many journeys and destinations? Where one's summits are like individual notes in a piece of music, sometimes melodic, sometimes not?

For me, life is about both journey and destination, and feels best when that elusive balance between them is, even momentarily, achieved. That, for me, is satisfaction, flow and joy. It is about getting to the summit, and enjoying it. And then starting out towards the next one.
NOTE: I am known in my family for remembering all of the good, and none of the bad, on many of our trips. It is possible that I have, at times, encountered bugs, mud, injuries, unfriendly animals and locales, and freeze dried eggs with worms in them. At times, I may have packed too little food figuring I would catch enough fish. And, years later, one of my son's friends refers to a backcountry ski tour as "The Trail of Tears." So my parents may have a different recollection of some of these trips during my Wonder Years.
NOTE #2: Update. My parents do recollect that I was a tad difficult. I was pleased they used the past tense.

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