We awake at first light on the front porch of Mount Cardigan’s High Cabin. We tiptoe inside and quietly make coffee, trying not to wake the exhausted youth asleep in their bunks. We bring our coffee back to the porch and sit in our sleeping bags. The youth start to stir. I venture off the porch to study the spruces and firs with this new tree identification book I got.
The youth are pretty wrecked from yesterday’s climb and adjusting to the backpacking gear and the late night of chatter and giggling. Movement is slow. Bear Bait encourages their packing up process along by frying up pancakes.
We make our way down Mount Cardigan chatting about family, gender, oppression, identity and all the isms and social justice stuff that queers talk about.
It was hot, and when we get to the base there is a pond and some of us go swimming. Swimming can be complicated for trans and gender nonconforming folks. Fortunately we have the pond to ourselves, but even in a queer bubble, undressing and swimming can be loaded. Having a body can just be an edgy thing. That’s all I’ll say about that.
We dry off, eat snacks, refill water bottles, load up and drive north into the White Mountains. Its a two hour ride to Jackson, NH, and we take the scenic Kancamagus Highway with its mountainous views and windy curves. We find our next trail head and eat lunch on the side of a dirt road before heading up.
We start climbing Doublehead Mountain, and despite our best efforts to keep our youth hiking together as a group, they start to fall apart. We sense the agitation and it becomes clear that our facilitation isn’t working. We take a big pause and circle up on the trail. Perry gracefully facilitates an honest check-in about feelings and it all comes out. That beautiful moment has arrived whereas the adults (Perry, Bear Bait, and myself) must step back and pass the leadership baton to the youth who will then come up with their own plan for getting themselves up the mountain together as a group.
Perry, Bear Bait, and I linger behind giving them the time and space they need to figure it out. We reunite with them at the Doublehead Cabin at the top and the morale is good. There is a universal feeling of accomplishment and connectedness. We enjoy a celebratory dinner of backcountry pita pizza.
The thing about queer youth is that they are so fricken compassionate, caring and patient with each other. I’ve been hanging out in queer youth spaces for the past 8 years and its downright heart melting to watch how a group will open their hearts and circles to make room for that wild card who maybe was rejected everywhere else. On this hike I watched folks slow down so that no one had to feel like they couldn’t keep up and I watched folks listen to stories that maybe weren’t welcome at school or at home. When I say I feel inspired by queer youth and feel hopeful it’s cuz the youth are the future. I feel pretty awesome about the future knowing some of the queer youth leaders I know will grow into adult leadership roles. I was also inspired watching my fellow TVOP Instructors navigate that space between nurture, leadership, and letting go.
On our last afternoon I guided a Forest Bathing Walk on a flat stretch of trail between the summit of Black Mountain and the Black Mountain Cabin. I invited all of us to take in the forest atmosphere just a little more deeply. We moved very slowly thru an alpine conifer forest, circling up along the way, sharing our observations thru our opened senses and our tree companions. We found metaphors in the forest reflecting our strengths and our deepening connections to each other and the more than human world. We closed with a tea ceremony where I offered an infusion of Purslane Tea that I had brought from Jamaica Plain. Purslane is a rugged and relentless plant that grows between sidewalk cracks and has the highest levels of omega-3 fatty acids among all plants. It’s also got iron and vitamin C. We smelled and drank our tea, taking the forest into our bodies and then made our way back down to our cabin.
Its been a few days since we got off the trail. I miss our incredible group and I wonder how their transitions home have been and if and when I may get to see them again. Grateful.