Mt. Toby is a small mountain just ten miles from where I live. When I moved back to western massachusetts in the fall of 1998 I thought I would climb it frequently, since I climbed it many times in my younger days while I attended UMass. Yesterday was the second time I've climbed it in the past ten years. The first time was up the more traditional route from Reservation road in Sunderland. That route takes you up the steep power line trail. But that is not the route I climbed as a young man. My wife, Robin, and I climbed it together this time and last. I sought out my old route, up a dirt road starting at a poorly marked parking lot on Old Plain Rd in Montague.
At first I had no recollections of my earlier hikes. The trail climbed steeply through rough terrain. My memory was of an easy grade. Has my body changed that much in the 35 years since I used to frequent the trail? I was relieved to come out of the steep section onto the well graded dirt road. And from this point on my memories served me well. I had hiked this trail dozens of times during my first two years as a UMass student.
There was a cabin on a side trail that was maintained by the forestry department. On this hike we did not take the side trail to view the cabin, though I plan to on a subsequent hike. Nevertheless the memories of my many nights out in that cabin came flooding back. I used to go with my friends Emily and David, also students at UMass. As we climbed up I saw three young people, two men and a woman, hiking down and for a brief moment I could see myself in that group. Life seemed simpler back then, but was it?
In the fall of 1974, I struggled as a student, and the many trips to Mount Toby were an escape. The hikes into the woods promised welcome relief, but the hikes back out were full of forboding. The last trip out was followed shortly by the death of my father, and a series of uprootings and unwanted changes in my life. It has taken until now to bury the memories of those times, and has taken until now to unearth them again in the context of life today.
I'm glad I went back to this trail and hiked it. Yesterday the experience was infinitely lighter than it was in the days past, even if my now aging body had to strain to complete the trip. The weather was perfect and the views from the tower at the top were far reaching. I could identify all of the distant ridges and hills, and there were hawks soaring lazily overhead. We chatted with another hiker and talked about out compasses and mole skin. On this day old school was okay!
As we leisurely walked down the road I was able to remember the forboding from the trips of my youth, but on this day all that was to be added was sense of lightness, of hope, of the possibilities of nice weather, and the pleasant company of my new hiking partner.
I'm going back again sometime to find the cabin, or at least the site of the cabin. But for now I'm going to enjoy the feeling that comes with the passage of a long period of time. Enjoy your day!