December 10, 2011, full moon
Hiking the Lowell Mountains in the moonlight, I realized that I had not been up there since 1975 on some Sterling Bounder trip – Grassroots Project Winter Expedition? The lighting was incredible with the full moon peeking out from the clouds at various intervals creating blue shadows on the snow in the forest. We hiked through the hardwoods and aptly named Hobblebush while I wished for boots with newer Vibram soles. But it didn’t really matter the slipping and sliding – we were as excited as bad kids on a secret adventure.
When we reached the top we suddenly felt the sharp wind. It wasn’t really blowing that hard, but it was cold so it always feels like it is blowing a gale even when it isn’t, and besides now there were no trees to block it.
No trees. How strange to be on a mountaintop that I had known so well so long ago and to not have any trees. The devestation in the moonlight brought up so many emotions. They zipped through my mind with the speed of my heartbeat.
“Holy Cow they have done a lot since I was up here that day in September.”
“Look at the view – all those twinkling lights in the valley. Look at how much light pollution – there are a lot more lights than in 1975. 7 billion humans now.”
“Look at how wide the road is they have built. It really does feel like I am hiking up an unpaved northbound lane of some newly built interstate, including the rock faces along the side where they have blasted it to make the hill more level. I bet no Perigrine Falcons nest there, though.
“Wow, it sure is easier walking than it was when I was an assistant Sterling Short Course instructor. You weren’t allowed to suggest to the students that it might be easier to hike not in a straight compass line, but to get out of the thicket of spruce and chart a slightly different course along the side of the ridge.”
“Wow, that view is incredible. You could never see this much view before, and the moonlight is so beautiful. Oh, and there are the flashing lights of the Sheffield Wind Project.”
We walked the road north to the first tower sight. The land leveled and the huge equipment all tidily parked in a row below the blasted rock face. A bit further on we came to where they had stopped filling in the saddle with the blasted gravel and the road suddenly dropped more like a dirt road than an interstate – a car could drive it but not a semi with a tower or crane. In the distance on the next peak, you could see where the clearcutting had started for the continuance of the road. Three and a half miles never seemed so long. We pass rolls of that fiber with straw embedded in it that gets put over the raw earth like a bandaid. Like that would stop the bleeding erosion of the earth on a scale this big. I feel like crying, but with the moonlight, it all seems so surreal that my mind can’t quite register it the same way as if I was there in the broad daylight, and I just stare at it all in confusion.
We turned back to where we had started and headed south on the road towards the current blasting area over the filled part of the saddle – filled with crushed mountain to a level taller than my house. We peeked over the embankment and marveled at the moonlit woods beyond – treetops now at eye level.
Further up the road, more huge equipment. We walked over and stood next to the tires – taller than me – OK, that’s not that hard, I am only 5’3″- then climbed up the steel stairs to the little platform where you stand to open the door of the cab. “Hey, it’s open.” Like guilty school kids we go inside. One of us sits in the drivers seat and realizes the keys are right there. Instantly all sorts of scenarios race through our minds and we wrestle with our former teenage selves – especially the men – it is a giant teenage boy’s wetdream. But our adult selves know the assorted outcomes of each of the scenarios we are thinking and we leave the machine sleeping in the moonlight, laughing nervously. As much as we would have liked to monkey wrench the project, it probably would have just gotten that one operator in trouble, not shut down the whole grizzily project.
We continue hiking south which again starts to resemble less interstate and more dirt road as the south end of where they have gotten to approaches. First we leave the big road building rigs, they we come to the logging rigs, further on in the distance we can see the untouched peak magestically shining in the moonlight. I think to myself “What is this mountain thinking of these humans – to do this. Not since the glaciers has there been such destruction up here.
We head back under the tape and into the snowy magic of the forest. It folds itself around us like a warm embrace healing a hurt child – asking nothing. The wind is blocked by the ridge now and I start to warm up as we share some hot tea from the thermos and some cheese before heading down to the car. We are much more quiet during our descent, tired and lost in our private thoughts. It will be an evening we all remember for the rest of our lives – an evening out of the ordinary – a weird twilight zone. And again I have to ask – Why are they doing this? And will we just waste this electricity like it gets wasted now? How much electricity is enough and what are we willing to sacrifice in order to have it? Apparently a lot, and even when we are long gone as a species, those mountains will never be the same.